Spa


14
Apr 13

Gulf Island Hopping Part 1: Galiano Island

My suitcase wheels crunched over the pebbles as I walked the short distance from the BC ferry dock to the Galiano Island Inn and spa, my first stop on a six-night island-hopping adventure around British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, a chain of islands inbetween the lower mainland and Vancouver Island. Just a 55-minute ferry journey from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen terminal, yet Galiano feels a world away from Vancouver city life.

Welcome....

Welcome….

It’s a small island; sparsely populated (just over 1,200 residents) short and thin (27.5km long and only 6km across at its widest) with a pleasingly quirky feeling and an abundance of natural beauty. While I was there I saw bald eagles circling overhead, spotted seals snoozing in the midday sunshine curled up like kittens in a basket and tiny quicksilver hummingbirds darting between the trees. If I’d waited a few weeks to visit, I could have gone whale watching – from the comfort of my patio – as between April and October resident pods of Orca whales make their way through Active Pass, the narrow strip of water which separates Mayne Island from Galiano island, right in front of the Galiano Inn and Spa.

This is what I meant by 'quirky'. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

This is what I meant by ‘quirky’. This is apparently a hummingbird. Not a winged teddy-bear.

My suite at the Inn was bigger than my apartment at home; full kitchen, cosy lounge, the works. I’m always infuriated by hotels who have that ‘towels and wasting water’ card in their bathrooms if they have individual plastic bottles for their toiletries – it feels like the worst kind of tokenism. ‘Hey!” I always mutter when I see that. ‘If you really cared about the environment, you’d use pump dispensers, not zillions of plastic bottles and save the earth that way. Doofus.” Hurrah, then for the Inn as they did just that – filled with gorgeous-smelling locally-made products created just for them from nearby Salt Spring Island. Best of all, my waterfront terrace boasted a whirlpool bath, fireplace and a BBQ  – all of which I put to excellent use on my second night, curled up in a blanket, eating char-grilled prawns and drinking ice-cold wine by a crackling fire. I’m a sucker for any chance to laze in hot water in the outdoors; soaking in that tub, the jets bubbling away as I watched the sunset blush the sky a perfect apricot-pink, is a memory I’ll long cherish.

 

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands... Perfect view from my terrace.

Not the Caribbean, the Gulf Islands… Perfect view from my terrace.

I spent my first day soaking up all the other good things the Inn had to offer; I walked on a cherry blossom-covered path to a warm wooden hut beside a pond to get a massage. I’d had a painful, stiff neck and shoulder for days and my therapist delivered a soothing, muscle-melting treatment that left me gurgling with delight. The rest of the spa is upstairs above the reception in the main building. I had a choco-therapy pedicure there, my feet scrubbed, then moisturised with chocolate-infused products while I sipped on mint-chocolate herb tea, flicking through a copy of Chocolat and scoffing a chocolate truffle.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Cross the blossom-path to the spa pavilion.

Dinner that night was at the Inn’s restaurant, I started with a perfect espresso Martini, then dived into a rocket-covered, goat cheese-flecked, honey-crusted flatbread, just-right scallops and a juicy local salmon steak with sweet potato mash and a tangy lime-spiked yoghurt dressing. I sat and watched the stars come out and planned a trip back in summer when the pizza oven terrace in the garden re-opens and I could maybe sip cocktails in the summer warmth and see those Orcas cruise past. Tomorrow I’d explore the island in one of the cute smart cars that the Inn has to lend to guests, but tonight I’d just enjoy the relaxed pace of island living…

I stayed as a guest of the Galiano Inn and Spa. My views – as always – are 100% my own.

No need to bring a car - borrow theirs!

No need to bring a car – borrow theirs!

 


8
Apr 13

Feeling at home in Fairmont’s Charlevoix Chateau

Out of all the things I imagined that I’d miss about home, one thing I didn’t anticipate missing was old buildings. Vancouver is such a modern city, it celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011. Gleaming high rises are everywhere and but it wasn’t until I arrived at the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu in Quebec’s Charlevoix region and beamed at its stone exterior and gleaming wooden interior that I had a sudden flash of realisation; I like old buildings, they feel comforting and like ‘home’.

I could not love this more.

