Anne Dimon

Anne's Spa & Wellness Travel Blog








Chatting with Chef Brodi at TOCA - Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto  
July 21, 2011

Five things I learned from my first Social Media Race
March 2, 2011

Spa at the Beverly Wilshire pairs Hollywood glam with spa serenity.
January 18

I'm heading back to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and here's why...
January 16, 2011

My custom blending class at Ojai Valley Inn & Spa goes from Scent-o-Vicks to aphrodisiac
January 14

We found good value and a firm fitness focus at The Oaks at Ojai
January 12

Spas of America announces Top 50 Spas of 2010
January 11

Best place for caviar in Los Angeles
January 9

Hand Treatment at 35,000 Feet
December 30, 2010

First peek at Toronto's new luxury hotel spa
December 17, 2010

Counting down the days to four months on the road!
December 7, 2010

When was the last time you had four good dates in a row?
December 1, 2010

Parsnip Chips for a holiday snack

November 24, 2010

Hillcrest Inn & Spa is Back in Business

November 17, 2010

Five Weeks in San Miguel De Allende Mexico
September 25 - October 31, 2010

Can you have too much spa? Did the tour but, sadly, missed the treatment at Chi, The Spa at Shangri-La, Vancouver September 2, 2010

Reader Filomena Pisano Costa guest blogs about what a Wellness
means to her. August 12, 2010

Reader and guest blogger Anna Schantz tells us what a Wellness
means to her. June 17, 2010

Cold to the soul! What it feels like to spend time inside North America's first Cold Sauna May 24, 2010

Blog postings from my Serendipitous Spa Tour February to March 2010


Hand Treatment At 35,000 Feet You’ve got to give a big hand to New Jersey – based Theravie Products. Their Beauty to Go line allows a traveller a chance to give herself a little spa treat at home or on-the-go.

The company recently sent me a small sample pack and I tried their Moisturizing Gloves to-Go on a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles.

Travellers will find it convenient that the gloves come packed in a three-inch-square folded card (made with recycled paper) that easily slips into a purse or pocket. I also like that they are easy to use, mess free and there is no strong scent to annoy fellow passengers.

Half way through the flight I opened the card and removed the pair of large plastic gloves – about the same weight and with the same level of attractiveness as you might find at a paint store. The young woman sitting next to me stared with some curiosity and (since the gloves do look rather surgical) I did feel the need to explain what the heck I was doing. She thought it was "cool."

One simply slips on the gloves for 15 to 20 minutes and allows the “secret serum” on the inside (a combo of hazelnut, safflower and grape seed oils combined with vitamins A and E) to do its job – moisturize the hands. Activated by body heat, the serum offers an instant hand treatment which is particularly good during long flights that can cause the skin to feel dehydrated.

The company also offers Booties to Go and if they don’t already sell direct to consumers, they should.

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First Peek At Toronto's New Luxury Hotel Spa The new Ritz Carlton Toronto – the first Ritz Carlton in Canada - is scheduled to open early February, but since I’ll be checking out the wellness travel scene in Mexico at the time and will miss the grand opening, public relations consultant Melanie Greco kindly set up a pre-opening tour for me yesterday with spa director Kim Cadra.

While the spa still has a fair way to go before completion and Melanie, in good professional PR fashion, was not about to divulge all the secrets at this early stage, I saw enough to know that the Ritz Carlton Spa Toronto will most certainly raise the bar on the city’s spa scene. Toronto hasn’t had a significant new spa since Oasis Spa opened with fanfare in the spring of 2007 and quietly closed less than a year later.

Well located in the city’s financial district and a few steps from landmarks such as Roy Thomson Hall, the spa, like the hotel, has a subtle Canadian feel. There’s lots of rich woodwork, stone and other natural materials, plus motifs and a colour palette reflective of a Canadian fall. Kim says that the fall theme also signifies “a transition” very much in keeping with a spa philosophy.

Along with the spa, a large and superbly-equipped gym, indoor pool and a yoga studio take up the bulk of a 5th floor rooftop space flooded with natural light and affording sweeping city views.

With 16 comfortably-sized treatment rooms including two couples’ suites and a mani/pedi area, the spa is a good size to serve a 267-room hotel, but Kim says it will also operate as a day spa. In fact, she says the yoga studio will offer daily classes not only to guests but members. Hmmm. I’m thinking yoga members could, at times, congest the spa facilities but Kim points out that yoga members will use the gym locker room and must book a spa treatment to use the spa facilities.

Guest will find “resting” lounges in both the ladies’ and men’s locker rooms, plus Wet Areas each with sunken mosaic-tiled whirlpools (just large enough for two to lounge at one time), plus generously-sized saunas, steam rooms and experiential showers.

An extra large co-ed relaxation area with a glass ceiling and a glassed-in, wrap-around balcony and wall of windows with an unobstructed city view will probably end up being the big point of distinctions.

The ladies wouldn’t reveal anything about the spa’s signature treatments and while the decision of which product lines to carry is close to being finalized, the only hints Melanie and Kim were sending my way were that the products are likely to be Canadian with both organic and cosmeceutical lines being used in the treatments and sold in the retail area.

A spa cuisine menu created by executive chef Rainer Zinngrebe (former executive chef at the Ritz Carlton Cancun where he started the Culinary Institute) will be available from room service.

Ritz Carlton Spa Toronto will be a welcome addition to the Toronto spa scene and I can’t wait to visit once my winter road trip wraps up.

