Whether it’s just for one treatment at an urban retreat or an extended stay at a lavish resort, there’s a wealth of luxurious spas across the country. Some are newcomers to the scene, while others have a long track record of pampering.
In a perfect world, unplugging from the busyness of everyday life at a destination spa for a weekend, a week, or a month would be the ideal scenario. For 45 years, Spa Eastman, which spreads over 192 hectares in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, has welcomed stressed-out urbanites and treated them to an array of treatments – from Nordic baths to massages using handcrafted botanical oils.
Guests can book accommodations in the main pavilion close to the treatment rooms or stay at their own private lodge with views of Mount Orford. Rooms do not have televisions and some areas of the spa have no internet, all intended to help guests disconnect.
Back when owner Jocelyna Dubuc started Spa Eastman, talk of mediation and detoxification was just beginning. Now, the health and wellness retreat is regarded as one of the best in the world. “Real luxury today is the ability to breathe and have a clear mind,” she says. “It’s taking the time to spend your day doing what’s best for you.”
In the West, near Vernon, B.C., Sparkling Hill Resort brings dazzle to European-style wellness. Everything from staff name tags to dining room chairs are adorned with Swarovski crystals – more than three million throughout the property, built in 2010. The 40,000-square-foot KurSpa features hot-cold therapies and offers treatments to those staying for retreats as short as five days, with programs for seniors, couples, girls’ getaways and those needing to learn the basics of healthy living.
Expert guidance from a naturopath or a medical doctor/psychiatrist helps put guests on a healthy path, while enjoying the amenities, including saunas, various steam rooms (scented with orange, rose or herbs), fitness studio, infinity pool and a cold room at 10 Celsius.
Whether guests come for a hardcore detox, like the 7 Renew Yourself Cleanse Retreat, where you eat only spelt bread, vegetable broth, water and tea, or just some pampering, like a maple-sugar body scrub or crystal facial, they can bed down for the night in gorgeous rooms, some with deep soaker tubs flanked by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Okanagan. Turn up the luxury and stay in one of the resort’s penthouses, complete with private in-room saunas, living areas, bedroom fireplaces and plenty of crystals too. On-site dining means you can eat healthy or splurge on hearty fare, like wiener schnitzel and apple strudel, available at its new Austrian restaurant, Gerni’s Farmhouse.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to spas. Many countries have their own take on nurturing body and soul. Trending in Canada right now are the 2,000-year-old traditions of Nordic wellness focused on a hot-cold-rest circuit achieved through spending time in saunas and thermal pools, then cold plunge pools and quiet relaxation lounges.
This thermotherapy is central to Nordik Spa-Nature, the largest spa in North America. Located in the Outaouais region of Quebec (about 20 minutes from Ottawa), its facility includes 10 outdoor baths, nine distinct saunas, including one using snowballs infused with essential oils that release their scent as they melt, a saltwater flotation pool, an exfoliation room and a yoga and meditation room. A day pass allows guests to indulge in all at their leisure.
“After warming the body for 10 to 15 minutes, giving it a thermal shock, whether it’s in a cold pool or waterfall, helps release adrenaline to increases circulation,” explains Ashlinn Cassidy, assistant director of operations – massotherapy and esthetics. “That’s the science behind it.”
To supercharge destressing, she recommends doing the hot-cold-rest cycle at least three times for maximum relaxation over the course of day and adding spa treatments, like a massage, in one of the outdoor cabins. Order a glass of champagne while soaking in the infinity pool and have dinner while experiencing the magic of coloured lights that illuminate the night sky. Then just walk to your gorgeous lodge set in the midst of beautiful forest, and then return to the spa the next day to do it all again. Owners Groupe Nordik will open Thermëa Spa Village locations in Whitby, Ont., and Calgary next year.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get away for a week or even a day to decompress from the pressures of life. Fortunately, urban spas can provide a brief respite with a full slate of restorative services. Perched on the fifth floor, the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel is right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, but it feels like it’s a world away.
“We create an oasis of calm, a cocoon that gives guests a break from the city,” says Anna McAlary, spa treatment manager. “When they arrive, they don’t need to think about anything. We guide them to their lockers, give them robes and slippers and allow them to unwind and take time out for themselves.”
Until January 15, the spa is offering Nutcracker-themed treatments as part of the hotel’s holiday celebrations. Make an appointment for a 90-minute Sugar Plum Scrub, a full body treatment that leaves skin baby-soft, thanks to a peppermint-scented body polish, followed by an orange-vanilla-nutmeg moisturizer and a scalp massage while you drift off into the land of dancing sugar plums.
Don’t rush off after a spa service. Linger over a cup of tea, a soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi, the infrared sauna and steam room or a snooze in a lounge chair accompanied by skyline views, a lunch and a craft cocktail.
In Toronto, city dwellers can escape to one of the spas recently opened. The Omni King Edward Hotel’s new Mokara Spa taps into the benefits of aromatherapy in its treatments, ranging from customized facials to the Royal Couple’s Ritual, featuring three-and-a-half hours of head-to-toe pampering. Meanwhile Hotel X, an urban resort, has the Guerlain Spa for luxurious skin-enhancing services using Orchidée Impériale products, which incorporate two different types of orchids.
Montreal boasts some unique spa experiences for residents and visitors as well. Bota Bota is a floating spa housed in a historical river ferry. It’s known for upscale massages and soaking tubs, overlooking Old Montreal. At Winnipeg’s Ten Spa, an urban sanctuary means replicating the health-boosting benefits of a hammam, a Turkish bathing ritual designed to chase away toxins, improve circulation and stimulate the immune system. In an opulent setting, complete with Turkish tiles and heated marble slabs, an attendant takes you through the steps – salt scrub, scrub down, olive-oil soap lathering, massage, and relaxation over mint tea and Turkish delight – while you head to the Zen zone.