I could not love this more.

Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu certainly ticked all my Heritage Building boxes, just an hour or so drive along the stunning St Lawrence river, it was a world away from the funky modern delights of La Ferme. The original hotel was built in 1899, but burned down in 1928. I can’t imagine what dazzling riches the workers who rebuilt the hotel were offered but it was redesigned as a French Chateau and inaugurated in June 1929. Good work, chaps! I loved the huge fireplaces, the lavish lounge which looked out over the river and the spacious comfortable bedroom which came with the only hotel toiletries I ever ‘steal’ – I’m such a fan of the Fairmont’s rose-scented range.

How I wish I'd had time to laze around under the sunshine here...

How I wish I’d had time to laze around under the sunshine here…

Although the hotel has a pleasingly old-fashioned vibe, thanks to a multi-million dollar refurbishment, the facilities are bang up to date; well equipped children’s area, gorgeous outdoor hot pools and and all winter fun activities are catered for, you can hire everything from skates to tubes to go sliding. There is an Amerispa on site too which offers some interesting ice-cider treatments – I love the use of local ingredients – even in the spa.

After reading about the magnificent food that made the Charlevoix region so famous, I was excited about dinner; a tasting menu of the region created by Chef Patrick Turcot. The restaurant works with ultra-local producers, sourcing food within a 50KM radius. I ate  foie gras from a small farm, served with a brandy snap, honied fruit and a dollop of whipped cream, it came served with a glass of Le Pedneault, a local ice cider. At first taste it was syrupy sweet, but it became pleasingly dry with each forkful of foie and was easily a decadent day of calories in a few bites. I’ve found the flavours of the east coast of Canada to be so much richer and sweeter than those of the west coast. After a few days enjoying the riches of their terroir, I’m always just about ready to crawl back to Vancouver’s seafood and kale – no wonder they stock up on winter sports equipment! This is hearty food to fortify the body and soul through bitter winters – but so delicious!

Yes please.

Yes please.

I spoke with Chef in the morning, before I left, he was full of excitement that his plans to create their very own breakfast sausages with local organic suppliers was finally coming to fruition. He’d be making 20kg of sausage over the next few days and looked like a man who couldn’t wait to start. In the wake of the horsemeat scandals in Europe, it’s genuinely refreshing to spend time with a chef who can tell you the name of each and every one of his suppliers and can point to them on a local map. You could taste the care and dedication in every bite.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Le Manoir Richelieu. As always, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more at Tourism Quebec.

Chef Patrick Turcot

Chef Patrick Turcot


7
Apr 13

All the fun of La Ferme

Looking around, it was hard to believe I wasn’t in in a funky hotel in a major metropolis. Airy spaces, glass and natural materials, clean lines and bold colours screamed ultra-modern design, but cheeky touches like the fabulously decorated life-size cow in the lounge or the farming tools sculpture in reception gave you a clue that Hôtel La Ferme is far from well – anything really – deep in the heart of the Charlevoix region of Quebec in Baie-saint-Paul.

Where urban cool meets painted cow...

Where urban cool meets painted country cow…

The brainchild of Daniel Gauthier, co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, Hôtel La Ferme is the last piece in the puzzle that he’s been building in this beautiful part of the world that’s remained mostly unknown beyond Canada. Ten years ago, he bought Le Massif, a ski mountain, planning to transform it into a world-class four-season destination. The plan to link the area to Quebec City with a luxury private train stopping off at the mountain and then the hotel, offering top-notch accommodation (145 rooms ranging from the nicest dorm rooms I’ve ever seen to stylish doubles) and dining has finally come to fruition and – judging from my experience there – will put the area firmly on the radar of those looking for something new and deliciously cool.

Cool, clean lines - pastoral scenes

Cool, clean lines – pastoral scenes

Arriving by train, it’s worth noting that check-in isn’t available till the afternoon, so plan to have lunch and explore the small village of nearby Baie-saint-Paul or perhaps book a treatment in the spa. Farm touches are everywhere, tipping a nod to the 100-year old farm which used to stand here, from cow-coverlets in the spa and farm pictures in the room to the whole farm-to-table ethos of local dining in Les Labours restaurant and the Cafe du Marche where you can snack on soups, sandwiches and pastries as well as stock up on local terroir products to take home.