Counting Down The Days To My Four Months On The Road
“Go West young man,” may have been the mantra of another time, but when winter arrives in Canada the mantra, for many, becomes “Go South.” And, so it is with me. This year I will gleefully join the ranks of the Canadian snowbirds heading far and away from the cold and snow for a full four months.

Leaving your home for that extended period of time – albeit in the safe hands of the trusted person we have rented it to – does come with a certain amount of stress and a huge amount of pre-planning. The least of which is what to pack for various weather conditions and a variety of different activities and adventures.

My standard rule of thumb when it comes to packing is to make sure the majority of items are multi-functional (can go from day to evening), can be layered (if the weather turns cool) and are easy to mix-and-match. Solid colours and simple styles rule.

So I’m packing for four months! In all my years of travelling as a writer/columnist/editor, this will be the longest trip I have ever taken. Two of the blessings of having an online travel magazine are: 1. Travel is an integral part of the job. 2. It’s a job that allows one to work from the road. So you can expect stories, blogs and travel tips to just keep on coming.

I love the portability, flexibility and often, serendipity of it all. But unlike my Serendipitous Spa Tour 2010, this trip will have much less emphasis on the serendipity. The four month-long trip already has a solid structure.

My husband and I will spend a month or so in California, a few months in Mexico, then 10 days aboard Crystal’s Mind, Body, Spirit themed cruise from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, then...the next leg of the journey is still open to possibilities.

I’m particularly excited about the cruise - aboard the Crystal Symphony - which includes daily health and wellness-focused classes, workshops and lectures. The ship also boasts a full-service fitness facility (yes, I’m packing my running gear) and a Feng Shui inspired spa. I will be blogging every day from sea.

Hope you'll stay in touch!

Four Good Dates In A Row
“When was the last time you had four good dates in a row?” Seems like an odd question to intro a destination, but that’s how Ann Walker, media relations for Yuma, Arizona was trying to catch the attention of media folk at last night’s Arizona Tourism event in Toronto.

Attention captured, Walker handed out small boxes of – you got it – four good dates in a row. Who knew that Yuma is the world’s largest producer of natural dates? According to Nutrition and You, dates are packed with an impressive list of essential nutrients including iron, Vitamin A and dietary fibre. I love dates and these, I must say, are among the best I’ve tasted.

I’ve been to Arizona a handful of times, mostly Scottsdale and Sedona, never to Yuma. But at last night’s event I learned a bit about the city which is located on the Colorado River in the southwest corner of the state and near the borders of both California and Mexico.

While Yuma is not a player on the North American spa scene (in Arizona that would be Scottsdale), the area is an important agricultural region that is just now getting into agri-tourism - another area of interest for the wellness-minded.

Yuma boasts being the Winter Vegetable Capital of the World and the city’s most important culinary event seems to be the Yuma Lettuce Days Culinary Festival in March.

“Lettuce” add it to our long list of places to visit, if only for the dates.

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Parsnip Chips For A Holiday Snack While working on my December issue, I took my laptop down to my kitchen and whipped up this mid-day snack of baked parsnip chips. On the list of "healing" foods, parsnips are packed with nutrients and, cooked this way, seem more like a treat than a veggie. Here's my quick and easy recipe for Baked Parsnip Chips

Hillcrest Inn & Spa Is Back In Business! It was back maybe two years ago when The Hillcrest Inn & Spa in Port Hope, Ontario sadly closed its doors. Well, as of Saturday, November 13 the the inn and spa are back!

I’ve just gotten off the phone with new owner Kim Maksymuik. She and husband David, formerly of Toronto, purchased the property and have moved the family including their two seven-year-old twins to Port Hope.

“We will still be geared toward wellness,” promises Kim. She says the names – The Hillcrest and Valenova Spa will remain, and the menu has changed only slightly with less emphasis on Dr. Hauschka products and treatments. Other skin care and body product lines – results oriented, organic and Canadian – are being tested before a final decision is made.

The Maksymuiks will also introduce educational programs such as an Arts and Culture Series in conjunction with Northumberland School for the Arts, plus a Girl Talk Series.

The biggest change to the spa is that with the reopening, Valenova Spa has also become a “day spa” meaning guests can visit to enjoy treatments, lunch/dinner and educational programs without having to stay the night.

The cooking philosophy will remain healthy, organic and supporting local farmers.

We wish them huge success!

For more on Spas in Ontario


Heading Out On The First Serendipitous Spa Tour.
The Plan? No Plan 

February 15, 2010In the close to 20 years that I’ve been a freelance writer – a mixed bag of travel writer, columnist, hospitality/spa industry journalist – I’ve travelled far and wide. Sometimes on media trips, more often on solo trips but always between two and 14 days in duration.

The itineraries have been planned: Flight or train booked or the drive mapped, hotels reserved, spa appointments confirmed, hiking/cycling/kayaking tours pre-arranged. Not this time. For this trip, I haven’t planned any further than the one-way flight into Miami and a two night’s stay. Where do I go from there? How long will I be on the road? Read more about my Serendiptitous Spa Tour

Winter Driving Safety Kit & Tips

December 19, 2009

Friend and super-realtor Carole Ann Reed (with Royal LePage in Toronto) dropped by the other day with a gift bag: A winter safety kit for the woman driver. What a sweetheart. How many realtors take the time to do that?

