In a sense Canada has it all. It has great cities – Montréal and Vancouver being perhaps the best of a choice lot. In the immense countryside — skiing, sailing and wilderness viewing that goes on forever. Because it is so large visiting Canada all in one trip is a massive undertaking.
Over 5,000 Kilometres separate St. John’s, Newfoundland from Victoria, British Columbia (about the same distance separates London and Riyadh, or Tokyo and Calcutta).
To drive from one end of the country could take 7-10 days or more (and that assumes you’re not stopping to sight-see on the way). A flight from Toronto to Vancouver takes over 4 hours.
When speaking of specific destinations within Canada, it is better to consider its distinct regions.
In this quite vast country it has most things including, because of the French influence, some amazing restaurants. But, above all, because of its fixation on the healthy life, Canada has a range of spas almost unrivalled elsewhere.
If you know that people come from the United States (especially from California) to Canada for spa treatments – some on a regular basis – then you begin to understand the attractions.
Note that although most of the country, by law, is bi-lingual even in the most French parts around Montréal you will never have a problem with the language.
Let us leave all thought of governments and politics and concentrate, instead, on spas and healthy living. Which is what many Canadians do.
Use of each language outside government varies widely across the country. In almost all of the province of Québec, as well as parts of New Brunswick and Ontario, French is the dominant language; in most of the rest of the country, English predominates. Montréal, Ottawa and Moncton have large concentrations of fluently bilingual people. Canada spans six time zones and borders three oceans and covers 9,017,699 sq km (3,481,753 sq miles). now promotes itself as a country of peace and governs itself independently. But it still has the British monarch as its head of state. And, no, that is not easy to explain.
For spa lovers Canada is pretty much the ideal country to visit. It has it has it all, scenery, wonderful sport, exciting cities. So how do you choose in this vast country?
A personal preference is Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Here is where the spa comes to near perfection.
Start by knowing here we are talking about two different destinations: Vancouver Island and Vancouver which is NOT on the island of the same name. Close – a few minutes way – but Vancouver is on the mainland. Both are wonderful places. But very, very different.
Vancouver Island rejoices in climate which is the mildest in Canada, with temperatures on the coast even in January being usually above freezing and in the summer the weather is warm but not oppressive – say 28-33 degrees Celsius. But there is a rain shadow effect so that the west coast typically is very wet — Henderson Lake on the west coast is the wettest place in North America – down to very dry in the provincial capital of Victoria on the southeast coast’s Saanich Peninsula. In a sense you can chose and if you bear in mind rain is most common in the autumn and winter you can be very precise.
Getting there is part of the experience for you can take an awe-inspiring seaplane over the Pacific coastal isles; a journey from Vancouver by ferry; or from Seattle aboard the high-speed ferry via the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Near the centre of Vancouver Island is the 2,500 square kilometres Strathcona Provincial Park, which is part of a group of peaks that include the Comox Glacier. Note that Vancouver is not the only island in the area. There are several others.
For example, Galiano is a long and narrow island, the second largest of the Gulf Islands, and the driest. 25 kilometres long and 9 kilometres wide, it has a population of about 1.000 residents, while Saltspring Island, the largest, has a population of over 12,000.
As far as spas are concerned there are probably over thirty in the whole island group so you are not restricted for choice. Note most of them are destination spas – you stay there as if it was a hotel and some of them are on islands off Vancouver Island. There is a sort of alternative life-style feel about most of these spas. They are for get-away-from-it-all visits.
One great exception. The 1905 classic Willow Stream Spa at The Fairmont Empress is an urban hotel spa in Victoria on the island. It is a very modern spa which is located in something of a Victorian – in two senses of the word — grande dame of a hotel, The Fairmont Empress.
Much of the clientele of the spa are staying at the hotel and many of them have come up from the United States – people from California for some reason make up the majority — to experience a rejuvenation and a period of rest and calm.
If you stay at this hotel – and you should if you can afford it – you will be following in the footsteps of a very young Shirley Temple, Barbra Streisand, Harrison Ford and many others. And, yes, of course, it serves afternoon tea.
The spa itself – the Willow Stream — is far more modern than the hotel and is a blend of traditional and contemporary designs. There is a waterfall and marble floors and soothing colours create. Your spa experience begins as you step through the doors into an elegant space.
All spa treatments begin with ‘The Spa Ritual,’ which is complimentary. The 30-minute ritual includes five minutes each in the Finnish sauna and steam room, followed by a 10-minute Hungarian bath and ten-minute rest with a glass of cold water.