Quite wonderful to see the train from the spa pool

Jump in… warm up

Perfect for the ski crowd in winter and the relaxation-seekers in summer, Hôtel La Ferme also has a full-service spa. I’m a big fan of nordic style spa-ing, gently heating your body and then cooling down, but it always seems so much better when you can do it outdoors and lying back in the steamy huge outdoor hot pool at the Spa du Verger, with snow all around was heavenly. I’m getting better at the cold bit and managed not to screech as I plunged head-under in the icicle-covered cold tub. An indoor steam room and sauna add to the experience, along with a restful lounge area where you can sip herbal tea and look out over the garden.

Brilliant witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

Witty touches in the farm-friendly treatment rooms

I tried a candle massage – a deeply relaxing therapy that used the warm melted wax of a  candle as massage oil. You get to keep the candle afterwards – although they don’t provide an expert-fingered therapist to take away too. I wish I could say I remembered a lot about this treatment, but once I’d settled down from cooing compliments over the cow-cover and milk stool in the room, and relaxed into the sensation of warm wax drizzling over my back, embarrassingly enough, what I remember most is snoring through it – which, I guess is probably one of the highest accolades you could give to a relaxing massage, so let’s skate over that…

The best seats in the house...

The best seats in the house…

I woke from a post-massage snooze hungry and ready to tuck into dinner at Les Labours. I sat at the bar, the best view in the house, to watch the chefs do their thing. I had a four-hour, slow-braised shoulder of lamb, which came with the best lentils I’ve ever tasted. I should have asked how they do them, I never seem to get puy lentils right at home and these were so great, they’d be worth flying to Quebec to eat again.

I took time to explore before leaving in the morning, I watched a family ice skating in what would be the garden in the summertime and chatted with one of the staff about the impressive eco credentials of the hotel – sustainable development, geothermal energy, reusing rainwater and reducing food miles by using local suppliers. “It’s all about respecting the environment” she smiled and it makes sense – if you live somewhere as beautiful as the Charlevoix region, of course you want to protect it.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Charlevoix and Hôtel la Ferme. As always – my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Tourism Quebec


20
Mar 13

Discovering the Yukon spas and Takhini hot springs

I didn’t know that walking in the snow made such a crunching sound until I moved to Canada. Like the wrong type of leaves, I guess we always got the wrong type of snow. So, when I left the warmth of my cosy Yukon cabin to explore, I walked the trails happily listening to the unexpected sound of the snow.

Splendid isolation

Splendid isolation

I was staying at the Northern Lights Resort and Spa,  some 20km from Whitehorse. I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of those elusive lights, staying far from the glare of the city; I had an image of waking in the night and seeing them from my bed, actually – my ultimate Northern Lights Fantasy involves seeing them from a hot tub as snowflakes fall on my face. Alas, it wasn’t to be – first because the lights were covered by cloud and second I wasn’t allowed to use the tub after 10pm. I guess that’s what happens when you try and make fantasy reality. It pretty much never works out.

Perfect balcony view

Perfect balcony view

I had fun though, staying out in the wilderness; I loved seeing nothing but snow and forest, hearing the howls of excited sled dogs all riled up with the scent of the Yukon Quest in the air and it was great to sit down with locals and share a meal at the dinner table too; I even learned a new phrase; ‘shack wacky‘ which is the northern version of ‘cabin fever’ – a state bought on by too much winter and not enough daylight, which can apparently only be quelled by hard drinking and much dancing. I like these people.

Spa is an elastic term these days – it can be an all-singing, all-dancing palace of relaxation or it can be as simple as the hot tub, sauna and Swedish-style massage on offer here. A nice soft touch in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Or – it can even be an outdoors experience like I had at Takhini Hot Springs, a public pool fed by the natural hot spring. In February when we visited, snow lay all around, steam hung over the water and families were all enjoying the bone-warming heat in the middle of soul-crushingly cold weather. There’s nothing fancy here at all. The changing rooms are basic to say the least. Plastic strips separate the indoors area from the pool, you wade through, batting at the plastic as you go. This is far from a luxe experience, but oh! It was magical.