Packed with care into a compact, recyclable container, the winter driving safety kit includes...

North America's First Cold Sauna - The New Big Chill

November 10, 2009

When Sparkling Hill Resort and Wellness Hotel opens in March of 2010, it will be the first in North America to feature a cold sauna as part of its spa and wellness offerings. Yes, a Cold sauna. Sounds a bit of an oxymoron now doesn’t it? Does anyone really want to sit in a cold sauna? Especially one that is -110 degrees C ( – 166 degrees F). Brutal! Read why it's a good thing...


Laundry Bag Tells The Green Story.

September 21, 2009

In an effort to keep the planet healthy, many hotels are going GREEN. Sometimes the green initiatives are obvious -such as the use of reusable cloth laundry bags instead of the usual plastic. Other times the initiatives are more subtle. At the Inn at the Forks in the historic The Forks district in Winnipeg, Manitoba, management is so proud of their ecologically-minded programs they have them printed (with eco-friendly ink, of course) on their reusable guest room laundry bags.

Starwood Spa Collection Seven Pillars Of Well-Being.

September 1, 2009

The ISPA Media Event held August 20th in New York City allowed spa, health and lifestyle media a change to meet with 14 top spa companies and find out what's new and exciting in the spa world. One of the companies represented was Starwood Spa Collection. Of their 16 North American spas the newest include Spa Anjali - The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa Avon in Colorado; The Spa at Equinox - The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa in Vermont; and ICE Spa - Sherton Anchorage Hotel & Spa in Alaska.

All spas in the collection subscribe to the Seven Pillars of Wellbeing: Beauty, Life Balance, Harmony, Aqua, Vitality, Nature and Nutrition.

I'm planning a spa-hopping trip from Toronto to Miami in November (filing daily blogs, of course)and hoping to visit at least one of Starwood's spas along the route. A few spa industry facts from ISPA.

Stressful Times = Greater Need For Spas. August 24, 2009

That was the prevailing message of this year’s 15th annual ISPA Media Event held in New York City last week. The event drew editors and journalists from across the U.S. and Canada to hear about the latest facts on the spa industry and meet with key representatives from 14 of the top spa companies.

Holtz Spa Arrives In The Picture-Pretty Town Of Perth, Ontario August 13, 2009

Holtz Spa. The name leaps to mind when one mentions “Ottawa spas.” Located within a hot stone’s throw of the Canadian Parliament Buildings and the landmark Fairmont Chateau Laurier, Holtz Spa is the most established spa in Canada’s capital city and certainly one of, if not the most wellness-minded. Holtz's third spa just opened at the new Code's Mill Inn in the pretty, little town of Perth.

Spa At Deerhurst Upgrades With A Bit Of Cosmetic Surgery

July 22, 2009

When the world’s political leaders gather, in June 2010, for the 36th Annual G8 Summit they will be better able to squeeze in a mani/pedi or shampoo and cut, even a massage or facial between all the meetings, networking and negotiating of alliances. The host venue for the G8 Summit, Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka, has recently enhanced and expanded their spa. I swung by for a visit this past weekend.

High Five For Four

July 5, 2009

Finally, a beautifully-appointed restaurant where you can order anything off the menu and keep track of calories as easy as…well…pie. At FOUR, in Toronto’s financial district, every dish weighs in at less than 650 calories.

Marquis Bistro Raises The Bar For Hilton Dining June 25, 2009

As a hotel chain, Hilton has never been known for its food and certainly not for its commitment to healthy eating and sustainability (not like Fairmont, for instance). But Marquis Lounge & Bistro at the new Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Toronto, could be a whole new beginning for Hilton F & B.

Metamorphosis Skin Care Products

Pretty Package Packs A Punch 

April 12, 2009

OK I’m a little over the top with the alliteration.....forgive me.

So, I was sitting at my desk on Thursday when a courier arrived at my door with a package. Nothing unusual there. As a magazine editor, I get my share of press kits and sample products. But this one, from Metamorphosis Advanced Skin Care, is one of the prettiest presentations I have received in a while. A round, robin’s-egg-blue box monogrammed with a tiny, signature butterfly and tied with a whisper of chocolate-coloured ribbon. Just what a busy editor needs to perk up a deadline-driven day.

Not only do I like the presentation, I like the Metamorphosis tag line. “True Beauty is Ageless. It’s an Attitude. Celebrate yourself.” That could be a mantra for anyone over the age of ….let’s say, 40.

And, the goodies inside? A moisturizing body wash and bath, a face wash, a stress relieve moisturizer (I’m for anything that relieves stress) and an “age defying” creame (I’m also for anything age defying). Metamophosis is a Canadian-made, botanical line of skincare products created by esthetician Denise Lauzon.

Pretty packaging yes, but how about what’s inside? Don’t know. Can’t say. Haven’t tried the line, yet, but I plan to very soon and will let you know how it stands up against other products I’ve sampled. Petty packages AND the opportunity to try new products. Oh yes, and lots of spas and travel. I have to tell you, I love my job.

Are Facials Worth It?

April 1, 2009

The New York Times has dermatologists and estheticians throwing verbal punches. Earlier this month the newspaper ran an article titled
An Expression of Doubt About Facials.

The article by Catherine Saint Louis casts doubt on the effectiveness of spa facials as compared to a visit to the dermatologist. Read more....


Half Marathon Completed in 1:54:20....Yes!

