Posts Tagged: spa


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.


26
Oct 12

Vancouver Fairmont Pacific Rim: a little bit of a love letter…

I know this reads like a cheerleader-y whoop of a write-up, but you know what? Sometimes things are just good… and this is one of ‘em. I’m already pretty much on record as a fan of the Fairmont group in general and their Willow Stream Spas in particular. It’s true, I don’t really like chains as a rule, but I’ll make an exception for these guys because I kind of love the feeling that each of the Fairmonts I’ve visited has; the Monte Carlo Fairmont made me gurgle with glee as it had a mustard menu to go along with their buttery-soft steaks, as well as a rooftop pool that you can see France, Italy and, of course, Monaco from, as you lazily swim laps under the sun. The Savoy in London is part of the group and if you know of a more elegant luxury hotel in the world to enjoy a White Lady cocktail (which was invented in the bar there) then tell me – because I simply don’t believe it exists.

But to the Pacific Rim  in Vancouver; perched on the water’s edge, it’s a huge modern property, with a stunning open lobby with a piano bar and cocktail lounge which makes for a buzzy atmosphere as you walk in. Cheery reception staff make check-in a joy. I said something about wondering whether the rain would stop later and as I walked into my room, the phone rang; it was the gal on the desk, calling with the weather for later that day.  Do you see why I love them?

Alas, I didn’t get one of the bath-with-a-view rooms which overlook the harbour, with the pretty floatplanes taking off like duckies into the air, but as my room had a huge soaker-style tub and a bed that I never wanted to leave, turns out I had nothing to pout about after all.

Next time, this bath shall be mine

Of course, the only thing likely to drag me out of bed in a Fairmont is the chance of a trip to the spa… I love the spacious feeling that the Willow Streams have; the soft touches from the fruit and muffins in the relaxation rooms to the soft blankets available to wrap yourself up in after a soothing treatment so you can just zone out. This Willow Stream also boasts Vancouver’s most fabulous hot tub; right on the roof, towering over the city, where you can watch the sunset turn the buildings the most glorious gold.

No time to soak it up today, it was all about discovering the rejuvenating effects of marine algae with a signature ‘Power of the Sea’ massage. I was wrapped in a soothing mineral-rich cream and while that soaked into my skin, my therapist gave me a brilliant acupressure facial and eye-rollingly good scalp massage. All too soon I showered off the wrap and was then treated to a body massage with more Thalgo product. Now, I’d usually say after a good spa body treatment you could expect softer skin for maximum a couple of days. This really impressed me; a week later, my skin still felt petal-soft. I’m interested to see what effect a Thalgo full facial might have as, wow, serious results!

Snuggle up under a blanket and bliss out

Later I got to check out a tasting menu at Oro, the elegantly funky fine dining restaurant on the second floor. It’s all about the taste of the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest cuisine here, focussing on what’s local, seasonal and just plain good. We started with a sparkling Blue Mountain rosé from the Okanagan Valley, a whoosh of strawberries and citrus which was so good, it made me decide there and then to get to the Okanagan fast! We were treated to a variety of small plates from the Oru menu, my two favourites were the  Qualicum Island scallops with a brilliant faux-lardon made from smoked salmon, and the Fraser Valley pork belly which came with a new ingredient for me: lotus root purée – a wonderful taste that I want to try again. Show-stopper of the night though, was an Alaskan salt cod which was served with a ‘tea’, brewed table-side in old-fashioned gas-fired contraption, made of fragrant tomatoes and herbs. Poured over the delicate fish it was wonderful; dense with layers of herby, zingy, pure tomato flavour. I’d never tried anything even close to this before. LOVE.

Seriously. I want to eat this all day long.

I wish I could find some negatives to even out this rave of a review, but there’s nothing. The cocktails are great, the staff are friendly and hey – even the bathrooms are nice! What can I say? Go there. Eat there. Spa there. Stay there…

I stayed as a guest of The Fairmont Pacific Rim, however, my views are 100% my own – I just really love this brand!

Keep Exploring Canada

 


11
Sep 12

It’s hard to say goodbye…

There’s something they don’t tell you about when you’re getting ready to pack up and leave for a whole new life in a whole new country. I was expecting to be anxious about leaving; worrying over what to pack, what to ship and what on earth to take to the charity shops along my road in Brighton. I was even expecting to be upset about what the flight and trauma of the journey would mean to my dog, Freddie. But I wasn’t expecting to be weeping almost all the time in my last two weeks in the UK. Everything – and I mean EVERYTHING – has set me off!

Imagine your life becoming as easy to cry at as a paralympics montage! That’s how much I’ve been sobbing. I’m so upset at the thought of leaving my friends and my family that it’s overshadowing all the reasons why I want to try my luck in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities on earth.

But when life gets tear-stained there’s only one solution. Go somewhere no one can see you cry… and for me that means a spa with a good steam room! So that’s exactly what I did with my best friend Emma a few days before I flew off. I’d meant to check out the new spa opening at Ockenden Manor for a while. I’d stayed there years ago – dazzling Michelin-starred food and wonderful accommodation in the heart of beautiful Sussex countryside and heard good things about the spa. We weren’t disappointed.

The spa boasts wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a quintessentially English view and – best of all – they have a swim-through indoor/outdoor pool, so Emma and I could happily splash around under the rare September sunshine before heading off to the outdoor Jacuzzi to chill under the sky.

Later, wrapped in robes, we sat on a wall and watched placid chocolate-coloured cows graze before we did the same ourselves on huge quinoa super-food salads accompanied by a glass of champagne. We’d booked in to try the Ila Kundalini back massage and I have to say it was one of the best I’ve had; totally different from the usual long, flowing strokes of a Swedish massage, this used pressure point massage and hot stones and I found myself dropping off to sleep mid-massage – always the sign of a superb treatment!

Confession: this is not at the spa, this is Emma and I in Paris. But! I was all blotchy and pink and looked terrible. You don't want a photo of that ;)

Curled up in the relaxation room later, sipping tea, laughing and chatting I realised it would be a whole year before I got to do this with Emma… and yes, there were the tears again. Time to slip back into that steam room and hide my eyes.

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