 

Spa Yukon-style

Spa Yukon-style

The sky was impossibly clear and blue that day, I kept my shoulders under the 40°C water until I felt dizzy with the heat and then went for it… scooted out of the pool, carefully avoiding slipping on the ice and threw myself backwards into a drift of snow. Trying hard not to shriek, I rubbed the snow on my face and arms then scampered back into the water. It felt wonderful; I could feel the blood pumping around my body, my arms and legs felt almost burnt by the hot/cold/hot change and I felt giddy with euphoria. Apparently they have late sessions till 2am in the winter and just like that, my fantasy changed. Forget a Jacuzzi – this was more like it – a huge shared hot spring where you could bob around and watch the magic of the Northern Lights zip across the sky – and if the lights don’t come, well, how often do you get to be in a hot spring surrounded by snow? That’s a real-life fantasy right there.

No. I'm not showing you me rolling in the snow...

No. I’m not showing you me rolling in the snow…

I travelled as a guest of Yukon Tourism and the Northern Lights Resort and Spa – as ever, my views are 100% my own.


8
Feb 13

Vancouver Hammam Heaven at the Miraj Spa

One of my favourite spas in the world is La Mosquée in Paris, it’s in (as the name suggests) the Mosque on the left bank and is a series of beautiful marble-tiled rooms, each hotter than the next, where you steam and soak, take an icy-cold plunge and then steam and soak some more. It’s a traditional cultural ritual and I found it surprisingly reassuring to be in a room of (mostly half-naked) women of all ages, shapes and sizes. However, it can be a baffling experience; there are no instructions. You get handed slips of paper which you exchange for a ‘gommage‘ (a body scrub) or massage but there’s no real system of how or when that happens.  And although, yes, I wound up with a soaking wet towel and shredded wet paper slips (you’re meant to leave them in your locker till you need them) and was a tad alarmed by the brutal scrubbing I got from an elderly Arab lady (which I genuinely feared would leave me nipple-less), I really enjoyed my afternoon there.

You can't take photos in La Mosquée - but here's its entrance just to give you a sense of how exotic & gorgeous it is

You can’t take photos in La Mosquée – but here’s its entrance just to give you a sense of how exotic & gorgeous it is

So when I got chatting with Surinder, the owner of Vancouver’s Miraj spa, I was delighted to find out that her spa was based on her own experiences at La Mosqueé. I went to check it out one rainy day last week. It was cold and grey and miserable outside. I stomped down to West 6th Avenue in my rubber boots feeling like I’d never get warm again. I left feeling like I had an all-body halo glow and positively skipped off down the road. What happened in between? All good stuff…  however, it’s definitely a more North American version; instead of a shared hammam space, this is a solo adventure into spa-ing.

The Miraj experience starts by showering and then slipping into a cotton kimono. I had a hamman guide, Adria, who took me into the incredibly hot steam room (120 degrees Celcius) and explained things to me. I lay on the cool marble and felt my achy muscles melt in the intense heat. Candlelight flickered in the steam and as I began to sweat, I felt myself relax. After 20 minutes, Adria came back to collect me for my black soap gommage. I took off my now-soaking kimono and laid on top of it as Adria scrubbed my body with exfoliation mitts. This is definitely the bit where any shy people might feel a bit weird, but Adria was so matter of fact that I suspect even the most body-non-confident person would feel relaxed in her company.

Lie back and enjoy the gommage...

Lie back and enjoy the gommage…

I turned over for more scrubbing, then stood up and was sluiced off with warm water. My skin felt as smooth as the marble I’d been lying on. I’d booked in for the basic hammam, gommage and 15-minute Orientale massage. Next visit, I’ll book for something longer as after all that heat I bet I could get a great deep tissue massage. The 15 minutes really felt like just a soothing application of oil.

Then rest and take tea on the silky cushions

Then curl up on the silky cushions and sip tea

Massage over, I put on a fresh cotton robe and headed to the lounge area to sip a glass of sweet mint tea and nibble on a cake. I’d love to do this with a girlfriend and you can book the hammams for two. Sunday is couples day so if you want to take your parter along, that’s the time to do it. I flicked through a glossy magazine and felt a million miles from the cold, wet, cross girl who’d stomped in an hour or so earlier. Miraj recently opened in the Shangri La hotel in Toronto and I’m definitely checking that out when I finally make it over there, but in the meanwhile, I feel happy that I’ve found a piece of my beloved Paris, right here in Vancouver.