October 27, 2008

Yesterday I ran my first Half Marathon – for those who don’t run, that’s 21km/13 miles. The forecast in Niagara Falls had called for rain, but the God of Runners – that would be Hermes I believe – created a beautiful sunny/partly cloudy day perfect for running.

Other than stopping a couple of times at water stations I pretty much ran solidly the entire way with a pace of 5.34 – actually monitoring my pace was the only thing my new Garmin pedometer helped with since somehow I managed to screw-up the time and distance indicators in the first 10 minutes of the race.

My goal was to complete the Half in two hours. Despite a pulled glute still feeling sensitive, I knew I was running well when I past the Two-Minute Pace Bunny. By the time I hit the 18k mark my legs were getting really tired. The last 3k – particularly the very last km was very difficult. I ran on shear determination ‘cus surely those weren’t my legs and feet carrying me. Thank goodness for the pumping tunes on my Nano that kept me motivated, that and the desire to achieve my goal. Which, I am very proud to say I did! With almost six minutes to spare. Plus, the results show I came in second in my age category. Forgive me…. I do go on, but I am just so thrilled to have finished the race with my training buddies Sana and Sue. Who, incidentally finished in good time as well. What a great feeling comes from accomplishing a goal.

What I learned for the next race:

Drink more water before the race.
Warm up.
Don’t be in a Johnny-on-the-Spot when the race starts.
Don’t fill my water bottle with Gater Aid.
Make sure I know how my Garmin pedometer works.
Pack warmer clothing to change into at the end.

P.S. Kudos to the Niagara Falls Marathon team for an event extremely well organized.

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Niagara Falls' First Luxury Boutique Hotel

October 25, 2008

Have just arrived in Niagara Falls (Canada) in prep for tomorrow's marathon and have check into the Sterling Inn & Spa. The year-old plus hotel (opened in August 2007)is located just a hop and skip from the tacky fun houses and gift shops of Cliften Hill but it's miles away when it comes to design, decor and overall feel. Sterling is more luxury boutique than what you'd expect, not only from this part of town but also from an "inn" - but it is a member of Ontario's Finest Inn's so there you go. The 40-plus room hotel definately has a cool factor - sleek, contemporary, clean lines - very "lifestyle hotel." Most of the rooms are like the one I'm in - huge. Think king-sized bed, wet bar, in-room whirlpool bath for two, walk-in shower and sitting area with an electronic fireplace. Rates right now start at $135 mid-week - $290 for weekends but prices are bound to increase.

The six-month-old AG Restaurant is the best place to eat fresh, local, seasonal in Niagara Falls. Fabulous ambience is a bonus.

On the same floor as the restaurant, One Spa (operated by Spa-Direct) is small but, like the inn and restaurant, is beautifully decorated and first-class all the way. After this one short visit, it's obvious that Sterling Inn & Spa has raised the benchmark for accommodation in Niagara Falls. I can see it quickly becoming the number one place to stay and eat in the destination.

Pulled a Glute. Bummer.

October 18, 2008

About two weeks ago while training for my first half marathon, I pulled a glute. I think it happened while stretching. That was seven days ago and now I’m sitting in the Adelaide Club Health Clinic waiting for Dr. David Lee, chiropractor and medical director, to come to the rescue so I can run the Niagara Falls Half Marathon on October 26th.

Over the last few days I’ve tried rest, gentle stretching, hot baths with Epson salts, moaning and groaning, but….I haven’t really stopped running. Eased up a bit, but haven’t stopped altogether. I’m fit, I’m strong, I’ve trained relentlessly and I really want to finish this race with running buddies Sana and Sue.

Dr. Lee gives me a quick check-up and first diagnosis is that it’s Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and that means possible scar tissue a.k.a. “a knot.” He says, “the process happens in all of us but if it’s consistent and scare tissue continues to accumulate it won’t easily flush out on its own.”

There are three stages to treating:

1. Eliminate the pain and dysfunction
2. Implement stretching (by that he mean appropriate stretching)
3. Implement strengthening exercises

Problem is, he says, people jump right to stage Two or Three which he says is like trying to get a spot of glue out of a cotton T-shirt. You can stretch that T all you want and you can try to strengthen the fabric but it ain’t going to get the glue out. Nope. First you’ve got to loosen the fibers that hold the glue and that’s what he plans to do to my glute (actually, he has isolated the offending muscle and it’s the periformis. He says it’s a very common muscle to injure especially for runners.

The next part (think massage with simultaneous stretching), he tells me, “is really going to hurt and, over the next few days, the pain may get worse before it gets better.” Well, he is certainly right about the hurt. OMG. The tricky thing, he explains, is that the glute (or periformis) may not actually be the source of the problem but a result of other muscles not doing their jobs properly. The body is a complex mechanism and it’s times like this that one truly comes to grips with that truth.

He uses a technique called ART (Active Release Technique). “It’s one of the best,” he says, “for soft tissue injuries.” ART breaks up the “glue” (scar tissue) so fibers release the knot and leave it ready for more effective stretching and strengthening. It also help a qualified practitioner diagnose if the problem could be a result of issues in other parts of the body. In my case, for instance, he figures it could be a tight hamstring causing my problem or that my feet pronate.

