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A Health and Wellness Staycation at Grail Springs Retreat Centre for Wellbeing

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We usually spend our summers locally and now more than ever during the pandemic. Health and wellness are top priorities for us so we planned a staycation to highlight some local spaces that we’ve never been that also support our lifestyle as well. We’ve chronicled our long weekend adventure (Friday to Tuesday) to show you how much there is to do in Hastings County all within just over an hour from our home base in Stirling-Rawdon.

The weekend started just as any other would, with the Friday evening Farmers Market in the Village in Stirling. We’ve lived in Stirling-Rawdon for 5 years now and there was never a farmers market in that time so last year we decided to organize, reinvigorate, and reconnect our amazing local growers, producers and makers to more of the citizens of Stirling and beyond with the help of the Striling-Rawdon BIA. We love shopping local, fresh, in season, and organic as much as possible so bringing all these important resources together in one space has been a big hit for the community and our local economy. Check out the bounty as well as some of our downtown stores every Friday evening from 4-7pm at the beautiful covered bridge parking lot.

A woman standing in front of a farmers market.

With re-opening plans moving forward it also meant that our own business could operate again (YAY!), therefore Saturday morning began with our 9am sweaty Power Flow class at Creekside Yoga.

Jess and Nate, owners of Creekside Yoga sitting side-by-side in a forward bend and smiling.

Also in this (re-opening) light, the Stirling Festival Theatre was able to host Drive-In, The Drive-In Musical at the Stirling Agricultural Society’s Fair Grounds (also home to Farmtown Park) and our tickets were for Saturday’s matinee showing. It was a cute and comedic take on a tale of young love in the 60’s which came to be by a chance encounter at the local drive in. Saturday evening had us taking time to pack and prepare for our journey north to Grail Springs.

Jess and Nate wearing sunglasses, taking a selfie in front of the Stirling Festival Theatre drive-in stage.

We hit highway 62 north early Sunday morning and ventured less than an hour up the road to the The Old Hastings Mercantile & Gallery in Ormsby. This gorgeous shop is filled with room after room of literally anything you may ever want, need, or didn’t know you wanted/needed! Lillian and Gary focus on sourcing items as locally as possible (but with the wide and varied selection you’ll totally understand why some things come from farther). Highlights for us were their huge selection of pottery, stained glass, a large range of natural bath and beauty products, and a array of eco/zero waste items. We had a wonderful conversation with Gary about the passion behind bringing this wonderful space to Ormsby, making it a worthwhile destination. We could have easily has spent the entire day at this stop, especially with such great hosts, but the journey must continue on.

Jess wearing a mask inside the Old Hastings Mercantile & Gallery. The shelves are full of items.

We drove into Bancroft just in time for lunch. Nate and I eat a plant based diet which can sometimes make going out to eat a healthy meal tricky. Luckily The Muse Gallery & Café had us covered. With many vegetarian options on the menu and substitutes available (hello cashew nut ‘cheese’) and herbal iced teas, we were set and able to follow the recommendations when preparing for a stay at Grail Springs. While the food was delicious, their gallery of all local artists is stunning and is the perfect spot to view, sip, nibble, and catch up with friends. The Muse is a locally owned cafe that prides itself on supporting local artists and creating a safe space for everyone.

The interior of the Muse Gallery & Cafe. The space is white and open and has colourful art on the walls.

Once we were refuelled we headed up to the Bancroft Eagles Nest Park for a hike and to enjoy the amazing view. After driving the steep road to the top parking lot it’s a short easy hike to the lookout. We even stopped to chat with a gentleman who used the assistance of a walker to manage this trail, it is that accessible! With just over 3km of trails ranging in difficulty, this volunteer-run park with educational resourses on the park’ geology, flora & fauna, and trail maps, has something for everyone to get out and immerse themselves in nature.

A selfie of Jess and Nate at the top of Eagle's Nest lookout in Bancroft, Ontario.

From here it was a short trip to our final destination, Grail Springs Retreat Centre for Wellbeing.  Coming here was a dream for us; our stay included all meals, morning yoga, evening workshops/seminars, afternoon snack and elixir, a guided tour of the grounds including a hike to their Crystal Crop, huge yoga/sun deck with lounge chairs, Muskoka chairs, swim raft, camp fire, unlimited use of: the thermal circuit (sauna, 98 degree thermal tub, 104 degree thermal tub, old plunge tub, Nordik shower bucket), canoe, paddleboat and SUP equipment, Sacred Labyrinth, Medicine Wheel, Prayer Tree, Volcanic Ash Healing Bed, and Trail of Dreams/hiking.

The exterior of Grail Springs shows a turret covered in vines and a pond in front.

We unloaded into our luxurious room with a balcony, jacuzzi tub/rainfall shower, chaise lounge next to the fire place (no need on this trip but would be so cozy in the winter), self controlled air conditioning (which was a treat in this heat and we don’t have this at home) desk, fitted robes and slippers, a spa towel each, and queen bed fit for a queen. We literally felt like royalty!

The interior of a Grail Springs guest room, which includes a fireplace, a chaise lounge and lots of natural light.

We could have just kicked our feet up and relaxed here but we were eager to explore.

As we ventured around the beautifully manicured grounds and building we found the indoor yoga room where we spent a quiet moment reflecting on how lucky we were to be here. Full of gratitude we found an afternoon lemon cookie snack and ginger lemon elixir awaiting us. We sat in the great room, which is vast with high ceilings, it’s still quite cozy with soft furniture and a magnificent stone fire place. We decided to take a refreshing swim before dinner in Chalice Lake, a spring-fed, alkaline based lake giving it purifying and cleansing benefits.

The Grail Springs great hall with high ceilings and windows, wood paneling, and a large fireplace surrounded by plush furniture.

