From Elora’s newest spa to Tweed’s one-couple resort, paradise is just a few hours’ drive from the GTA. We rounded up seven of the best weekend getaways you’ll want to escape to this year — whether you’re seeking a stylish spot with retro decor, high-end spa, or a quiet place where you can get back to nature. These cool spots are just a quick jaunt north of the city.
Vintage motel’s chic makeover
Picton | 2.5 hours
The County is known for many things: wine, gorgeous sandy beaches, local food. Now it can add being the epicentre of a retro motel renaissance. PEC is now home to not one, but two vintage drive-in lodges revamped as hip havens for visitors. The latest to open is the Drake Motor Inn, which offers amenities that include a curated vending machine, games to borrow and complimentary morning coffee and tea. The property is located a stone’s throw from Lake Ontario, all those wonderful vineyards and its sister property, the Drake Devonshire. Rooms feature original artwork and hip Drake touches such as quilts by Brooklyn-based designer Cold Picnic. Guests even get complimentary vintage Polaroid cameras to borrow for their stay. Picton’s June Motel took over the the Sportsman Motel site that formerly catered to the sport fishing crowd. Now, the revamped motor lodge offers 16 gorgeous rooms with carefully curated guest experiences, from yoga and detox to romantic getaways, as well as six bikes available to rent — the best way to tour the wineries.
A luxury spa cut into a cliff
Elora | 1.5 hours
Elora is positively overflowing with small-town Canadiana, and with the addition of a fancy new hotel and spa, it has become an ideal weekend getaway destination. The Grand River meanders through town before plunging over the rocks at the site of the old Elora Mill, now the swanky Elora Mill Hotel & Spa, which reopened last year after a massive renovation. The mill itself dates back 175 years, so expect oodles of ambience to pair with the ultra-luxe amenities, such as the stunning spa cut into the side of a cliff with fitness and yoga studios, saunas and steam rooms. Out on the viewing deck overlooking the river sits an infinity pool and hot tub for peak Zen. There is a lot of stone in Elora, and it is a huge part of what makes this sleepy picturesque town north of Guelph work. The stone, limestone to be exact, forms gorgeous historic buildings now filled with boutiques, galleries and gourmet food shops that line the main streets. It came from the old quarry in town that was closed many years ago and has since been converted into a drop-dead gorgeous, two-acre swimming area.
A boutique Niagara hotel with history
Niagara-on-the-Lake | 2 hours
Dating back to 1824, when Captain Duncan Milloy of Oban, Scotland, built his personal home on this very property, the Oban Inn is a charming and well-appointed CAA four-diamond boutique hotel in the historic core of Niagara-on-the-Lake. If one should ever want to leave such decadence, this is an ideal spot from which to explore the wineries, cuisine and culture of the Niagara Region for the weekend. Guests can enjoy the luxurious spa, dedicated to well-being and vitality, or enjoy the outdoor lap pool, hot spring or steam room. The Oban Inn also overlooks the oldest golf course in Canada. There are dozens of wineries just minutes away, including landmark wineries such as Trius, Konzelman Estate and Chateau des Charmes. As well, there are popular new grape-forward additions, including Hare Wine Co., and top-flight culinary destinations, such as the Pearl Morissette, recently ranked as one of the top 10 restaurants in Canada. And, of course, the Oban Inn restaurant offers a gourmet, regionally focused menu as well. The quaint village of Niagara-on-the-Lake is also home to the venerable Shaw Festival, offering a season of engaging theatre in three theatres.
A historic Muskoka hotel
Muskoka | 3 hours
Muskoka is home to numerous gorgeous luxury hotels, old and new, including the Rousseau, just around the bay from the historic Clevelands House resort, and the golf resort Taboo. For dining, it’s hard to find better than the Oar & Paddle in Gravenhurst, Spencer’s Tall Trees in Huntsville and Crossroads in Rosseau, also home to a sweet farmers market every Friday. Worth noting, in recent years, the area has returned to its music roots with the Sawdust City Music Festival in Gravenhurst. It’s one of the many charming sides to Ontario’s premier cottage country destination that many don’t know about. Nowhere is that more clear than in the tiny town of Bala, home to the Kee to Bala. This legendary live music venue dates back more than 70 years to when it was Dunn’s Pavilion and played host to the biggest names on the big band circuit such as Louis Armstrong. It is hard to top a night listening to Blue Rodeo on the shores of Lake Muskoka. There are the barge concerts in Gravenhurst and the New Orleans jazz band that plays on a boat motoring slowly along the Moon River. Heaven.
A resort for one couple at a time
Tweed | 2.5 hours
Before guests leave the Black River Retreat near Tweed two hours northeast of Toronto, they take a “love lock,” provided by the host, adorn it with names or initials just like they do in Paris, and secure it to the chain of similar locks strung from tree to tree in the backyard “love garden.” And with that, ends one of the best kept getaway secrets in this part of the world — a luxury resort that caters to one couple at a time. The gorgeous woodland retreat sits on the banks of the gently flowing Black River. Guests can borrow a kayak and explore the river by day or perhaps just swing from one of the hammocks before returning home for a four-course gourmet dinner, prepared by a personal chef, followed by a good soak in the cedar hot tub. Later,they can sit by a roaring, romantic bonfire before retiring to the oversized log bed. Other features of the retreat include a beautiful great room with stone fireplace, opulent dining room and Wild West saloon–style games room. A gourmet breakfast the next morning is also included before couples head back to reality.
Ski bum scene goes high-end
Collingwood | 2 hours
More than a decade ago, Collingwood’s luxury accommodations amounted to the Blue Mountain Inn and a series of tired motels. Now boutique properties such as the VanderMarck offer swanky suites adorned with fine linens, and handcrafted bath products beckon guests to downtown. While the Westin Trillium House leads the way in the plush lodging department at the base of the hill, Base Camp at Blue, a vacation rental that is a stone’s throw from the mountain, boasts stunning interior design and fine amenities, including a hot tub and fireplace. Since the arrival of the Blue Mountain Village, the region has evolved into a four-season luxury adventure hot spot, with the summer getting more attention than the snowy season, thanks to a plethora of fancy golf courses, lift-serviced downhill mountain biking and Georgian Bay itself, beckoning water babies. As Torontonians scoop up vacation properties, the area has moved decidedly upscale. Fine restaurants such as the Tremont Cafe and the picture-perfect Italian bistro Azzurra cater to the foodie set, and other luxury services, such as Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain, offer a unique day of pampering.
The Bard plus funky new bistros
Stratford | 2.5 hours
Actor Paul Gross once declared of Stratford, “There are only two things to do in this town, act and drink.” That was then, but over the past decade, the sleepy town has become something of a culinary and cultural hub. Visitors can stay at one of many stately accommodations including the decadent Bruce Hotel, an ideal jumping-off point to a sophisticated dining scene with funky gems, such as Red Rabbit and the Common, and more upscale restaurants, such as Bijou or the Restaurant at the Bruce as well as the myriad of small galleries and artisan shops that line the streets of the town’s historic core. But let’s not sleep on one of the top theatre festivals in the world. A weekend Stratford getaway is ideal for immersion into some of the best theatre, both classical and contemporary, being produced anywhere in the country. The hottest tickets so far this year include the new production of the musical Billy Elliott and one of the Bard’s finest, Othello, along with hidden gems such as Birds of a Kind, by acclaimed Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, and cult classic musical Little Shop of Horrors.