Remember the old TV ads for Buckley’s cough syrup – “it tastes awful, but it works” well ART hurts like hell, but it truly works. The pain seems to have dissipated, at least for now, and I feel I’m ready to run. Dr. Lee warns that running a race in 8 days is not ideal BUT it’s a can do especially since my injury isn’t severe. “If it was a tear,” he says, “you’d be out.” Most tears he says are caused by trauma but a knot just silently creeps up on you in a repetitive strain cycle. He also advises that running the Half that soon could make it worse. Leading up he suggests gentle runs, cycling, swimming or water aerobics. “If running hurts…” he says, “stop. Trust your body.” He also suggests a couple of follow-up appointments before the run. This is the first time I have visited a chiropractor for an injury but I am so delighted that I did. Back to the training….then Niagara Falls (I hope.)

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Wanted: Healthier food options at airports.

October 13, 2008

As I write this I am sitting on the floor in Gate B18 at the Norfolk International Airport in Virginia. I have a two-hour wait for a Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta to catch a connection back to Toronto. So why am I sitting on the floor? Number one, the gate is not in service at the moment so there are no chairs; number two, that fact makes it very quiet (it’s my own little private space); number three there is an electrical outlet here so I can connect my laptop; and number four it’s directly across from Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express. And that, my friends (I’ve been watching too much John McCain on CNN), is the focus of this little commentary. Airport food.

Generally speaking, the folks who operate airport kiosks and restaurants are not so healthy-minded. At most airports it’s a challenge to find anything that smacks of good nutrition. If I’m catching an early morning flight I usually end up simply buying a banana. Lots of pre-made bagel sandwiches out there, but why are the bagels never whole wheat or multi-grain?

Wolfgang Puck’s Gourmet Express actually stocks the good stuff – like a turkey, tomato, red onion and Romaine sandwich on a whole wheat bun, and fruit smoothie blends with low fat, low sodium and low sugar and 87 per cent pure juice. Did you know that according to Dr. Stephen Pratt, author of SuperFoodsRx, turkey, tomatoes, red onions and Romaine are all Superfoods or Superfood side-kicks? Apparently the mini outlets are now in 80 airports across the U.S. but this is the first one I’ve run into – maybe I’ve been too busy running to catch flights.

So, I’m sitting here on the floor enjoying a little picnic-for-one and hoping that airport food outlet operators soon take note that wellness-minded travellers continue to increase in number and we want healthier food choices for quick or last-minute snacks or meals prior to bording. What about outlets that serve freshly-squeezed juice and yogurt-based smoothies? What about a health bar allowing a customer to customize a mix of nuts, seeds and dried fruit? I’d love to hear from airports who offer such or from readers who have come across outlets for healthy food options in airports around the world. Please send comments to


Fresh fruit!

Patricia Berliner

I completely agree with you, and you have put it well. Why is it, with all the popular magazines and newspapers constantly running articles, and with popular TV shows having regular features on these issues, that places like airports aren't getting it with respect to the nutritional needs of travellers? It isn't rocket science to substitute whole grain bread for white, or to offer more fresh fruit, nuts, etc. instead of junk food. An even bigger pet peeve of mine is the food that is usually served at conferences, meetings, conventions, etc. I work in health care and you'd think that these folks would understand, if no one else does, the importance of nutrition. I attended a workshop recently and the food was all white pasta, cream sauce, some sad wilted overly dressed salad, and lots of sweets. No wonder everyone fell asleep in the afternoon!

Thanks for letting me rant!


Many more comments from readers and other travellers at Airport Restaurants

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SuperFood from Westin Harbour Castle

Westin Delivers “SuperFoods.”

September 26, 2008

It wasn’t so very long ago when serious foodies would turn their noses up at hotel food, and healthy types certainly wouldn’t seek out hotel restaurants to feast on dishes created with a specific emphasis on health and nutrition. How times have changed.

One example, Westin Hotels & Resorts introduced SuperFoods-focused menus last year at hotels across North America and earlier today I had the opportunity to sit down and enjoy some of the dishes with Duff Lampard, executive chef at Toronto’s Westin Harbour Castle. For those of you who don’t know Toronto, the Harbour Castle is the closest thing Canada’s largest city has to a waterfront (Lake Ontario) resort – and yes, it’s right downtown. A good little jaunt to the main shopping, restaurant and theatre districts, mind you, but certainly walkable for the fitness-minded, and a short cab ride for everyone else.

So, you ask, what are SuperFoods? According to Dr. Steven Pratt’s best selling book SuperFoods – these are everyday foods known for being health-enhancing and rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients. Foods, for instance, such as avocados, spinach, tomatoes and's Dr. Pratt's list of foods and their benefits.

Click here’s the complete list along with individual benefits The Westin program uses this identified group of foods as the main ingredient in a variety of dishes.

In the conference hotel’s spacious, first floor, all-day Mizzen Restaurant (the name has nautical roots), the chef and I sat down to chat and sample a number of dishes. “There’s nothing really new here,” he’s quick to point out, “it’s just basic, sensible nutrition that we’ve put together and made available to our guests as a healthy option.”

He adds, “we’re not here to force feed people, we simply have a responsibility to make sure guests have access to healthy nutritious meals, and our menu is a gentle reminder.”

The first thing our server, Rhey, brings us is a small round loaf of artisan bread with buttery green onion topping and served with a small dish of whipped Asiago cheese and artichokes. The treat is served complimentary to all restaurant guests but – it’s hardly healthy. “It’s all about balance,” defends Lampard, “and that includes comfort food.” Even when you are a super healthy eater, it’s hard to resist a little dollop of “comfort.”
If you would have dined with us today you would also have found “comfort” in the Soup of the Day - Coconut Chicken Curry, and in the Rustic Chicken Pot Pie ($17) but the chicken is organic.