*Disclaimer – we talk a lot about the food because it was so fabulous! Grail springs perfectly delivers an entirely vegan, gluten and caffeine free experience. No processed flour, salts, or sugars either. Truly a healing menu that didn’t disappoint on flavour, texture, and to Nate’s happiness serving sizes. Our three-course dinner that evening was one of Jess’ favourites; curry cauliflower salad, tikka masala on coconut rice with lentil papadum, and mango cheese cake (this was Nate’s favourite dessert during our stay). Presentation was spot on.

A vegetarian meal of tikkaa malasa on coconut rice with lentil papadum served artfully on a large white plate.

In the great rooms evening workshop, Wendy Fouts treated us to a Sound Meditation to Soothe our Body, Mind & Soul. While immersed in calming sounds, Wendy guided us on journey through the chakras, visualizing the colours, connecting us to the energy flowing through each centre, and lulling us deeper into relaxation. We likely could have floated off to bed after this experience but decided a dip in the thermal tub and steamy sauna followed by a cold plunge in the lake would be a perfect ending to a busy but body and soul nourishing day. After, we snuggled into bed and easily drifted into sleep.

Jess lounging on the deck with her feet in the thermal tub and a view of water and trees behind her.

We awoke the next day after an undisturbed sleep ready for an action-packed day. With breakfast being at 7:45am we headed down to a lakeside seat on the patio and were greeted with hot herbal tea and a nourishing chia seed energy bowl for breakfast.

Jess is seated at a table on a deck overlooking the lake, looking at her breakfast of a chia seed energy bowl.

Next for the day was a guided hike with John, a Grail expert and resident artist. As you follow the Trail of Dreams John talks about benefits of forest bathing and becoming submerged into the community of the forest and how it stimulates our creative side of the brain. A very talented and established artist whose studio is located right next door, John often turns to the forest to clear his head and get those creative juices flowing. Along the trail you start to see a village of rock statues that John has created and if you look closely enough you can even see their faces. The Crystal Crop is a huge clear crystal quartz deposit, the second more powerful healing stone, and a perfect spot in the forest to come rest and replenish.

A rock statue in the middle of the forest.

After the hike it was onto a slow, soothing yoga practice on the sunny deck guided by Tanya Mahar. The bending and twisting felt so good after the hiking that morning (and the day before) and set us in the perfect space for our next activity, the spa. Nate received a healing bath and massage and I opted for an oxygen facial with mini massage. Both treatments had us feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, and this was all before lunch!

The spa room with an oval-shaped healing bath and a massage table.

Lunch was a chilled watermelon and roasted red pepper soup – I know, I was skeptical too but the cool soup on the hot day was perfect and the flavour was one of the best soups I’d ever tasted!  The soup was followed by black bean tacos with corn, onions, and fresh cilantro. The service staff is incredible and go out of their way to provide an exceptional dining experience.

Two bowls of chilled watermelon and roasted red pepper soup on a table on a deck overlooking the lake.

With full bellies, we set sail, or paddle, and took the SUP boards around the lake. A lone loon kept us company for most of our journey as we surveyed the landscape. A post SUP session swim, lounges in the healing volcanic sand bed, and a bit of sunning on the dock were in order.

Jess on a standup paddleboard in the middle of the water, with Grail Springs behind her.

Afternoon snack and elixir were delightfully devoured and then we decided to hike back to the Crystal Crop to enjoy our own, now informed, peaceful experience of this magical forest. The horses wished us farewell as we left the beautifully manicured grounds and made our way to the trees. Sitting in meditation at the crop, with the sounds of nature all around you was one of the most tranquil and meaningful experiences of the trip. During our passage back to the Grail, a majestic deer came sauntering up the trail but quickly decided we weren’t who she was looking for and turned to continue on her own path.

Nate sitting in the Crystal Crop, with trees in the background.

Dinner that evening was a spiced roasted cauliflower appetizer followed by lettuce wrap with house made guacamole, pico de Gallo, and corn salsa, and then Jess’ favourite dessert of our stay, a chocolate berry parfait with desiccated strawberries and coconut whipped cream. It doesn’t get any better than this!

Two chocolate berry parfaits on the table overlooking the lake.

After dinner there was a Restorative Breath, Yoga and Meditation workshop with Tanya Mahar which provided great insight to relaxing practices, especially for those dealing with anxiety.

Again, that evening we floated off to the thermal tub and sauna and lit a fire in the outdoor pit as it was all set up by staff and just needed some willing participants. Fires are always a gathering spot and this one was no different. Many of the people we’d seen and had these guided experiences with drifted by the fire and we were able to chat and learn more about those around us and those who had just arrived. While we were all there for different reasons with different goals in mind, we were all seeking healthful, healing experiences.

Jess is sitting in an Adirondack chair in front of a campfire at the edge of the lake during the evening.

Our final morning, we woke up to a gentle rain and cooler temperatures. Accepting the fact we might eat our first meal indoors we were pleasantly surprised upon arrival the umbrellas were providing shelter and the most beautiful patio heaters keeping us warm as we did not come prepared for the weather! We sipped hot tea and filled our bellies with a bowl of granola, coconut yogurt and fruit.

Jess sitting at a table set for breakfast on the patio, with a tall patio heater behind her.

Unfortunately, rain pushed our yoga practice inside to the intimate yoga room for another relaxing practice with Tanya. Awakening from savasana was the start of our rebirth back to regular life but with new insight and perspective of how we would carry with the teachings from this time to integrate into the daily bustle.

The yoga room at Grail Springs with peaked windows overlooking the lake.

On our drive home we both recognized how refreshed and energized we felt, as opposed to the usual exhaustion that tends to follow action-packed vacations away. It’s easy to forget that your own backyard has so much to offer to explore in a way that supports and improves your health and wellness.

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