One thing I love about the startup community in Toronto is that many of the entrepreneurs I’ve met have become close friends outside of our day jobs (if you can call a startup a day job). We go for drinks, hang out at birthday parties, and even go on pirate boat cruises. And yes, that’s exactly as fun as it sounds.
So it didn’t surprise me when my friend and entrepreneur Andrea Lown asked me to join her on a spa getaway last week. Lown is the co-founder of Smart Bride Boutique, an online wedding classifieds site that lets brides buy and sell used wedding dresses, accessories and paraphernalia. Along with her co-founder Leah Andrew, Lown has built a strong community of brides and brides-to-be through webinars, contests and events like Sprout Up, where they demoed the company to a room almost completely comprised of men. (Lown caught their attention by telling them they could use the proceeds from wedding dress sales to buy a new flat screen TV)
Since many brides-to-be take their moms or bridesmaids to get pampered pre-wedding, Lown and Andrew were heading to the highly-rated Ste. Anne’s and Dorset Manor spas east of Toronto to make use of the amenities and enjoy some treatments, so they could share their experience with their community. Clearly I jumped at the chance to get out of the city and take a girls road trip to get pampered. I asked my friend and freelance writer Jen Kirsch to join, and last Thursday the four of us were on our way. Ste. Anne’s is Canada’s largest destination spa, and has been voted favourite spa in Canada by Spa Finder four years in a row. The recently-opened Dorset Manor is a smaller property, but just as upscale and beautiful.
When we arrived at the Ste. Anne’s spa in Grafton, ON the first thing I noticed was the beautiful, lush landscape and the quaint stone buildings. It was like you stepped into the Scottish countryside. We toured the property, which sits on 500 acres, and saw the numerous amenities – the pool, hot tub, cold plunge pool, sauna, eucalyptus steam room, workout room, fitness studio, tea room…the list goes on. We met for lunch with Marijo Cuerrier, the property’s marketing director (the property is family owned and operated, and Marijo grew up in the main house when it was a private residence). She explained the philosophy behind the spa – it’s not about coming in for one treatment and heading back to the office, they only offer a full day or overnight package that focuses on completely unplugging.
One of the first things I noticed when I walked in was the “no cell phones allowed” sign, which I promptly ignored (I wasn’t ‘that girl’ who talked on her phone the whole time, but I did Tweet, Facebook and check email the entire time). Marijo says they don’t enforce the rule, but they prefer that people attempt to detach from the outside world in order to truly relax. She says most people are career women from the city who rush in dressed and made up to the nines with their BlackBerry attached to their hip, and she sees them hours later fresh-faced and in a bathrobe with no devices in sight and they are changed – relaxed, calm, with no sense of stress or urgency.
She could tell from my personality and constant Tweeting that she was going to have to wrestle my iPhone from me, and challenged me to come back to the spa for 48 hours of complete isolation. I have no doubt I could do it – after all, I have no problem unplugging when I take vacations to the beach in Mexico – but why would I want to? Staying connected makes me happy, not stressed out. I love sharing experiences, photos and conversations with my friends. There was definitely some appeal in the lack of TV, Wifi and cell service in the hotel we stayed at, the Dorset Manor (we played board games and laughed, never a bad thing), but I like having the option of connecting. Optional relaxation is lovely, forced relaxation is stressful.
(My partner-in-crime Jen Kirsch)
I had an absolutely fabulous time at the spas – I laid by the pool, took a stability ball class, had a hand treatment and a scalp treatment, sat in the steam room, ate fantastic food for lunch, dinner and high tea, and enjoyed the rustic charm of these impeccable properties. But I wouldn’t say I’m a spa’s ideal client. I prefer hustle and bustle to zen, and I avoid treatments like massages and classes like yoga and meditation because I find them extremely boring. Is it because I work in the technology industry, or because it’s just my always-on-the-go personality? Who knows. So did I fully isolate myself from technology? No. But did I share some great Twitpics, and feel calm while doing it? You bet.
Technology journalist, Financial Post columnist, former Managing Editor at BetaKit.com, and one of Marketing Magazine's 30 Under 30.