Thanks to Miraj for hosting me – as always my views are 100% my own.


17
Jan 13

Welcome back: Victoria’s Oak Bay Beach Hotel

I always used to love popping the label on a fresh jar of hot chocolate; the satisfying ‘pop’ that the spoon made when I jabbed it through the seal. I felt that way when I got to stay at Oak Bay Beach hotel in Victoria before it opened. There’s a real sense of excitement when you stay somewhere that’s on the very brink of opening. Last-minute touches are being made, anticipation is in the air, you get a very real sense of looking behind the curtain and seeing what’s going on.

Glorious views at the Oak Bay Beach hotel

Glorious views at the Oak Bay Beach hotel

The Oak Bay Beach is a short drive from the town centre, nestled on a glorious stretch of ocean. The team have carefully renovated and updated the original Oak Bay Beach and – I must say – have done a superb job. I rather loved it. It has the feel of an English manor house with the warmth of a Canadian welcome. From the cute coffee bar to the deceptively-named ‘Snug’ pub (about five times the size of a British pub snug!) I felt at home. I could imagine long evenings curled up drinking gin and tonic, so just to make sure reality matched the fantasy, I ordered one. Good decision, probably one of the best I’d tasted as they make it with the locally-brewed New Theatre Tonic for an authentic flavour – who knew that G&T wasn’t meant to be clear? Lucky locals who’ve had this place on their doorstep since 1927!

Amazing G&T thanks to New Theatre Tonic

Amazing G&T thanks to New Theatre Tonic

The rooms ticked all my ‘Good Things You Need In A Hotel Room’ boxes – no complicated light switches, full-length mirror, easily-available plugs, simple to operate shower, free wifi and water- it had the lot! All that plus a mini kitchenette – perfect for family stays – and oh wow! what a view over that dazzling ocean and perfectly manicured lawns.

I wandered through the grounds to pay a visit to the Boathouse Spa and enjoyed a skin smoothing seaweed treatment. After a hectic day whizzing around Victoria, my therapist gave me a blissfully relaxing massage and I wished I could  have spent the day there, lazing in a sun lounger, watching out for passing whales. Later I took a dip in the warm silky waters of the mineral pool right next to the ocean. I floated on my back and counted stars in the clear night sky. 

How adorable is the teddy bear? Love those small touches.

How adorable is the teddy bear? Love those small touches.

I’m told that Victoria is meant to be the most ‘British place in Canada’ and maybe that’s why I felt so at home. By now the dining room will be fully open for business, the fun dinner theatre events will be taking bookings and dollars will be raised with the sale of every ticket for the David Foster Foundation.  Six years after the hotel closed its doors to begin its renovations they are finally back in business again and I bet they’ll be a storming success, so cheers to Victoria’s newest oldest hotel, the Oak Bay Beach – here’s to many more happy years.

I was hosted by the Oak Bay Beach hotel/Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Tourism Victoria 


27
Dec 12

Powder and Pamper in Whistler Part Two: The Pamper

I love to visit a spa on pretty much any occasion, but that afternoon as I creakily got into a cab at the Westin to the Scandinave spa, my thighs already beginning to ache after my first morning on the slopes, I felt for once that I really deserved what lay ahead. The Scandinave specialise in Nordic spa-ing, a traditional form of relaxation through heat and bathing. Located just a mile or so out of Whistler village, the Scandinave could not be any prettier; from the car park you get to it via a winding pathway through the trees (dusted with that powdery snow!) which seems to set the mood that you’re about to enter a different world.

Relax in natural beauty at the Scandinave

The reception area is cosy with a roaring fire and small cafe area. I checked in and got two towels and a key for the lockers. Once showered, changed and in my bathing suit, I padded outside into the cold air and tip-toed towards the large heated pool. The spa space is silent which lends a positively dream-like atmosphere to the experience. Steam rises from the heated pools and the only sound is of the pool’s waterfall. I sank into the hot water and felt incredibly sleepy and happy. Hydrotherapy jets are stationed around the pool to pummel tight muscles into relaxed submission. I spent 20 minutes soaking up the heat before braving the next part of the Nordic spa experience: the cold plunge.

