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Looking for an easy lakefront escape without having to board a plane, don a mask and navigate airports? If you are an Ontarian, Burlington just might be the thing.
I’ll admit to never having been to Burlington until this weekend, although I have lived about 50 kilometers away, in Toronto, for over 25 years.
I was amazed to discover so many things to do in Burlington. Its vegan food scene, luxurious new waterfront hotel, beautiful beach, and quaint village square are just the beginning.
Set on Lake Ontario and surrounded by the wild beauty of the Niagara Escarpment, it offers a rejuvenating dose of the great outdoors that’s healthy, fulfilling, and fun.
Here’s my guide on how to plan your own one or two-day wellness getaway in Burlington, Ontario.
If you’re coming from Toronto and craving a complete wellness escape, consider abandoning the car and cycling instead. By bike, it’s about 55 km from Toronto to Burlington, largely by way of the Martin Goodman waterfront trail.
Mid-Morning: Coffee break
For a jolt of java en route, consider fortifying with a coffee at Birds & Beans Coffee (2413 Lake Shore Blvd W) in Etobicoke.
Their organic fair trade and bird-friendly coffee is certified shade-grown, which means that no bird habitat was destroyed to make your morning cuppa.
In fact, production of this coffee may even have helped promote reforestation, not caused trees to be cut down.
Late Morning: Reconnect with Nature by Hiking a Forest Trail
Begin your wellness weekend with a meditative walk or hike at the Mount Nemo Conservation Area. Allow an hour or two to soak up the health benefits of spending time in nature.
This beautiful section of the Niagara Escarpment features almost five kilometres of hiking trails, with photo ops at the Brock Harris Lookout.
On a clear day, you can see the Nassagaweya Canyon, nearby Rattlesnake Point, and Milton, Brampton, and even Toronto’s CN Tower.
To get your adrenaline pumping, you can also do some rock climbing. To book a time slot, visit parkvisit.ca.
Enjoy a Leisurely Lunch in Burlington’s Village Square
This pretty downtown section of Burlington is designed like a turn-of-the-century European town. It features narrow cobblestone streets and patios, specialty shops, restaurants, and other businesses.
At Rayhoon’s try one of their kabobs and the house specialty, Chalieh Mahi, a tilapia dish with tangy tamarind, garlic, and tomato sauce. Portions are generous and the food delicious, mostly gluten-free and all halal.
INSIDER TIP: Burlington is teeming with great eateries for vegans. As well as Rayhoon’s, which has many vegan and vegetarian options, check out Kelly’s Bake Shoppe, (The Vegan Pantry, Boon Burger, and Lettuce Love Cafe.
Check-in: The Pearle Hotel & Spa Autograph Collection
The Pearle Hotel & Spa, Burlington’s first luxury hotel, is a member of the posh Autograph Collection, a unique group of independently-owned upscale hotels that are part of Marriott International.
This 151-room, the nine-story hotel is an initiative of Pearle Hospitality, which also owns and manages many other properties, including the Ancaster Mill, the Cambridge Mill, Elora Mill Hotel & Spa, Spencer’s on the Waterfront (see below), and the Earth to Table: Bread Bars.
This elegant hotel overlooks the shimmering waterfront, with many rooms and suites boasting stunning views of water and sky thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows.
Its design inspiration is a 1920s lakehouse in Burlington with white oak wood paneling and natural stone. The muted soft cream and ivory tones give it a bright, open feel.
Upon entering the expansive main lobby, you can’t miss the dramatic winding staircase behind the front desk. It’s meant to look like snowbanks on water and leads to two ballrooms on the second floor.
The hotel’s Isabelle Restaurant and Lounge on the ground floor will offer farm-to-table coastal-inspired fare that is vegetable-driven, with a focus on using ingredients grown at Pearle’s own Earth to Table Farm located on 97 acres in Flamborough, Ontario.
Its famed executive chef Ben Heaton has a long history at many high-end Toronto restaurants including Patria and Byblos.
The Pearle will also have Earth to Table Bread Bar on the first floor for more casual dining throughout the day, and counter-style service.
Although for now only open for weddings, the official launch is scheduled for later this fall.
Check prices and availability at the Pearle Hotel & Spa Autograph Collection on Booking.com.
Dinner: Spencer’s at the Waterfront
Located less than a 10 minute walk from the hotel and next to Spencer Smith Park, this lovely upscale restaurant is known for its market-fresh fish, seafood, and craft-cut steak.
