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Three Relaxing Retreats for an Escape Near Toronto

Ste. Anne's Spa, Langdon Hall and the Drake Devonshire cater to different strategies for letting off steam

Toronto is all about the hustle, but that doesn't mean you have to be, too. Locals and visitors alike can benefit from a stress-busting night or two away in the nearby countryside, at properties that cater to every travel personality, from gluten-free gourmands to people who still want a little nightlife with their getaway.

Take your pick of these three options to recover after a long week of meetings – or to host your next corporate retreat.

Upscale and elegant: Langdon Hall, Cambridge

Distance from Toronto: About 100 kilometres/60 miles

Key selling points: Built in 1902 as a 25,000-square-foot summer home, the main house of this country estate retains its original grand vision as a stately location for relaxing and entertaining and, along with additional buildings, hosts a restaurant, bar and full-service spa. The expansive grounds (30 hectares/75 acres all told) include walking trails, an outdoor swimming pool, gardens and a croquet lawn.

The food: Chef Jason Bangerter and his team start their work at the source: many ingredients come from the kitchen gardens or forests, and many more come from farmers in the region. You might breakfast on poached duck eggs with mushrooms and croissant pieces, or start dinner with fresh green chickpeas grown in a local greenhouse – and finish it with peanut butter fudge made with Ontario peanuts.

Courtesy Langdon Hall

Chef Jason Bangerter's beautifully plated dishes include this "heritage hen"

How to spend a day: Wake up with a swim before breakfast in the restaurant, where you might order à la carte or focus your efforts on the diverse buffet offerings. But don't eat too much – you'll be sampling your creations at a morning cooking class with one of the chefs, using ingredients from the garden. Skip lunch in favour of a bike ride on the trails, then come back in time for afternoon tea, a mix of sweets and savouries – and, of course, buttery scones with jam and clotted cream. A spa treatment will get you relaxed – but hopefully not too relaxed – before a cocktail and late dinner in the dining room, perhaps followed by a game of pool.

Packing list: Bring clothes that are comfortable, but not too casual – especially for dinner, when jackets are “suggested” (presumably for men). Come equipped for your choice of on-site and off-site activities, too, be it poolside lounging, archery lessons or a round of golf at a nearby club.

Relaxed and health-oriented: Ste. Anne's Spa, Grafton

Distance from Toronto: About 140 kilometres/87 miles

Key selling points: You'll immediately feel at home in this expansive space, which has the vibe of the casual country retreat of a well-off (but not show-off) family member and where guests are encouraged to spend their days wrapped in white robes, lounging on comfy couches in front of the fireplace reading magazines or playing board games.

Courtesy St. Anne's Spa

The food: Think spa food for people who don't want to eat spa food: plenty of fresh produce and options to suit special diets without being overbearing about it. Gluten-free is where this establishment shines: People with celiac disease will drive for hours to get here and stock up on loaves of the bakery's bread, and you'll find yourself playing "is it gluten-free or isn't it" with the buns and pastries at meals, they're so convincing. (The answer is generally yes.)

How to spend a day: Wake up and put on your robe before heading to the dining room to breakfast on crepes with berry compote and whipped cream or housemade plain yogurt with crunchy, nutty granola. Stretch your legs with a walk in the garden, then go back inside for a quick sauna before your massage. (Leave time to make progress on the communal puzzle while you wait for your therapist to call you in.) After lunch, sneak in a nap, then enjoy a gentle, restorative yoga class to work out any kinks. Satisfy any lingering hunger at afternoon tea, then soak in the outdoor hot tub (add a dip in the cold plunge pool if you dare) and catch up on the latest New Yorker before dinner. Cap off the evening with a game of Scrabble – your call on how competitive it gets.

Packing list: Bring comfortable clothes to wear under your robe, and a bathing suit for the sauna, steam room and hot tub. Ste. Anne's is strictly BYOB, so pack a few bottles of your favourite beverage (your room will have glasses and a corkscrew).

Modern and artsy: The Drake Devonshire, Wellington

Distance from Toronto: About 200 kilometres/125 miles

Key selling points: Newly opened in 2015, this 13-room boutique property sits in the heart of up-and-coming wine region Prince Edward County, making it the perfect home base to sample local vintages. "Rustic Canadiana" was the theme that governed the restoration of the late-19th-century building, and you can stick to the theme by shopping the quirky nationalistic goods at the hotel's outpost of hipster chain the Drake General Store before, say, heading out on a fishing excursion.

The food: P.E.C. is farm country, so it's no surprise that farm-to-table is the ethos here – and the Drake adds "lake-to-table,” as the fish is also local. Dishes lean hipster – think chicken and waffles for breakfast, surf 'n' turf tacos for dinner or a farmer's platter complete with smoked fish, devilled eggs and horseradish cream for lunch – and the drinks menu includes Ontario-made products from purveyors like nearby Rosehall Run winery and popular Beau's brewery.

Courtesy The Drake Hotel

The "owner's suite" at the Drake Devonshire

How to spend a day: Brunch on a mushroom Benny with baby kale (an accompanying Caesar is optional), then wander the streets of tiny Wellington, including the farmer's market (open from mid May through mid October) or the Wellington Heritage Museum, where you can learn about the region's Quaker heritage or food packing history (it was home to some 75 canneries between the late 19th and late 20th centuries). Spend the afternoon hopping between wineries, art galleries or both (perhaps with a stop at Norman Hardie winery for wood-fired thin-crust pizza on the patio) before heading back to the hotel for dinner and evening entertainment: if they're not hosting a live band, you can cozy up in front of the fireplace in the Living Room after perusing the current selection of in-house artwork.

Packing list: In the height of summer, pack your beach gear to enjoy the remarkably ocean-like shores of nearby Sandbanks Provincial Park (or of the even closer Wellington public beach). At other times, come equipped for seasonal activities like cross-country skiing or a bike ride on the 49-kilometre Millennium Trail, which snakes through the county past forests, fields and waterways.

Published Thursday, June 9th 2016

Header image credit: Courtesy Langdon Hall

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