By Kristina Smith
Somewhere between the moor mud body detox and close encounter with deer in the forest it dawns on me: I am deeply, and completely, at peace. With the world; with the moment; with – dare I imagine – myself.
I am staying at Grail Springs Retreat Centre for Wellbeing, an enchanting property tucked quietly away near Bancroft, Ontario, a picturesque community with a rich geological history known as the “mineral capital of Canada.”
In an area rich with deposits of magnetic quartz crystal, granite and dozens of gems, the Grail Springs property intentionally lends itself to healing and renewal with its acres of forests, wildlife, hiking trails, and stunning gardens. You intuitively sense a special energy here; a feeling of connection, and of grace.
Prayer flags, hanging from the ancient trees surrounding the sacred labyrinth, sway in the breeze, honoring the wishes and dreams of those who have come before me. Entering the building through a castle door that welcomes “one and all,” I was warmly greeted and shown to my room, overlooking the lake, with a fresh robe waiting in the closet.
The “spa soundtrack” here is real – leaves rustling in the trees, water lapping at the shore, the wistful call of the loon. It is at once modern and medieval; humble, and entirely charming. With its plush velvet, dark wood, rich tapestries, swords, stones and candles, I could almost imagine Albus Dumbledore emerging into the Great Room for an evening discussion around the stone hearth.
Winner of Canada’s Best Wellness Retreat 2018 by the World Spa Awards and one of only three accredited Canadian members of Healing Hotels of the World, Grail Springs has earned a global reputation for providing its guests a chance to pause and reconnect with themselves. Their grounding belief is that you can’t pour from an empty cup – you must fill yourself up first to support others, and truly live the life you desire.
Founded in 1993 by Madeleine Marentette, what began as a B&B evolved into a spa. In the 2000s, she intuited a societal shift as requests for traditional beauty treatments were replaced by improving one’s overall health. She was at the forefront of what we now call the wellness movement, understanding the holistic interplay between body, mind, emotion and spirit. This led to the center’s popularity for detoxification, but has steadily shifted more to stress-reduction and healing from anxiety and depression.
That doesn’t mean the body does not benefit here, quite the opposite! Nourishing plant-based, anti-inflammatory, whole foods, detoxifying elixirs, clean air, alkaline-rich water (from the spring-fed lake, flowing through every tap), deep stillness and wild nature, all contribute to the overall feeling of calm and renewal. Their programs are holistically designed to address the whole person: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Guests can design their own package, layering spa therapies and cleanses onto the all-inclusive Grail Experience package, or choose from their 5 to 21-night transformational programs.
Each morning after breakfast is yoga and meditation, beginning with the lovely Grail Mantra Practice. The sessions were different each day I was there, some with more yoga and movement, others with more meditation. We experimented with pranayama (breathing techniques) and deep belly breathing (an unexpectedly strong workout!). The sessions are appropriate for all levels, with thoughtful instructors and a blissful lack of competition.
You can engage with others as much or as little as you like; I was told some guests connect so deeply they remain friends for years to come and often return to Grail Springs together. I encountered guests who were solo, like me, and kept to themselves, and others who were with a friend or daughter. Everyone was incredibly respectful of everyone else’s experience.
The property features many facilities to take advantage of, including wet, dry and Infrared saunas and outdoor mineral soaker tubs (wonderful for flushing the lymphatic system) as well as a selection of canoes, kayaks and SUPs for paddling, which is how I spent one joyful afternoon. A meditative forest walk leads to the hidden crystal mound mediation area, where you can sit and absorb the beauty and energy (the forest is affectionately called “The Big Church” by Marentette).
A special attribute is the herd of horses; you can wander over the paddock and sit in the presence of these peaceful beauties, who gaze at you with such intensity it feels they can read your very soul. The equine meditation experience, led by gifted facilitators, allows an even deeper connection for peace and healing.
The daily schedule includes meals, yoga, and after-dinner workshops, with plenty of time to yourself for therapies, contemplation, being active, or just taking it all in. The food was beautiful and nourishing, with a ritual to the meals that reminded me to eat more slowly and intentionally. (Sidenote: coffee is contraband here, but there is a delicious selection of herbal teas. This was something I was a little uneasy about beforehand, but found my digestive system seemed to quite appreciate the break!).
During my stay, I took part in the Spiritual Enrichment Program, a newer offering designed by Marentette. Our daily, small group workshops were led by a sweet gem named Laura, and designed to deepen the connection to our inner selves through inspirational discussion, contemplative exercises, and meditations to “tap in” to our soul’s voice to heal and create.
By incorporating spiritual practices from a variety of cultures, including Buddhism and First Nations, the program offers a unique approach to self-analysis, and the opportunity to let go of old stories. I emerged with a clarity I haven’t felt in some time, and with a commitment to bring the sacred into not only my life, but my every day.
I left Grail Springs feeling lighter and sweeter, with more energy and inspiration. I believe that this magical place is all about release – to fill your cup, release the unessential, and the healing can truly take place.
My Healing Therapies
An electronic, bioenergy reading of your energy levels and chakras, most guests get one done right at the onset and then again before leaving to show the change in their energy, blockages, and stress levels. A total eye-opener.
Color Therapy Bath with Reiki
A special color pigment, specifically chosen to enliven or calm a particular chakra energy center that is off balance, is combined with therapeutic Dead Sea salts and essential oils for a bath that is lushly restorative. This is followed by a chakra balancing session with a Reiki practitioner, which I felt on a deeply personal level in the days following.
Moor Detox Wrap with Vichy Shower
This luscious treatment is perhaps the most unique spa therapy I’ve experienced. The entire body is exfoliated before being slathered in mineral-rich moor mud. Then, a steam tent covers you neck to toes, and you relax while your pores open and your head is massaged. Afterwards, the unique seven-head Vichy shower rinses you off while you pray it never ends. A light massage caps off this glorious experience, which was so deeply detoxifying I found myself asleep that afternoon.
Thai Yoga Massage
This unique therapy, performed fully clothed on a mat on the floor, combines deep (yet passive) yogic stretches with tai chi, massage, and acupressure. My incredibly talented therapist, Sue, released a sciatic nerve issue that had been bothering me for months. My session was intense yet meditative; you give up control so completely toxins and energy blockages are able to release.
Plan your own transformative getaway at grailsprings.com. 2-night packages start at $265 CAD (pp, per night, dbl occ) and include accommodation, plant-based meals, daily yoga and meditation, saunas, hot and Cole mineral tubs, hiking trails, lake activities, and evening workshops.