Be sure to book ahead for a table on its patio overlooking the water, or in its glass-walled dining room.
Highlights of the menu are the short rib croquettes as an appetizer and its Tomahawk steak and raw bar offerings, which include oysters, shrimp, tuna tartare, and scallops.
Fun Fact: In 2019, Maclean’s Magazine rated Burlington the Number 1 mid-size city to live in Canada! Burlington has a strong, vibrant community, low crime rate, friendly people, clean streets, and close proximity to Niagara wineries, Toronto, and outdoor recreation and green space.
Early Morning: Head to the Beach to Kayak, SUP or Do Yoga
Begin with some meditative toes-in-the-sand time at the beach just a few minutes stroll from the hotel, next to the Brant Street Pier. If you’ve packed an inflatable kayak, this is a prime spot for kayaking as the flat waters are calm.
You can also head to the beach further down the lakeshore by Burlington Beach Rentals.
Open from June to September, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards, take a beach yoga or standup paddleboarding class and even try floating meditation.
Or better yet, you can do a combination of these activities as part of their “Girlfriend Fridays” program, a one-day retreat where you can recharge and reconnect with your best gal pals on the beach.
Late Morning: Unwind with a Massage
The Spa in the Village is a reasonably priced spa right in the Village Square that is great for manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, and other services, like “microblading” for your eyebrows and Green Peel facial peels. I had a massage, with Lala, which was fabulous.
For a higher-end spa experience, both in luxury and in price, visit the Pearle Hotel’s spa, opening later this fall. A glimpse ahead to what is promised includes their 90-minute Celestial Black Diamond Non-Surgical Face Lift, an anti-aging facial, and their 60-minute Intraceuticals Signature Facial.
Lunchtime: Healthy Local Fare
For a healthy lunch break, head to Lettuce Love Café known for its plant-based and gluten-free meals, and great smoothies. We loved our appetizers of avocado fries, which were lightly baked, seasoned, and served with chipotle mayonnaise.
For the main, I would go with their Happy Buddha or Goddess Bowl.
Without a drink, you can’t go wrong with their Superhero smoothie. It combines the slight sharpness of turmeric and ginger with the sweetness of banana, mango, and spinach.
Afternoon: Shop Local
After lunch, check out The Little Pop-Up Shoppe in the Village Square. The boutiques and shops are a treasure trove of clothing, artifacts, and other local products handcrafted and created by Canadian artists. Products rotate each month.
To wrap up, stop by Lola Choco Bar and Sweet House for drinking chocolate or coffee and dessert.
FUN FACT: Did you know that two famous Canadian actors, Jim Carrey and Ryan Gosling, both went to high school in Burlington?
Afternoon: Get Inspired at Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens
You’re sure to be inspired by nature, creativity and culture at the Royal Botanical Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada. Explore its trails, cultivated gardens and famous green spaces spanning 250 acres.
Just launched on September 23 and running until November 6 is the Seeing the Invisible Exhibit. It features contemporary artwork by more than a dozen artists, including Ai Weiwei, created with augmented reality technology.
Insider Tip: Book tickets ahead for the Thursday evening After Dark viewing of Seeing the Invisible exhibit in Hendrie Park. It runs from October 7 to November 4, followed by other festivities, including music and local food trucks.
Other attractions near the Pearle Hotel & Spa include the Burlington Performing Arts Centre as well as numerous shops, restaurants, and green spaces.
Travel Planner for Burlington, Ontario
I’d like to thank Burlington Tourism, the Village Spa and Lettuce Love Café for hosting portions of this trip. The opinions are my own!
Burlington is very bike-friendly, with cycling opportunities along rural roads, the waterfront, and historic routes downtown. There are also extensive trails at Conservation Halton and Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
For more information on bike transportation, see ontariobybike.ca
Public Transportation – GO Transit Bus and Train
If you’re planning to take transit to Burlington, the Lakeshore West Service operates every 30 minutes. There’s the option to take a bike (except during rush hours) year round from Toronto’s Union Station.
Or you can take the Lakeshore West Train. This Go Train has a specially designated bike coach, which operates four times a day—but on weekends only—with a stop in Burlington on routes between Toronto and Niagara Falls.
Check to see how long into the year the train will operate as schedules change.
While in Burlington, you can easily get around by Uber, taxi, walking or transit.
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Diana Ballon writes about travel and health, and is most happy when she can combine the two. Her writing has appeared in many major North American publications, including — most recently — Travelier Magazine, Travel Life Magazine, the Toronto Guardian and AARP’s The Ethel.