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Try Canadian destination spa for fall color refresher

Ste. Anne's Spa

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Toronto and Washington got closer when Porter Airlines launched daily flights from Dulles International Airport last spring. Now it's easier than ever to experience some of Canada's best spas.

Just 90 mintes after departure on a rainy Tuesday in October, we landed at Toronto's downtown airport, whisked through Customs, and boarded a van into town. Except for the ferry between airport and city, and construction disruption, the Billy Bishop Airport makes visiting Canada effortless.

When the new pedestrian tunnel opens next year, you won't have to wait for a ferry. My experience. however, was less than comfortable. The old island airport is being improved, but could not handle the crush of weekend travelers. Porter's lounge was packed, and their computers crashed, causing delays. On return to Dulles, only one Customs agent was on duty.

Fall colors enhanced Toronto's parks, and autum temperatures were about the same as in Washington. So combining a few days in this cosmopolitan city with a country spa holiday is very doable. Staying at the new Trump International Hotel adds a spa-in-the-sky experience. More about that in my next review.

Destination spas in Canada are a rarity. There are plenty of resort spas, but a true destination like Ste. Anne's Spa is a great discovery. Located less than an hour's drive from Toronto, it's a little piece of heaven with spa treatments equal to America's best.

Since my first visit in 1990, Ste. Anne's has added facilities without loosing its cozy charm. Still owned and managed by the Corcoran family, the resort has new suites and treatment rooms in buildings constructed with local fieldstone to match the 1857 farmhouse that became a country estate for oil barons from Indiana and Texas.

Canadian inspiration, Aveda products, and a professional staff of nearly 200 distinguish Ste. Anne's spa. Set on 500-acres within view of Lake Ontario, amid rolling farmland are horse barns where you can groom one of the friendly fillies, the spa has an octagonal studio for yoga and aerobics classes. Spring water fills outdoor hot tubs, a seasonal swimming pool, and is free for drinking.

Herb gardens now supply both the kitchen and production of skin care creams and gels made exclusively for Ste. Anne's, dispensed freely in your bathroom. The human touch of a stress-buster massage or facial smells country-fresh. Options include Thai massage or reflexology with a medically certified therapist. The a la carte spa treatment menu here is considered Canada's best, and prices about the same as in the U.S.

Moor mud baths and wraps are a Ste. Anne's specialty. The compressed mud from Ice Age vegetal deposits in Ontario lakes is refined for the spa's newly refurbished tubs, which are internally heated to ensure a healthy sweat. Then you shower and relax for Swedish massage and finishing slather of Ste. Anne's rejuvenating cream.

Redolent of woodsy fireplaces, fresh flowers, and bowls of apples, the inn feels like your grandmother's country home. Guests opt to stay in the former playhouse for the kids, but the best rooms (really suites) are in towers above spa rception in the new main building. Ask for the new Hudson Bay Heritage Suite, decorated in high Victorian style, with glorious views all the way to Lake Ontario. My garden suite in the original manor house had stone walls two-feet thick, huge fireplace, jetted bathtub, marble-tiled shower in bathroom, and bay window sitting area equipped with fly swatter to combat autumnal invaders. The double-size sleigh bed was piled with musty-smelling pillows.

The newly expanded dining room has varied choices (vegetarian, gluten free) but lacked seasonal fare. Daily specials can be roasted peppers with black bean soup, a main course of braised cod fish with farm vegetables, beef raised on a nearby ranch, lasagna, and dessert made with local maple syrup and nuts. Breakfast options include poached eggs on homemade toast and "Canadian" bacon. Coffe and tea are served in antique china; wine is not available, so bring your own.

Overnight stays during October begin at $339 per person (based on double occupancy), and from $329 triple, plus tax. This includes $120 allowance for spa treatments, plus group wellness class and use of fitness facilities. Standard accommodation comes with 4-course dinner, breakfast, 3-course lunch, and afternoon tea. November rates are approximately the same. Reservations: www.steannes.com; 888-346-6772.

Day spa packages are offered, and can include train ticket on VIA Rail for the hour-long trip from Toronto to Cobourg, transfers complimentary. If you drive, Hwy. 401 is fast despite heavy traffic.

Fall colors add to the enchantment of this country retreat, an easy escape from Washington and distinctly Canadian.

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