Vettä means “of water” in Finnish, and it is certainly the perfect name for the authentic Finnish-style spa opening in September at Horseshoe Valley. Water features abound at the new Vettä Nordic Spa, including four hot pools and two cold plunge pools, cold water buckets, waterfalls and more. It also includes one of the largest commercial saunas in North America. There are a total of two large wood-burning saunas and two electric-heated saunas that are traditionally Finnish.
Owner Eric Harkonen’s parents emigrated from Finland, and growing up in Elliot Lake, Eric had a sauna in his home and cottage, which his family used day in, day out. Fast forward several years and Eric and his wife Donna moved to Barrie and built a Nordic spa in his backyard, complete with a sauna and a pool where the couple could enjoy the hot/cold/relax circuits that are typical in the Finnish culture. Their backyard spa was such a hit with friends and neighbours that, in an ‘aha’ moment, Eric realized he should quit his job and build an authentic Finnish spa to share the experience with others.
“I had been working as a mining engineer, travelling across Canada and the world, commuting, and was stressed out and building the Nordic spa in my backyard helped me relax and negate everyday stress,” says Eric. “Donna and I had many long discussions in the sauna about our dream of building a spa. In Finland, 85% of homes have saunas and 98% have access to a sauna in their building, so it is part of their culture.
“My vision was to create Vettä Nordic Spa as an authentic Finnish spa experience where guests could enjoy a delicious and healthy farm-to-fork meal in our restaurant and bistro which overlooks a waterfall. It is like a little village in Finland, located in beautiful Horseshoe Valley, just one hour north of Toronto.”
Nestled amongst towering trees on a 26-acre property, enjoy a hydrotherapy experience following the hot, cold, relax system as they dip in and out of steam rooms & saunas, warm pools, cold plunge pools or enjoy salt rubs, hot stone room or book a massage by a Registered Massage Therapist.
The saunas and variety of multi-temperature outdoor pools allow guests to enjoy self-guided hydrotherapy, a thermal experience consisting of alternating between periods of hot, cold, and relaxation. According to the Vettä website, “this is proven to help boost the body’s natural immunity and improve overall well-being. Some proven detoxifying benefits of hydrotherapy include less joint pain, lowered blood pressure, increased oxygen levels, and a sense of calm and clarity.” There are multiple relaxation zones including outdoor wood-burning fire pits and comfy lounging chairs. You can choose to enjoy the peace and quiet of a specially designated respectful quiet zone or head to the zone designated for enjoying conversation with friends, family, and other guests.
“Having visited several spas in Ontario and Quebec and at one being told to be quiet, I realised that the no talking/quiet zones are a part of the North American spa experience,’ added Eric. “In Finland, going to the spa is the equivalent to going to the golf course and making business deals while there. We have created a respectful quiet zone as well as an area where you can talk and socialise.”
Another wow factor is the main spa building which boasts a wall of glass soaring up to its 50-foot-high ceilings.
“We really took our time planning the spa, and in the early days we focused much of our time and effort on branding as well as focusing on the design,” says Eric. “Ironically, our architect Ian Malcolm and his son Tero of Ian S. Malcolm Architects (ISM) in Barrie, both worked as architects in Finland. The main building and all the outbuildings incorporate Finnish architecture. We used wood from Finland for the saunas and the interior colours and design are very Finnish in style. The main building is a massive structure and a wall on one side is curved and the ceiling is peaked. Many people told us that creating such as large, curved wall wasn’t possible, and yet here it is.”
Eric makes doing the impossible seem possible as his vision is nearing completion.
“We are on track to open in September with all hands-on deck,” says Eric. “I must admit it was a leap of faith on my wife’s behalf to believe in my vision. She said we are only on this planet once so let’s make the most of it. We initially were self-funded when we purchased the property and initiated and finalised the land permitting and design of the entire Nordic Spa. It was a bit of a ‘if you build it, they will come’ scenario. People invested in the dream but for every 10 no’s’, we got one yes. We did a lot of soul searching but we realize that we need this now more than ever before. Yes, building a spa has been challenging, but it is also so timely. People need that mental health break like never before. People need this place. We need a place where we can relax, rejuvenate and reconnect. We are all ‘Zoomed out’ and use our phones far too much. Vettä is where you can take time for a battery recharge—we all need it now and then!”
For more information on Vettä Nordic Spa visit vettaspa.com
by Laurie Wallace-Lynch