Weekend getaways can go one of two ways.
At their best, they're a chance to recharge from the work week without dipping into vacation days, to make you feel like you've really made the most of your two precious days off rather than whiled them away on chores and Netflix.
But at their worst, they feel like a waste of time and money: as if you'd rather have gotten something done at home than spent all those hours cursing traffic (or delayed planes), eating mediocre restaurant meals and scratching mosquito bites.
As someone for whom the 401 in high traffic is a torment best avoided, I'm rarely eager to drive out of Toronto for a day or two, only to lose that post-getaway mellow by having to drive back in again. But when a girlfriend and I were trying to plan a trip together not long ago, all we could manage was a weekend. Neither of us being in possession of a cottage, we booked the next best thing: two nights at the spa.
Our destination: Ste. Anne's Spa in Grafton, Ont., about a 75-minute drive east from Toronto in optimal conditions. The sprawling country property is made for relaxation, and not just thanks to the spa treatments, outdoor hot tub and wellness classes. Packages are all-inclusive, meaning you don't have to bring your wallet to meals (or calculate a tip), and guests are encouraged to lounge about in their robes all day – in fact, should you show up to lunch fully dressed, you'll be the one who looks out of place.
To my surprise, it ended up being the most relaxing weekend I'd had in ages. Here's how we made it work – and feel like a real vacation.
Plan your days right
To me, there's something comforting about a schedule to follow. With no decisions to make, you just show up at the right place at the right time – and when it's planned right, you know you won't hit bedtime wondering what on earth you got up to all day. On the other hand, a day that's too packed just feels exhausting, with no room for last-minute desires or spontaneity.
Our Saturday schedule at Ste. Anne's looked like this: breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, plus morning spa treatments and an afternoon yoga class. Sounds like a lot, and yet we still managed to cycle through the sauna, steam room, hot tub and plunge pool; play a rummy tournament with brand-new playing cards from the front desk; laze about reading magazines; try out the massage chairs; and make solid progress on one of the jigsaw puzzles we found already started on a giant coffee table. By the time I crawled into bed that night, I felt like I'd already been there for days.
There's no room for negativity when you've only got two days to enjoy yourself, and an open-minded, go-with-the-flow attitude will do wonders for how well your trip goes. While Ste. Anne's offers a shuttle service to guests who choose to travel there by train (the closest Via station is Cobourg), we opted to drive – and to keep our Sunday evening schedules clear – so we didn't have to hurry in either direction.
This meant that when we checked out at lunchtime but weren't yet ready to leave, we were able to stash our bags in the car and head right back into the sauna for one more head-clearing sweat session – then as we drove away from the main property, we had time to stop in at the onsite bakery to sample some of the in-demand offerings. (If you're a gluten-free skeptic like I am, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the magic they do here.)
If you're anything like me, you go a little squirrelly without something to do. (Hence, I suppose, the ubiquitous puzzles, magazines and crossword books at Ste. Anne's.) The trick, when it comes to relaxing, is to have things to do that don't particularly need to be done and from which your attention can wander with no ill effects. Reading material, a knitting project, that colouring book you got for Christmas and still haven't started … pack whatever you need to not feel at loose ends should there be gaps in your days. On our getaway, I spent at least a couple of hours fiddling with a new camera I hadn't had a chance to get to know yet, and that unhurried time felt like pure luxury.
Bring the right companion
On a longer trip, there's room to figure out different travel styles, and to switch things up between time together and time apart. With just two days, there's less room for error, and it's far more important to know each other's expectations up front. You want to have fun, not feel like you're trying too hard to please someone – or that you're dragging them places they don't want to go.
Our weekend away was all about relaxation and taking a break from the stress and busyness of our day-to-day lives, which meant that we were both perfectly happy spending Friday night in our white terrycloth robes, drinking red wine and playing Scrabble in front of the fireplace, and Saturday night in our white terrycloth robes, giggling as massage chairs poked and squeezed us in nearly inappropriate places and staying up too late trying to get one more piece on the teacup puzzle. With another friend, things might not have been so chill. Choose wisely.
Ste. Anne's Spa; 1009 Massey Rd., Grafton, Ont., steannes.com. All-inclusive stays (room, four meals, $120 in spa and facility use) from $319 a person, a night plus tax.