Within the hub of downtown Toronto lies a network of luxe spas where you can escape for the afternoon into a magical, unforeseen realm – and yet be only minutes away from the frenetic pace of urban existence. Many of these spas take over an entire hotel floor, with massive glassed-in pools and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tops of sky scrapers, docile rectangular blocks stacked like Lego pieces in the distance. The spas’ treatment providers are carefully hand-picked, with their honed skills and impeccable service rationalizing slightly higher prices from the typical day spas. And the biggest secret? On a mid-day afternoon, you can sometimes find yourself almost completely alone to enjoy these stunning facilities.
So whether a staycation, a vacation or an afternoon decompression – these spas are great places to visit. If you’re coming for a treatment, book off a few hours, so you can also take a dip in the pool, have a steam or sauna, and relax in comfy padded lounge chairs with a magazine and cup of tea.
1. Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris at the Shangri-La Hotel
Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie Paris at the Shangri-La Hotel is all about refinement, elegance and serenity – Middle Eastern-style. Unlike the typical Moroccan or Turkish steam bath, where visitors gather in a communal hammam, this spa has been adapted for a high-end North American experience, where privacy is privileged over a more group experience. No butting heads with strangers here.
The Miraj Hammam is the only Canadian-branded Caudalie spa and the second in North America. While now a national, paraben-free skin care line, Caudalie started off as vineyard: when its producers realized that the best part of the grape was being thrown away, they decided to develop a line of skin care products using the skin and pulp of the grape, which are ideal for their antioxidant properties.
When I first enter the spa, the front desk concierge, dressed in an elegant maroon, gold and orange uniform, stands in welcome, as though I am a guest in the family. I am led through a wooden door into the “inner sanctuary” – really a separate world, where the low sound of a sita and drum hums through the long corridor from speakers overhead. We pass doors to hammams and treatment rooms, each named after a Moroccan city, and I’m shown the manicure and pedicure stations in a separate section of the spa.
For my detoxification treatment, I chose the 30-minute hammam (meaning steam) and gommage (French for body exfoliation) ($125). Dropping my plush robe, I was led, dressed in disposable underwear, into a high intensity chamber, where 125 degree heat opens up my pores, leaving me in a meditative calm. The aesthetician then led me to a low mist steam chamber (a mere 105 degree heat), where I lay on a gold marble Jerusalem slab, while the masseuse began the gommage. Using eucalyptus-infused black Moroccan soap, she vigorously scrubbed up and down my body until slightly alarming greyish black peels of skin were produced. I was then rinsed off under a shower wand until my skin felt smooth and polished.
Other intriguing treatments: the 15-minute barrel bath ($65), which involves soaking in red wine while having a scalp massage; and the 30-minute signature Vichy shower Merlot friction scrub ($105), in which you are massaged using grape seed and essential oils under a rainfall of water, and have warm bentonite clay applied to your skin.
After your treatment, retire to the relaxation lounge, where you lie against bright orange cushions on a burgundy divan, while served a shot of chai peppermint tea, baklava and grapes on a gold platter. Pure heaven.
Shangri-la Hotel, Toronto
Fifth Floor, 188 University Ave.,
Miraj Hammam: + 1 647 253 5770
2. Spa My Blend By Clarins at The Ritz-Carlton
Spa My Blend By Clarins at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto was voted the #1 hotel spa in the world by Travel & Leisure readers in 2013. And I get why. With elegance, luxury and tranquility as the vibe of the Spa My Blend by Clarins, a magical retreat is what you can expect. Before my manicure on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, I soaked in a stunning 2-person Jacuzzi, what they refer to as a green tea infused Vitality pool, where I am massaged by a myriad of ducts beneath me. I then move between their steam and sauna and go for a swim in a lovely sun-infused room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. I also enjoy their one-hour signature manicure in the Champagne Nail Bar. I sip on a glass of Prosecco during my treatment, so my experience at the spa involved both soaking in bubbles, as well as drinking them.
Perhaps unknown to many, this spa is surprisingly accessible. With the cost of a one-hour treatment (which start at $75 plus 18% gratuity and applicable taxes for the manicure I received), you can enjoy all their facilities. With separate male and female relaxation lounges, as well as separate steam and sauna areas, it’s the perfect girl getaway – though they also have a co-ed Urban Sanctuary sunroom for relaxing with your guy. Cosy down on comfy divans and armchairs, while sampling any one of several dozen masques, cleansers and moisturizers they have on hand for the purpose. Read a magazine or gaze your eyes upwards at the stunning glass art installation hanging from the skylight in the ceiling.
Spa My Blend has 16 treatment rooms for face, body and massage services. Their 90-minute MY BLEND regenerating facial therapy includes a 20-minute analysis of your skin, using diagnostic imaging technology; a discussion to help identify lifestyle, environment and life stage factors that can affect your complexion; and a treatment using MY BLEND’s customized products and personalized booster serums: this line, developed in Paris, uses botanicals and plant-based extracts.