A waterfall massage surrounded by the mountains? Yes please!

I am a coward when it comes to this. I creep rather leap into the cold. I know that it does marvellous things to help cleanse my pores and remove toxins but I am a wimp. However, I think I finally found the secret, instead of stepping in, I just sat on the side and fell in. I stayed with my head under the freezing water, feeling my heart pounding and the blood racing to my skin’s surface. I bobbed around for a minute, trying hard not to shriek, then leapt out, grabbing my towel and scurried off to the next part of the Nordic spa experience; resting.

No, not me, but seriously, I was too chilled to take a camera!

I lay down in a heated solarium overlooking the beautiful mountains and trees. Close to sleep, I felt positively drugged. My achey legs ached no more. My body felt positively boneless. I repeated this cycle twice more and by the third time I was feeling invigorated and alert again. In the space of a few hours I’d gone from physical exhaustion to feeling like I’d had a restful night’s sleep. Those Nordic types knew what they were doing…

Find out more at Tourism Whistler.

I travelled as the guest of Enjoy Whistler however my views are 100% my own.

 


30
Nov 12

Facing up to winter

Winter is well and truly here in Vancouver; my morning walks with Freddie the dog are becoming a lesson in the art of layering and cunning application of wet weather gear. I have never been so glad of anything as I am of my rubber boots.  But it’s not just ridiculously wet, it’s also bitingly cold down on the beach and my skin has been protesting.

In my efforts to keep things 100% Canadian, from food and drink to fashion, I decided that I should try and track down a Canadian-made winter skin care solution and guess what? There’s a company in Kitsilano (where I’m currently living) that does just that.

Skoah’s funky store on West 4th, Kitsilano

I went to see Skoah on West 4th Street to get a ‘facialiscious’ facial and came away with great skin care advice for the change in season too. During my treatment, my therapist, Katarina, gave me some savvy tips and showcased a wide variety of Skoah’s range. The first thing that I noticed was the creamy quality of the products; Skoah use shea butter, olive oil and coconut oil in a lot of their products and I have to say I really liked it. It felt nourishing and not at all harsh on my wind-chapped face.

Katarina’s advice for me was simple but it’s been pretty effective over the past couple of weeks. Katarina told me that I should go back to skincare basics; cleanse, tone and moisturise – I never tone as I always thought it was too drying but she steered me towards Tonik, an alcohol-free toner which balances the PH of the skin and helps strengthen it with hyaluronic acid.

I find most exfoliators are too rough for my skin, but Face Skrub uses perfectly round beads which gently polish the skin without causing it stress. The proof was looking at my skin afterwards – no redness at all and the blend of plant extracts that Skoah use to calm and soothe the skin certainly seemed to do just that for me.

A slick of this means winter is no longer a problem for my skin

Katarina also recommended that in winter I should look at ‘layering’ product on my skin like I do with clothes, so – using a serum to help strengthen my skin and reduce the capillaries bursting which happens when I go from cold to hot and back again, the Skin Quench contains ceramides which can help with that. Her final two pieces of advice were to lessen the effects of the intense changes in temperature by wrapping a scarf around my face whenever I go outside, so that my skin cools slowly and also to look at using an extra-thick product like the Face Balm, which has olive oil and shea butter to keep my skin hydrated and rice bran wax to form a barrier between my skin and the elements.

I’ve followed her advice and yes — it definitely seems to be working. The switch from autumn to winter seems less harsh on my skin and I love that it’s all from a Canadian company who are based right here in Vancouver.


25
Nov 12

Whistler Weekend

One Mile Lake, just past Whistler

Winter takes on a different feeling when you have one of the world’s most beautiful mountain playgrounds on your doorstep. When it rains in Vancouver, you know that it’s probably snowing just 90 minutes away in Whistler, making perfect powder to play in. Whistler is less than two hours away from Vancouver and the drive there on the Sea to Sky Highway is simply breathtaking. The road twists and turns as you hug the coast and venture higher into the mountains. Each turn brings a fresh and gorgeous perspective. Take it slow though; it’s also one of Canada’s most dangerous roads. So stick to the speed limit and don’t try out any F1 moves.

