If you want to follow in the footsteps of royalty, the Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Prince of Wales Hotel is a good place to start. The Duke and Duchess of York visited in 1901, and Queen Elizabeth II stayed here in 1973. Fittingly, it oozes old-world charm. The staff is attentive and the lobby plush and appealingly cluttered, with inlaid wood floors, paintings in gilt frames, sculptures, settees and even a stained glass backdrop.
Built in 1864 and completely restored, the hotel is the grand dame of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town known for its Regency and Victorian architecture. Ninety minutes southwest of Toronto, it sits smack in the heart of Ontario’s wine country, yet given the hotel’s British ties, is it any wonder that the focus of its Secret Garden Spa isn’t wine, but tea?
Tea, after all, is historic, healing and veddy, veddy British. Discovered more than 4,000 years ago and introduced to England in the 17th century, it’s known to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure and fight free radicals. Green tea is especially healing, so drink up. Its secret ingredient is a catechin polyphenol called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant with disease-fighting properties.
At the hotel’s Secret Garden Spa you can soak up the benefits with a Silk Road Tea Facial containing green, white and rooibos tea. Other tea treatments include a Green Tea and Sugar Cane Pedicure and a Pineapple-Colada Tea Wrap, or you can have it all with a Head to Toe Tea Taster package. If wine is more your drink, you can opt for a Decadent Body Wrap with Champagne Essence that contains the antioxidant properties of apple and wine.
Beside these drinkable therapies, the spa has several other options. Since I landed up with a bad case of irritated skin I opted for a Calming Facial, which helped to soothe my stressed-out-by-urban-life epidermis. For more aggressive anti-aging, I would have chosen one of the Biodroga facials. A potent line from Germany, Biodroga contains thermal water from the healing springs of Baden-Baden and its Collagen Facial is said to amaze.
As for the spa itself, Secret Garden is small and intimate with neutral tones and unexpected touches such as an aquarium in the lounge and an endearing assortment of ornamental porcelain sinks. The basins in the women’s change room, for example, have a Sleeping Beauty theme and look as delicate as fine bone china.
My favorite spot was the pool area one level up on the main floor. An airy room with a saltwater pool, whirlpool and sauna, the real treat is the series of huge paintings that illustrate the life of a young Queen Victoria – a charming and surprising addition to a wellness area.
If you want to keep with the tea theme, round out the day with afternoon tea in the hotel’s Drawing Room. There’s nothing like a cup of steaming Earl Grey with scones and clotted cream to transport you back to the days of the glorious British Empire.