While the menu, he says, incorporates about 15 super foods into offerings, they don’t neglect the fact that guest might prefer other types of dishes. “This is not a wheat grass with burdock type of menu,” he says, “and we’re not here to force people to eat healthy. It’s all about choice.”

So, I choose to start with the Roasted Butternut Squash Bisque ($9). Lampard explains that deeply-coloured foods (like squash) tend to have a lot more antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory. The soup is a beautifully rich in taste and colour and made, just the way I like it, with vegetable stock instead of cream. He explains that it’s sweetened with a touch of honey (another super food) to give it a fuller taste. It’s light but with a great depth of flavour. We also sampled Heirloom Tomato Caprese Salad ($18); Baby Organic Spinach with cranberry crostini, shaved goat cheese, and gig balsamic vinaigrette ($15); Forest Mushroom Risotto ($24) with grilled vegetables, shaved parmesan and red pepper reduction; and Pan Seared Atlantic Salmon ($30) with baby spinach, warm vegetable salad, citrus cream and coriander drizzle .

At Mizzen, the chef says it’s not just about the super foods, but about the pairing of foods and the cooking techniques that maximize the healthy benefits. For instance, with a salmon dish he might use a grape seed oil (high in omega 3 and essential fatty acids) which together packs “a double punch of omega 3.” When it comes to cooking, they will choose pan steaming over boiling to preserve the nutritious integrity of a food. In other cases it may mean cooking an entire vegetable (beets for instance) to avoid the leaching of nutrients.

Beyond being nutritious and very tasty, the other thing I noticed about the food here is the presentation. It’s closer to fine dining that what you’d normally find in an all-day restaurant. You can check out these Superfoods menus for yourself next time you visit a Westin hotel or resort.

Here, from the book Superfoods by Steven G. Pratt, M.D (published by Harper) is a list of 14 “super foods.”

Beans – help reduce obesity
Blueberries – lower the rish for cardiovascular disease
Broccoli – lowers the incidence of cataracts and fights birth defects
Oats – reduce the risk of type 11 diabets
Orange – help prevent strokes
Pumpkin – lowers the risk of various cancers
Wild salmon – lessens the risk of heart disease
Soy – lowers cholesterol
Spinach – decreases the chance of cardiovascular disease and age-related mascular degeneration
Tea – helps prevent osteoporosis
Tomatoes – raise the skin’s un protection factor
Turkey – helps build a strong immune system
Walnuts – reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer
Yogurt – promotes strong bones and a healthy heart.

The Mizzen Menu
Harper Publishing

Cross-Training with a “Forbidden” Trek.

September 16, 2008

In the midst of training for my first half-marathon, I decided to do a bit of cross-training so, from Vancouver where I was checking out the local spas, I headed up to Coastal Trek Resort on Vancouver Island for a few days of hiking.

I really appreciate that owners Andrea and Shayne Stuchbery bent the rules a bit to allow me to stay for just these “few days” because the minimum stay is typically seven-days. The whole focus of this intimate, family-run property is health and fitness and the week-long program revolves around daily hikes. There are more than 100 different options in the immediate area and each daily hike is selected by guide Mike Black based on guests interest and fitness level.

After the first day of what might be called a “starter hike,” I was ready for the big one – a 27 km (16.2 miles) signature hike across Forbidden Plateau. Shayne explained it to all six guests as we sat around the massive dining room table enjoying a healthy breakfast. As well as being co-owner, Shayne also guides hikes and he says the 27 km, the retreat’s flagship hike is his personal favourite. Turns out, I’m the only one up for the challenge. So while Mike takes the rest of the group on another day-long hike, Shayne and I will traverse the Forbidden Plateau.

While the name – Forbidden Plateau – sounds more than a bit foreboding, Shayne assures me that it is nothing of the sort. In fact, he said, I always do it in my bare feet. How difficult can a hike be if this man can do it barefooted?

This will be no outing to smell the wild flowers, enjoy the view or snap photos – this is a hike for fitness sake and the goal is to complete it in the record time of six hours, which Shayne tells me he did with a previous thirty-something male guest.

The beginning of our trail, which is on Washington Mountain in Strathcona Provincial Park (located in the centre of Vancouver Island and designated the oldest park in British Columbia) includes a touristy boardwalk, followed by a groomed forest trail, soft on the feet (good for my barefooted guide) and dappled with sunlight. At Murray Meadows, about 8 km into the hike, Shayne announces “now we’re at the hard part.” The next three km, a collection of roots, muddy patches and water hazards, really slows the pace. Then comes the warning, “the most difficult part is still to come.”

At noon, about the 11km mark we stop for lunch on a rocky spot between two lakes. We take just enough time to rest our feet and enjoy part of the picnic lunch – which includes a chicken wrap and steamed edamame (soy beans) - prepared by the chef at Coastal Trek.

Not long after lunch we hit one of the longest “difficult parts” - a steep and constant incline up the saddle between two mountains that takes us up about 1,000 feet.

While there were many gentle parts – forest and meadows - the route was more obstacle course than hiking trail and many parts were not groomed. We encountered sections strewn with huge fallen limbs, rocks that made walking difficult, slippery muddy patches, two significant inclines and lots of mosquitos. We passed through beautiful old-growth forests and peaceful lake-side meadows. The only sounds, other than those made by our own voices, were those of birds, squirrels the occasional rushing waters or trickling streams.

