I don’t always like the feeling of running hot and cold — at least when it’s about a relationship. But when it comes to temperature changes, Horseshoe Valley makes these fluctuations feel pretty darn therapeutic — even decadent. I am referring to my experience at the new Vettä Nordic Spa, located about 1.5 hours from Toronto, which I recently combined with cross-country skiing and an overnight stay at the nearby Horseshoe Resort.
When Vettä opened its doors in January, it became only the third Nordic spa in Ontario. The province also has Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Cedar Mountains Spa in Timmins in Northeastern Ontario, and a fourth, Thermëa Spa, slated to open in Whitby later this year. This limited number is surprising, given the burgeoning popularity of Nordic spas in Canada, and particularly in Quebec, which boasts a total of 52.
With their origins in Scandinavian countries, Nordic spas’ popularity reflect people’s appreciation for warmth amidst long, dark winters and for the trend of self-care. The combination of hydrotherapy and thermotherapy are purported to have healing powers that do everything from relieve joint stiffness to reduce inflammation and soreness to improve immune system. “Experiencing” the spa involves alternating between heat (pools, saunas, and steam rooms), cold (plunge pools), and relaxation areas, typically set in nature.
Vettä was founded by Eric Harkonen, a mining engineer by trade who decided to bring the “Finnish way” to Canada.
“In Finland, there are more saunas than cars,” says Harkonen, explaining that 98% of the people in that Nordic country have access to a sauna. The fact that Harkonen and his wife, Donna, have a sauna in their backyard in the city of Barrie clearly demonstrates how they see the sauna as one of life’s necessities. With Vettä (which means “of water”), they have brought the concept of an authentic Finnish experience to the larger community.
“It’s a place to connect mind and body with the self and others,” Harkonen says. “We have lost a lot of that,” he says, referencing how rates of anxiety and depression have soared.
Unlike some other Nordic spas, like the Scandinave in Blue Mountain, Harkonen does not believe in the no-speaking rule. In fact, he wants quite the opposite — to nurture social connections and make Vettä a meeting place. The spa is definitely expansive. Overlooking a forest, it encourages people to connect through a circuit of hot, cold, and relaxation. There are four saunas (one of which is the largest commercial one of its kind in North America); two steam rooms; a hot stone room; several relaxation rooms; hot, warm, and cold plunge pools; quiet and social zones; and 12 massage rooms. The spa also has a bistro (I loved the smoked rainbow trout to share, and Finnish pancakes) and plans to soon open a higher end restaurant.
When I visited Vettä recently with a friend, we did so as after cross-country skiing at Horseshoe Resort, which is only five minutes away, and where a combination spa/outdoor adventure is accessible any time of year. Along with cross-country, downhill skiing is offered and when the weather warms up you have the chance to pursue cycling, golf, treetop trekking, hiking, or other activities.
While in the area, we also ate at The Ktchn, which provides a fabulous escape for the urban foodie who seeks a romantic setting in the country. And it’s just a 10-minute drive from the spa. Although The Ktchn is part of a golf club, there is nothing stuffy or clubby about the place. Rather, it is more of a modern farmhouse, with elements of home, though I suspect a fancier home than many of us live in!
The Ktchn has high ceilings, stone floors, and large floor-to-ceiling windows with a western exposure, and sweeping vistas of the rolling hills that surround it. The upstairs “library” has a wet bar and harvest table for special events. And the menu opens like a book, showcasing everything from pan-seared British Columbia scallops to steak frites, braised venison shank, and a dark chocolate mousse with mixed berry coulis and pistachio brittle.
As a Toronto-based travel writer, the most frequent question I am asked is what I recommend for a quick and romantic getaway from the city. I can honestly say that Horseshoe Valley has all the elements needed for a relatively inexpensive and easy getaway: Food, activities, a fine place to spend the night, and now a Nordic spa. It’s a place where indulgences are plenty.
MORE ABOUT VISITING HORSESHOE RESORT
Location: 1101 Horseshoe Valley Road West, Barrie, Ontario (see map below)
Spa & Stay Package: Includes overnight accommodations at the resort with a day pass to Vettä. Rates start at $317 per night.