There are dozens of relaxing ways to savour Ontario's fiery fall foliage: a country drive, a lake cruise, a hike or bike ride through the woods -- the list goes on. But by combining one of these options with a trip to the new Avalon spa at the Inn at Christie's Mill, the season can be milked for all it's worth.
The 44-room inn is set on a peninsula that juts into the Trent-Severn Waterway, which connects Georgian Bay with the lakes of Muskoka. It's about two hours north of Toronto by car, and is just minutes from Highway 400. (This can be a bit too close for visitors seeking utter isolation since the roar of traffic can be heard on the grounds).
Boaters can dock at the inn and head for the spa, something management says is popular in the busy months of summer and early fall.
The resort is surrounded by forest, and the sight of scarlet leaves and blue skies reflected in the water is a fine primer for the spa session that awaits.
In June, the 56-year-old property unveiled an $8-million addition comprising the 7,000-square-foot spa, an indoor pool and hot tub, 15 guest suites, a new reception area and two conference rooms.
The décor of the renovated and expanded inn would be best described as regal rustic: Marble accents, wrought-iron furniture and crown moulding blends nicely with stone fireplaces, expansive balconies and Group of Seven reproductions.
This decorative theme continues into the spa, where an antique-filled waiting room assures visitors that they've left the city far behind.
The new facilities draw more than casual weekenders -- weddings and business conferences are now de rigueur. This is reflected at the spa, where bridal and stress-release day packages are available.
A blend of therapies combine traditional North American offerings -- manicures, facials and the like -- with wellness techniques from around the world, including Hopi Indian and Swedish massage, and Jin Shin acupressure. Alternative therapies such as reflexology and reiki are also offered. One relaxing way to begin a visit is with a soak in the mineralized hydrotherapy tub, which is infused with a variety of healthful salts, crystals and powders.
Many treatments start with a short "healing touch" session, which aims to relax and clear energy fields by lightly touching the body, working downward from head to toe.
Among the spa standards on offer, the hour-long Avalon Tranquillity Facial combines a gentle cleansing of the skin with nourishing moisturizers to balance and revitalize. A mind-clearing technique -- a light touching of acupressure points on the head and neck -- is also incorporated. All facials include a face, scalp, and foot massage.
The "full-body experiences," meanwhile, show off all Avalon's bells and whistles. The "Mystical Water Ride" lives up to its name, as a pair of therapists massage, exfoliate (using a Dead Sea salt scrub) and douse the front and back of blissed-out clients with a five-jet Vichy shower.
While the falling water stimulates the physical senses, the duo delivers a synchronized full-body massage using a modified Hopi Indian technique. This gradually evolves into a light touching of the head and feet, and a final envelopment in soft towels.
Food and drink
Avalon's spa menu includes eclectic items such as Mediterranean chicken salad and pecan-crusted filet of sole, as well as herbal teas and juices.
The inn's full-service Twigs restaurant, meanwhile, combines a surprisingly urbane menu -- pistachio-crusted quail and Canard Bigarade, for example -- with sublime lake and forest views.
Resort staff are pleasant and accommodating, while spa therapists are both skilled at their craft, and at dispelling any awkwardness that might arise from an intimate treatment like the Mystical Water Ride. (For spa newcomers, the latter treatment's near nakedness and attention of two female masseuses could be intimidating.)
The Avalon spa and adjoining inn offer a retreat for stressed-out city dwellers at any time of year, but right now, at the height of the fall colours in Muskoka, they provide a balm for all the senses.
Avalon: The Spa at Christie's Mill: 263 Port Severn Rd. N., Port Severn, Ont.; 1-800-465-9966 or (705) 538-2354; http://www.christiesmill.com. The Avalon Tranquillity Facial costs $60, and the Mystical Water Ride costs $125 for an hour and $185 for 90 minutes.