The highlight for me was actually one of the most difficult sections - a treacherous pebble covered terrain of an old ski hill closed down in the 90s. It was like walking on marbles and we really slowed the pace. It was here I took my one and only tumble of the day. Ouch. Turns out it afforded the day’s most scenic view. We were looking down on Comax Village, Georgia Strait and the Coastal Mountains beyond.

It took close to seven hours to complete Forbidden Plateau Traverse and along the way we met only one other person – a solo trekker looking to set up camp for the night.

Cold drinks, snacks and iced hand towels were waiting for us back at the resort. We didn’t make the six-hour finish time but still I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Especially when I learn that only 2 per cent of guests set out to complete this great hike. Along with Mount Kenya, Havasu Canyon and Grosmorn Mountain, I see it as another notch in my hiking belt. And, yes, except for the pebble-covered ski slope, Shayne did it all in his bare feet.

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Will Vibrational Healing be the next big “spa thing?”

September 4, 2008

Last week, while heading back to Toronto from Quebec City and Montreal, I stopped by Holtz Spa in Ottawa to try the newest addition to their extensive spa menu. It’s an 80-minute treatment called Spirit of the Forest – A Vibrational Healing Experience. Cost is $195 Cdn.

First of all, let me admit that the whole idea of "vibrational healing" is rather difficult to understand and accept, and it does take some getting use to. While energy treatments such as chakra balancing and reiki have been around for some time the concept of “vibrational healing” is still relatively new to the spa industry. It is however, scientifically based, linked to homeopathy and has been used in healing practices by various cultures for centuries. There are some similarities to the Bach Flower Remedies but what makes this particular treatment different is that it combines essences from nature with energy work that opens the body up to healing.

Over the years I have learned to try new things with an open mind - sometimes I am disappointed, more often not.

In one of the spa's private treatment rooms, the session begins with a few questions and a personal assessment by the therapist, the selection of a specific essence (or blend of) based on the assessment (the therapist’s intuition and training is important here), a small drink of the chosen tree essence dissolved in water (it tastes like a very mild, floral-flavoured tea), a full brushing of the skin, a light massage with oils combined with essence of trees, then energy work which opens the mind for healing.

What makes this treatment different from other energy work I’ve experienced in many parts of the world is the interaction of the therapist to help guide the client to release whatever negative energies are blocking or resisting the healing process. As you begin to unblock – expect to cry. Think of it as emotional detox that sets the stage for healing. At the end of the treatment, you not only feel relaxed but lighter, freer as if some emotional burden has been lifted.

I believe that the challenge of this treatment lies with the therapist. It’s not a treatment that just anyone can do. It MUST be a person who is naturally nurturing, has some life experience in order to be able to relate to the person experiencing the treatment, plus be trained in energy disciplines. Denise Chiasson, a reiki master, naturopath, nutritionist and one of two Holtz therapist now trained in the procedure, is perfect for the assignment. She has all the right qualities, knowledge, training, is a natural caregiver and has the skill to connect with her client and that is ultimately important. Everyone will get something different out of this treatment but I strongly believe that anyone going in with an open mind and a belief in the power or energy will benefit. Holtz plans to introduce the treatment at Holtz Spa in Markham in the new year.

Price is $195 Cdn. or the 80-minute treatment and includes a take home bottle of tree essence to continue the healing at home. You'll find more info at

Four Days in New York - Day 4 - August 21 A wake-up call from the front desk stirs me from a deep slumber. Today I am running around Central Park. Coleman Feeney of City Running Tours picks me up at 7:30 and we hit the ground running. Central Park – an incorrectly perceived place to avoid – is actually a Mecca for runners at this time of the morning. Dozens of them join New Yorkers walking their dogs during this “leash free” time of the day. City Runnings Tours has their standard runs or will customize according to client interest and running ability. Today we did about five miles – stopping every now and then to admire the view. For runners, or for those who just like to take in the sights while getting in a fitness activity, this is the perfect way to tour the city. All running guides are also city-certified tour guides so expect to get double value for the money.

Back at The 414 Hotel – enviable location, a gem of a boutique hotel (once the construction wraps up) and with reasonable rates and personable service – I’m checking out and heading over the The Kitano New York on Park Ave. near Grand Central Station. I love this Ritzy neighbourhood and it’s very close to shopping which I, unfortunately, never have time to indulge in.

The hotel has a slight Asian feel and has just completed a major renovation – it’s quite lovely.

Quick check-in and I’m back on the subway off to Greenwich Village. Because I’m always short on time and just to make sure I don’t end up in Harlem, or elsewhere, I always ask for directions prior to boarding any train. The subway attendants, all behind what I assume to be bullet-proof glass, are all very help and when they saw I had to exit the system to ask a question then go right back in, they let me bypass the toll gates so I wouldn’t have to pay a second time. Wasn’t that really nice of them?

My destination in Greenich Village is Mas restaurant. It’s not open for lunch but I have an interview with chef/owner Galen Zamarra. One of the reasons I’m in New York is to research a feature for Clean Eating magazine and he is the main interview. The reason is his culinary philosophy of working as much as possibly with local growers. Local, regional, seasonal, sustainable – all buzz words for this new and already popular on-the-stands magazine. Food is fabulous. If you’re in the area, Look for the unique front door – a thick slap of barn board.

