Posts Tagged: hammam

Jan 14

Shangri-La Toronto

Rising by Shanghai-based sculptor, Zhang Hua.

Rising by Shanghai-based sculptor, Zhang Hua.

“What’s that?” I asked my cab driver, “It’s gorgeous.” ‘It’ was a silvery sculpture that reached into the sky and bought to mind flight and freedom right there on the pavement in downtown Toronto.

“It’s the Shangri La” said my driver.

“You’re kidding!” I said. “I’m staying there tomorrow.”

I can’t help myself; I get giddy with delight over a fancy hotel. Holly Golightly may have gone weak at the knees over Tiffany, but for me it’s a top class hotel that makes me think:      “…the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.” The check-in was fast, the service with a real smile and within minutes I was leaving the airy lobby with its Fazioli piano and zipping up to my room. When you notice details like how cool the carpets are (reminiscent of cherry blossom and bamboo leaves) as you trot to your room, then you can bet that your socks will be suitably knocked off when you get inside.

They were.


I know. It’s just carpet. But really – it’s more than that. It’s about the attention to detail and making every small thing beautiful.

I was wondering how Toronto would compare to Vancouver and the TO did not disappoint; a ludicrously huge and comfy bed, a decadent bathroom with a big-enough-for-two soaker tub overlooking the city and a satisfyingly high count of amenities from emery boards and tooth brushes to a mini-loofah and lashings of L’Occitane to raid.


Curl up and relax…

I was there to check out the sister spa to the Miraj in Vancouverthis is a glossier and more sophisticated version of the great little hammam on West 6th – but the principal remained the same –  and the treatment and therapist was just as good – leaving me to relax on satiny cushions admiring my equally silky skin after a heavenly steam, skin-brightening scrub and a final oil application.

Modern fine dining

Modern fine dining

Drinks in the lobby lounge later were a treat – the menus come tucked away in a little compendium of books and champagne buckets stand ready for your bubbles. I’d heard wonderful things about the Bosk restaurant, and after a slew of strictly casual fine dining experiences, it was lovely to feel that here was a restaurant worth dressing up for. Bosk may have an east coast address but it certainly had a west coast feeling with local, organic and sustainable woven through the menu and the seafood treated with loving care. A pleasingly large by-the-glass wine selection makes food pairing a pleasure – my advice? Ask the sommelier to match for you – you won’t be disappointed and you’ll definitely try delicious new things.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Toronto and stayed as a guest of the Shangri-La– all views are, however 100% my own.

More Info:

The Shangri-La

188 University Ave, Toronto, ON M5H 0A3

Phone:(647) 788-8888

Web:  Shangri-La Toronto

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.

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