The Ritz-Carlton, Toronto
181 Wellington St. W
Spa My Blend: +1 416 572 8000
3. Stillwater Spa at Park Hyatt Toronto
While the other spas I feature in this article have all opened in the last two years, Stillwater is a veteran in the industry. When it opened its doors in 2001, there were few real luxe hotel spas in the city to compete with. While it still holds a place in the Toronto’s top luxury spas, the competition is now much steeper. By comparison to the other spas, the robes aren’t so plush and the facilities are less elaborate. A small steam room, sauna and whirlpool are all housed at one end of the change room; there is no pool for taking a dip in; and the spa is one level down from the ground level, so there is no natural light, and you can hear the rumble of the St. George subway beneath you. But there are still many attractive features: the theme of water runs through the spa. Water flows under glass floor panels, a mini waterfall flows down one wall, and a private room houses a small pool reserved for aqua massage, where vibrations from underwater speakers add to the rhythmical effects of a massage).
Veteran also means experience. My massage therapist Charlene Wyrwicz has been at Stillwater since its inception, and my 90-minute essential milk and honey wrap ($250) reflects it: she begins by exfoliating with the sweet-smelling golden sea salt scrub] to open up my pores, then applies a rose mud mask, wraps me in warm towels and gives me a head and face massage. When it’s time to rinse off, I avail myself of the in-room shower, and then return to the table with its heated thermal blankets for a half hour Swedish massage– all vestiges of the mud having been expertly whisked away. The treatment room where I have my scrub is large and inviting – with beige brick walls, candelight for mood, and an orchid on the table when I enter. The Stillwater has 16 other treatment rooms, including one for couples’ massages, with a fireplace and Jacuzzi.
Park Hyatt, Toronto
4 Avenue Road
Stillwater: +1 416 926 2389
4. Trump Hotel’s Quartz Crystal Spa
Trump Hotel’s Quartz Crystal Spa, like the hotel it resides in, is all about Hollywood glam: it’s sleek and modern. And black and white predominate, with accents of chrome and quartz throughout. Three stunning crystal and amethyst chandeliers hang over the reception desk, which is made from a slab of quartz crystal imported from Israel. A zebra skin rug adds accent to an otherwise minimalist waiting room.
The healing properties of quartz is a theme that permeates the spa. Their signature product line incorporates crushed crystals, their crystal mosaic pedicure ($115) includes soaking the feet in water filled with quartz crystal pebbles, while varying sizes of heating crystals are placed along the body in their harmonized thermal crystal massage ($165, 50 mins. or $245, 80 mins.)— a unique twist on a hot stone massage.
Their signature bamboo massage ($210, 75 mins.) apparently reflects a new trend in luxe spas, drawn from practices in China. The masseuse expertly rolls heated cylindrical and half-moon shaped bamboo canes across the muscles and flatter parts of the body, and then uses deep tissue massage to knead the muscles with her hands, releasing knots and easing tension as she goes.
After your treatment, relax in a lounge chair by the pool or take a dip in the whirlpool next to it. The room is brightly lit, with large windows overlooking the financial district.
Trump Hotel, Toronto
325 Bay Street
Quartz Crystal: +1 416 637 5595
5. The Spa at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto
The largest luxury hotel spa in Toronto, the Four Seasons spa extends across a massive 30,000 square feet and includes 17 spacious treatment suites, two steam rooms and a large light-filled nail and hair bar, with four stations for manicures, four for pedicures and two for hair. The spa also has a stunning pool with a whirlpool off to one side.
The Four Seasons spa is classically Four Seasons: service is friendly and attentive, treatments are top quality (the hiring process began a year before they opened) and every detail is attended to. When I have a manicure, the nail technician places a neck warmer around my neck, in case I’m chilly, and I’m given a blanket on my lounge bed after. For my signature Vitamin C facial, I get to choose from a menu of music channels. (I select the “spa sleep and dream” – its biorhythms are purported to induce a state of calm and relaxation). And when I step out of the steam room, there’s a bowl of face towels on ice – to take the edge off.
My Vitamin C brightening facial ($180) is the most relaxing facial I’ve ever had: for 60 minutes, I lie under heated sheets on a heated table with warm socks put on my feet, while the masseuse applies first a peptide-rich gel mask, and then massages my face, hands and forearms. She then applies a serum to help conceal the fine lines on my face, and finally – applies several moisturizers to leave my skin feeling radiant and more luminous (so much so that even my otherwise unobservant husband notices the difference!). Other cool treatments – their 210-minute Flower Power of Yorkville combination treatment includes a footbath, hemp seed body scrub, lavender honey wrap and 60-minute massage; gold-based products are used in their gold plumping facial (90 mins, $250), gold luxury manicure (60 mins., $85) and gold luxury pedicure (90 mins., $130).
Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto
60 Yorkville Avenue
Spa: +1 416 964 0411
Diana Ballon is a Toronto freelance writer specializing in travel and mental health issues. For more information on Diana, visit her website DianaBallon.com.