I stayed at Nita Lake Lodge, a little distance from Whistler village and for me, if you’re looking to soak up the relaxing side of the mountains, the perfect place to chill. I loved my room on the top floor; huge ceiling and a gorgeous fireplace. I curled up on the sofa, reading a book and got lost watching the flames. I have to mention the staff here; the brilliant receptionist who went the extra mile for me as I’d forgotten my adaptor plug and she found a mac cable for me so I could re-charge and the friendly driver of the hotel’s shuttle bus who cheerily drove me back and forth into the village.

Nita Lake – the perfect view for breakfast

There’s a spa at Nita Lake – which unfortunately I didn’t get to try out – especially as it has those gorgeous Ila treatments which I love. No matter, I spent time in the spa’s yoga studio doing some Pilates and then padded out in the minus six chill to the outdoor hot tubs, slipped off my robe and hopped into the bubbling warmth. There is something magical about your sore muscles getting massaged by bubbles as you lie back under a blue sky and look at the snow on the mountains. I was lost in nature worship again!

Starving after all that beaming at the mountains I wanted to check out the Southside Diner at the end of the road. I’m so glad I did. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, this was the only place that didn’t hike its prices and the queue for Sunday brunch told me just how good the food was. I sat at the bar and lost a battle against the biggest and fluffiest pancake I’d ever seen. I loved watching the staff plate the food – it would not have been out of place at a Michelin-starred restaurant – but this was diner food made with love and care. I’ll be back next time I visit for sure. I want to try the cornflakes-and-Baileys…

Drinky Brunch at the Southside Diner

I’d read about a spa in town that used the 100-mile principle in its treatments. I’m a huge fan of this idea – using only ingredients from a 100-mile radius to keep the carbon footprint low and truly support local, sustainable living. Eco Chic is tucked away in the village, it’s small but spotlessly clean and had a real sanctuary-like atmosphere. The treatment rooms were compact but attractively-decorated. My therapist Michelle has won herself a place in my Top Five Massages of All-Time. I was meant to be having a full-body treatment with hot stones. The linens and oil used were locally-sourced and the stones were from the nearby Sunshine Coast. About 20 minutes into the massage, Michelle stopped and started quizzing me about my sore shoulders and horribly stiff leg. She decided that what my body needed was intense trigger point therapy instead and that’s what she gave me, focussing on my back. I stayed face-down for the whole treatment and yes, it was painful at times but oh wow, that loose muscular-release stayed with me for days. I left the spa and had to go and sit in a cafe for an hour or so before I could drive, I was so relaxed. Go and see her when you visit! An amazing intuitive therapist.

I’ll be back to Whistler soon to check out some of its famous restaurants and, SCREAM!, to try a skiing lesson. I’m nervous but I can’t wait to try it out. Any tips for first-timers… let me know.

I stayed as a guest of Tourism Whistler and was hosted by the Eco Chic spa. My views are 100% my own.

Keep Exploring Canada  and find out more about Whistler

 


21
Nov 12

Licensed to thrill at Vancouver’s Shangri-La hotel

It’s Vancouver’s tallest building and I’ve seen it shimmering at me for months…

I’ve had my eye on the Shangri-La hotel  ever since I moved to Vancouver. Towering above the other buildings in the city, it’s been a glittering landmark and one that I’ve been increasingly eager to check out. Turns out waiting two months to visit was two months too long. Where has the Chi spa been all my life? Why aren’t I there right now? If I ask nicely, do you suppose they will let me move in? 

Deliciously decadent private spa treatment room at CHI

Ahem.

Checking in was a breeze, I’d arrived early to visit Chi (OH MY GOD, THE SPA!) and the concierge had spotted me loitering in the lobby with my case. He immediately took it from me to save me the effort of wheeling it to the lift and promised to have it sent to my room. Case-less I zipped on up to the fifth floor… The lift doors open and you’re faced with a cascading wall of water over shimmering rock. A sense of calm is established immediately. I’d booked for the Element Vitality massage, a treatment which combined a variety of massage styles, Swedish, shiatsu and reflexology – blending the best of East and West – as the rest of the hotel does. I visit a lot of spas and I can say, hand on heart, that I don’t think I have ever seen treatment rooms like these before. Each room is its own fully-equipped spa, complete with huge soaker tub, steam room, fireplace, changing area, showers and relaxation area. Very impressive. I wish I could pretend that I am cooler than I am, but as I am not, I’ll confess that I WHOOPED when I saw it.