Note that, as with the other six Fairmont resorts’ Willow Stream Spas dotted around the country, it’s definitely upscale and not inexpensive.
Luckily, locally there are places locally which are less expensive if not, perhaps, quite so gorgeous.
For example, less expensive and more relaxed, is the casual Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa. This ocean front resort and spa has views of Gartley Bay, Denman and Hornby islands and the snow-capped Coast mountains beyond.
The two-storey, 64-room hotel includes 36 new beachfront suites with beach rock fireplaces, driftwood-tone furniture, fir timbers and peeled cedar logs. The 14,000 sq. ft. spa has 22 treatment rooms, an outdoor pool, hot tub/sauna, fitness room and the Pacific Mist Hydropath.
Very relaxed and laid back.
Poets Cove Resort & Spa, is so secluded you have to take a ferry or water taxi, It is on South Pender Island, just off the east coast of Vancouver Island and overlooks Bedwell Harbour Resort and Marina. You can also take a water taxi from Sidney (on Vancouver Island) to Bedwell Harbour or travel by BC Ferries.
The hotel has a 22-room lodge, 15 seaside cottages and nine country villas.
Coastal Trek Vancouver Island, B.C. (2009) is for people who are not going to just laze in a spa. The family-run retreat in the Comax Valley is all about health and hiking. From a selection of about 100 nearby hiking options, a different hike is scheduled each day based on the interests and fitness levels of guests. Structured programs which include yoga sessions and healthy cooking classes are all part of the deal.
There are spa treatment rooms but healthy activities followed by a spa are more the theme of the retreat.
The there is Galiano which is 10 minutes from Vancouver by float plane, or 50 minutes by ferry. This is a quiet island refuge where the majority of island residents are engaged in tourism and the arts.
The Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa has its own dock and offers special spa and room packages. So you are staying in a hotel which is also a spa on an island which is near Vancouver and near Vancouver Island but not part of either.
Then there is Ocean Palm Spa, Sidney and yes, the address is often misspelled a if it was in Australia. This is a new resort spa environment for men and women, located at the Sidney Waterfront Inn and Spa.
Think of this spa as being totally focussed on spa treatments although, being part of an Inn, all the other facilities are available.
Again on Vancouver Island Oh Spa, Courtenay is on the banks of the Courtenay River, in the Comox Valley. It has a range of exclusive treatments and natural products which are, as it were, part of the ambience of the island.
Brentwood Bay Lodge and Spa is on an inlet in the heart of Victoria’s wine country. The spa is called Essence of Life and some of its treatments work with locally harvested seaweed; heated basalt stones and aromatherapy.
And so it goes on. There are at least 30 establishments in this area but mostly they are more suited for a hotel stay/spa experience. Not places you would fly into for a three hour treatment.
Now we come to the city of Vancouver which is not on Vancouver Island, although very close, and is probably the most liveable city in the world. It is somewhat reminiscent of Hong Kong – one in five of the two million inhabitants is Chinese – but with more style and more understanding of design in an urban setting.
Because of the high percentage of Chinese population the Chinese food there is quite remarkable. The people of Vancouver think it is the best Chinese food in the world. In that they are wrong. But it is certainly quite, quite excellent.
As a designed city it is probably the best in the world. There is general agreement that Vancouver is one of the world’s greatest cities. Certainly the most liveable city.
When it comes to spas the problem is counting them. Possibly over a hundred. Certainly every need is catered for and some of the spas are seriously world class.
A good example is Solace Spa which has all sorts of packages which include, Couples Romantic Getaway, Vino Therapy, Solace Signature Divine Bride, New Mom’s Renewal. (If you run a spa in a highly competitive area you have to think of new and focussed treatments which make your spa unique. Plainly Solace has worked very hard on this aspect of spa management.)
Note that it is in the Holiday Inn so that, in a sense, it is both a residential and a day spa.
Vida Spas are big in Vancouver (there are three of them – Sheraton Vancouver Wall Center Hotel, Sutton Place Hotel and the Westin Bayshore as well as others in Whistler and Seattle.) There are seven different Ayurveda therapies are based on the idea everyone is typically dominant in one of three doshas (Vata, Pitta or Kapha). Ayurvedic treatments work from the inside out to bring your dosha into perfect harmony so you can enjoy optimal health. Vida also has an Ayurveda-inspired product line customized for the various doshas, and they send clients home with tips on how to eat for your dosha. For the record the writer’s dosha is Vata.