Back on the subway, now heading for one of the main reasons for this visit – the annual ISPA Media Event. I have about an hour to get there and have no idea exactly where it is in this mega city. I have the address (which I thought would be sufficient) but when taking the subway you also need the cross-streets. This results is much subway confusion and frustration for me but thru trial and error (read jumping on and off various trains) and with help from riders, a policeman and a subway attendant or two – I arrived in good time.

ISPA, as you know, is the International Spa Association with 3,200 members in 80 countries. Today, about 200 (give or take) media members have been invited to meeting with a couple of dozen spas from across the U.S. The theme of the event is: Live Happy. Live Healthy. Live Spa.

Participants include Willow Stream the Spas at Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, KSL Resorts, JW Marriott Spa Collection, Rancho La Puerta, Red Mountain Spa (one of my favourite spas for hiking activities), The spa at Mandarin Oriental (both new York and Miami and I love them both), The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg (with treatments inspired by the various centuries) and The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa launching a new active metabolic training assessment program.

They all have a story to tell – and that’s why we’re here. It’s a great opportunity for them to talk and media to listen. More about that in a future blog.

Last night in New York and all I do is head back to The Kitano for a hot bath, a bit of work and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow, it’s back to Toronto.


Four Days in New York - Day 3 - August 20

It's 7ish when the pitter patter of workmen's feet just outside my 414 Hotel guestroom door wake me. Oh well, I had to get up anyway.

First stop today is The Pump Energy Food. Billed as the “Physical Fitness Restaurant, this chain restaurant - there are five scattered around the city - offers an extensive menu of healthy selections. I popped into the West 55th Street location (40 West 55th between 5th and 6th. It’s a very small, nothing fancy eatery with just three bars with chairs and stools, but a restaurant that seems to draw the local business market like a magnet. Shakes, juices, sandwiches, pizza, grilled chicken over brown rice – it’s all there. One of the most popular dishes is called Lean Body - #77 on the menu. Grilled chicken, tomato, onions and peppers, served over steamed spinach and topped with vegetarian Chile. Price is $9.20 U.S. for a junior size. Prices are great for anyone on a budget. You can get a bowl of lentil soup for just $ 2.75, a scoop of hummus and a pita for $2.25, a protein shake from $5.80 . It’s a great choice for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, take out or a quickie dinner before heading to the theatre.
In my case it was an energy boost moment before heading to my next stop... Spa at the Mandarin Oriental.
As I make my way there on foot – I’m really a sucker for punishment – I’m thinking how much I like the Mandarin Oriental brand. I’ve checked it out in Miami and in Singapore and I’ve always been impressed so my expectations as I head to the Mandarin Oriental New York are running high.

Into the building and up to the Sky Lobby on the 35th floor, I am captivated by the incredible view from the Lobby Lounge. Looking down on Columbus Circle, it’s got to be one of the best views in the city. Go for lunch, afternoon tea or a pre-dinner cocktail.

Just around the corner from the lobby is the spa. The receptionist welcomes me with a small cup of chilled mountain berry tea and a chilled towel infused with an essential oil blend from the Espa product line. She brings out a small wicker basket with spa sandals and exchanges them for my shoes.

The change rooms are specious and lovely, the robes luxurious and there are full-size June Jacob products for guest use. An attendant takes me to the Heat Experience – a room with a hot pool with strategically placed underwater jets for massages, a mosaic-tiled steam room (in the round) and a rain shower stall. A floor to ceiling window overlooks the city. About 10 minutes into my “heat experience” an attendant brings me an iced berry tea with a slice of lime. I’m loving the attention, service and luxury of this spa and my treatment is still to come.

The signature treatments here are the Time Rituals – meaning you book a block of time – 90 minutes, two hours, for instance – and your treatments are customized to suit your state of mind and goals.

I sit in this beautiful waiting room - decorated in a palatte of soft neutrals - nibbling on dried fruit, sipping on a gentle green tea and browsing thru magazines bound in monogramed leather covers, I feel as if I've walked into a magazine ad. Not one proverbial hair-out-of-place.

In the lovely locker room, the attendant hands me a personal amenity kit in a monogrammed cloth pouch - perfect for travel.

All Time Rituals begins with the sounding of Tibetan chimes and a traditional foot treatment in a hand-hammered copper bowl. Anyone who has been walking the city’s busy streets will be thankful for this. It’s a welcoming gesture that also grounds the body and balances energy. During the foot bath, Jennifer quizzes me on things like state of mind (stress and rushed ), lifestyle (healthy but hectic) and goal of the treatment (relaxation and revitalization). She concludes that I will benefit most from a massage called Ama Releasing. Using long gliding rhythmic techniques including work on the marma points it’s mentally relaxing, detoxing and simultaneously energizing. My answers help her customize the experience and together we select the essential oils that work best for me. She suggests, I test the scent and make the selection. I end up with Espa blends called Energy, Fitness and Replenishing.

This is followed by a full body exfoliation, a shower, a head to toe massage, a facial cleansing and application of oils and a scalp massage called Shirobhanga (from the book of Ayurveda)

Following the treatment, time is spent in the Relaxation Room with four lounges draped in cashmere throws. Another great view plus more dried and fresh fruit to snack on. Ten minutes into my relaxation an attendant comes by with a hot neck cozy and a miniature smoothie made with apple



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