The first part of the treatment was a ten-minute steam. I love any massage that starts this way; your muscles warm up and the therapy is is much more beneficial. I steamed in my private cabin & then took a warm shower, wrapped myself in a robe and padded out to my therapist who’d prepared a herbal tea for me to enjoy while I chose which ‘element’ scented oil I preferred for my massage. I chose ‘water’ which she told me meant fluidity, travel and independence – exactly right for me. The combination of the different styles was superb, I felt positively boneless when I reluctantly left the couch an hour later. Just a great treatment. In fact, I felt so relaxed I couldn’t face dressing, so packed up my boots and all in spa gift bags, and wafted up to my room on the eleventh floor with a Mona Lisa-like smile on my face.

There! Look through the window – can you see? City, mountains and sea…

I had an impression of smooth crisp fine linens, a decadent bathroom with a gloriously waterfall-like shower and soaker tub, with a whole shelf of doo-dads and what-nots in the bathroom – combs and toothbrushes and all, but then I saw the bed and fell soundly asleep. Always the sign of a stellar massage. The need for unconsciousness immediately afterwards.

I woke to all that I moved to Vancouver for; that wonderful view of city, mountains & water. I sat on the edge of the huge bed and hugged myself with delight. I’d woken feeling refreshed and ready for action – and that meant dinner at MARKET by Jean Georges  and afterwards a party to celebrate the release of the new Bond movie, Skyfall in the Xi Shi Lounge.

And so – to MARKET, honestly? Not the most exciting of rooms, maybe it’s the lighting? Dim, but not intimate, something felt off, and truthfully, the menu didn’t have me leaping with anticipation either. Its focus is on “reinventing classic dishes by infusing eclecticism”. Hmm, a burger with black truffle and Brie, soy-glazed short ribs with apple-Jalepeno puree and a lot of mushrooms seem to feature (not great for me with my raging mushroom allergy).  I guess if I hadn’t been going to a slinky-dress party afterwards, I’d have dug in, embraced a loose waistband and had the beef tenderloin. But a slinky dress night it was, so I hit up a trio from the Raw Bar and planned to sample my date’s rack of lamb.

So, what do you think? Me? Not loving the room. The food is divine though.

How lovely when your expectations are shattered; the food was perfect. Just wonderful. The tuna tartare with avocado, spicy radish and ginger dressing was one of the best things I’ve eaten. The flavours sung. So incredibly fresh and that perfect balance between spice and heat. The rice cracker-encrusted tuna was marvelous too and the oysters so good I’m afraid I had seconds. The lamb? Heaven. Perfectly pink and given an edge with a chili-crumb crust. I may have had more than my fair share. But I’m not changing my mind about the room, until I try lunch there in daylight, and see whether that makes a difference.

On to the party – I’d heard nothing but great things about bartender Jay Jones, who shakes it up at the Xi Shi Lounge – which would be because he’s rather superb at what he does. My new off-list love is a Last Word, a cheeky Prohibition-era blend of gin, green chartreuse, maraschino and fresh pressed lime juice. Jay whipped up one of the best I’ve had and, bless him, didn’t insist I stick to the evening’s Bond-a-licious creations, although, yes – I had to try the Vesper, of course… The night span past in a whirl of Bond themes, casino fun, glammed-up willowy women and towering Canadians in sharp suits. Hurrah!

Morning arrived with a sore head and (thank goodness) an in-room breakfast, complete with old-school warming cupboard so my much-needed eggs and bacon didn’t get cold. As I write this at home, I can see the Shangri-La through the rain clouds. If I squint I can just about see where the spa might be… how I wish I were there right now.

I stayed as a guest of the Shangri La, but my views are 100% my own. And I still wish I could go and live in that spa.

Featuring WPMU Bloglist Widget by YD WordPress Developer