Then, a considerable way away for it is right on the other side of the country, there is Montréal in the province of Quebec (which also contains the smaller Quebec City). Montréal is very French Canadian and has an amazing history, has more spas than you can easily count. Probably several hundred and almost all of them are day spas. Spend a few hours there and emerge refreshed, relaxed and in the perfect mood to enjoy the local cooking which is quite amazingly good. Probably because of its French heritage. Note that Montréal’s Underground City is a set of interconnected shopping malls (both above and below ground) in and around downtown Montréal. It is the largest underground complex in the world. Go down there in the winter and the weather is totally irrelevant.
No point in listing all the spas in Montréal because there are so many.
Rather just a few examples from a very small area which is Downtown Montréal. You can then you make your own discoveries probably either in the hotel at which you are staying or very, very close nearby. There are that many spas.
Izba Spa is on the 12th floor at Hotel Le Crystal. We are told the Izba Spa incorporates the traditional Russian Banya (steam bath) with therapeutic massage and modern methods of holistic therapies to encourage health, facilitate rehabilitation and reduce stress.
Rainspa which is at Place d’Armes Hôtel & Suites 55 St-Jacques Street in Old Montréal has a Hammam – a traditional Middle Eastern steam bath. As well Rainspa offers high-quality paramedical treatments such as micro-dermabrasion, Intense Pulsed Light and VelaSmooth Spa anti-cellulite treatment.
Spa Savanna 4032 Notre-Dame West is very much the urban spa with a wide range of massage therapies and advanced skin care treatment.
Spa Eastman at 666 Sherbrooke West in Downtown Montréal was among the first urban spas in the city. Now it has been revamped but it still has staggering views from its panoramic lounge and offers a wide range of treatment.
Espace Nomad Holistic Spa at 4650 Boulevard St-Laurent calls itself Montréal’s first organic spa. It offers a massage, yoga and spa treatments and a line of products inspired by Indonesian beauty rituals.
Relatively near to Montréal is Toronto which is a bustling modern city – the largest in Canada — quite near to the smaller Ottawa which is the seat of government. The number of spas is, again, quite amazing. Well spoken of is Elmwood Spa Toronto which is in downtown Toronto and has couples’ suites – the Royal and Sapphire Suites both have two treatment tables, fireplaces and in-room showers under gabled ceilings.
Or, if you prefer, getting away for it then it is a 90-minute from downtown Toronto to one of Canada’s oldest and best known spas – Ste Anne’s which is in Grafton, Ontario. This is a residential spa with outdoor hydro-therapy options include a large swimming pool, plus a year-round field-stone lap-pool and hot tub. Plus, of course, a full menu of treatments and therapies. Not inexpensive but a total experience.
Wrong to suggest that the only places you can have the total spa experience is Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Montréal and Toronto although the first three would have to be on any visitor’s list. There are spas all over Canada.
Take Ottawa which is the government city with all that implies. Yet it has the Holtz Spa which is possibly one of the most authentic spa experiences in Canda. It has one special which is Spirit of the Forest. They describe it as a ‘Vibrational Healing Experience which is a unique 80-minute experience involving the vibrational resonance of the essences of Canadian trees. Following the lineage of Bach Flower Remedies, tree essences are believed to have special healing qualities that speak to emotional well-being and vitality.’
Note that this includes a relaxing tree essence beverage post treatment.
Then there is Infinima in Ste Foy which is about a 15 minute drive from Old Quebec City. This is truly a ‘green’ spa in that it is all about minimising the use of electricity and maximizing the use of natural materials.
The décor is stunning and the treatments, as you would imagine, follow a routine of green, alternative practice. In fact, it is a total spa treatment which gives an excellent example of how to minimise the use of energy.
Then there is Spa Ofuro at Morin-Heights, Quebec which is, as it were, a Japanese themed ‘nature’spa. Ofuro’ has a full menu of spa services including exotic-sounding signature treatments such as Summo, Tao, Yin and Yang.
And so it goes. On and on. Spas in abundance in every city with perhaps the greatest concentration being in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Once you have been there you will no doubt agree that Canada is one of the great spa destinations of the world. With the added plus of great cuisine, staggering scenery and a pleasant and welcoming population.
Gareth Powell is associated with Craig Bragdy Pools http://www.craigbragdydesign.co.uk/ which designs unique pools and spas which are not inexpensive but appeal to high worth individuals. Check the site and dream on.