Vancouver Island Spas
What do Pacific seaweed, glacial mud, river rock, spruce resin and steaming hot water have in common?
All are natural substances found on Vancouver Island—and all are utilized in signature treatments at Island spas. Visitors here can avail themselves of some of the finest spas on the continent, places so worthwhile they not only elicit longing gleams in the eyes of those who know them, they practice a distinctive wellbeing ethos that’s intrinsic to our Island, too.
More than that, they celebrate the essence of the Island that lends them substance and spirit. Natural substances are commonplace in virtually every spa treatment on every continent, but often they come from thousands of miles away, whether they are aromatic oils, treatment muds or even massage stones. A dedication to using truly local ingredients is far less common. Vancouver Island is one of the leaders in this field—and we definitely have splendid natural materials to work with.
Though spas have long since become accepted—and expected—facets of vacation travel, those unfamiliar with them still see a spa visit as an indulgence. It is, no doubt: Spa treatments of all kinds make the recipient look and feel better, ranging from the overall muscle relaxation of massages and body wraps, to the finely focused efforts of pedicures, manicures, facials and such. If you feel better, you look better; look better, feel better. This is the body-mind symbiosis central to Eastern philosophies of wellbeing. Not that health is top-of-mind for most spa customers.
If you’ve never had a hot stone massage, followed by a warm glacial clay wrap, well, you don’t know what mellow really is.
If you’ve never had a sea salt scrub, followed by a seaweed wrap, your skin still awaits ultimate rejuvenation.
If you’ve never spent an hour in a water path or a treatment tub, luxuriating in sprays and showers and pools of hot water, cool water, mineral water and steam—you don’t know what refreshed really is.
However, indulgence is only one of the virtues of spa visits.
Consider skin treatment, for instance: The skin is the largest human organ, and absorbs substances readily. Applying essential oils and other therapeutic substances such as seaweed—yes, really, iron-rich seaweed, harvested from Island waters—is a highly effective yet gentle and relaxing way of introducing beneficial elements into the body.
Massage, whether it’s the light, soothing touch found in Swedish massage or the rigorous muscle treatment of sports massage, benefits not only sore tissues but helps reduce stress, blood pressure and other systemic ills. The unique benefits of hot stone massage are highly effective for arthritis. Reiki, an ancient Asian healing art, also offers relief for chronic conditions such as back trouble.
All the island’s major spas offer treatments like those above—and each spa bears its own clarifying distinction.
At Ancient Cedars Spa, at Tofino’s Wickaninnish Inn, a special treatment cottage rests on a cliff just above the surf. Open the large awning and the client enjoys Pacific air and the music of the sea during treatment. The spa’s new Hishuk Ish Tsawalk Awakening treatment is adapted from local First Nations cleansing ceremonies.
Down the road, at Black Rock Resort’s Drift Spa in Ucluelet, virtually all the treatments utilize Island ingredients from marine, forest and mountain environments. The signature treatment is a massage using a blend of seaweed, pumpkin, flax and olive oil.
Across the Island at Parksville, Tigh-Na-Mara Resort’s famous Grotto Spa is a vast, stand-alone facility whose centrepiece is a 2,000-square-foot hydrotherapy pool infused with minerals and trace elements. A stone waterfall showers bathers; a cold plunge pool ensures an invigorating experience. Body treatments emphasize Island glacial clay, sea salt and seaweed, and nearby villas offer spa-oriented housing for those who visit just to spend a weekend at the spa. The Grotto’s own café—open to spa guests only--emphasizes healthful cuisine, served as tapas, based on Island foodstuffs.
Up the road from Parksville, just south of Courtenay, Kingfisher Resort offers guests a one-of-a-kind experience in its Pacific Mist Hydropath, a blissful and never-dull water path in which guests experience eight different water treatments, from steam to shower to a walk on a pebble bottom “stream.” It’s a sublime way to wind up a day skiing at nearby Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
Even farther up the Salish Sea, April Point Resort is set on a sublimely peaceful promontory of Quadra Island, across from Campbell River. The resort’s spa is housed in a Japanese-style pavilion set in its own, small pond; the outside deck is fabulous locale for a massage, set to the quiet patter of waves on Discovery Channel.
On Salt Spring Island, there really is a salt spring whose mineral waters are piped into baths in the lodging units at Salt Spring Island Spa Resort. Rich in magnesium, calcium, sodium and potassium, the waters provide the resort’s guests the same healthful treatment medium found at the European facilities from which the very word “spa” derives.
On quiet, beautiful Galiano Island, the equally discreet and lovely Galiano Inn’s Madrona del Mar Spa specializes in natural-substance treatments specifically designed to foster wellbeing. The blueberry body wrap may be unique on the continent, and another signature treatment blends both seaweed and sea salt in one body scrub.
In Victoria, the Fairmont Empress is a historic Edwardian property more than a century old—but its chic, recent-vintage Willow Stream Spa takes a thoroughly modern, Asian-inflected approach to its treatments. As you’d expect from an urban spa in a cosmopolitan cultural centre, the spa menu embraces a wide array of cosmetic procedures—such as seven different facials that includes one using caviar. Now, that’s indulgent. What would Queen Victoria have said?
But, as we say, indulgence is just the beginning. Dozens of Island lodgings and day spas offer treatments that are both beneficial and delightful. Not that anyone needs more reason to visit one of our many full-service destination resorts—but feeling wonderful sure adds to the experience.
Check out the video at the bottom of this page for a sneak peek at a spa experieince on Vancouver Island!
Ladysmith, Vancouver Island
|First Avenue at Christmas - Ladysmith - Photo: INfilm|
With a name as elegant and graceful as its location overlooking its namesake harbour, Ladysmith is a quintessential Vancouver Island town. It has a colorful history—coal baron James Dunsmuir founded the town to house workers at the coal-shipping docks in the harbour below. It has a well-kept historic center in which heritage buildings climb a sunny hillside above the TransCanada Highway. The town center is a great place to tuck in off the highway for a cup of coffee, a fresh-baked scone or a hand-made sandwich.
Ladysmith’s 7,500 or so residents like the quiet atmosphere, proximity to parks and recreation (including some nice, long off-street recreation trails), great scenery, easy access to Nanaimo Airport, Nanaimo and Victoria, agreeable climate and wildlife-rich natural surroundings. You can easily go beachcombing, play golf, head out on the water for a sail, or just hop on the free town trolley for a tour around Ladysmith. And it just sounds agreeable when you tell people where you live.
Pretty stellar, yes? Indeed.
And then once a year Ladysmith is really stellar—that is, it really shines in the luminescent sense, during the annual holiday season Festival of Lights. Begun almost a quarter-century ago as a community pride project, the festival brings more than 200,000 Christmas lights to the streets, buildings and homes of Ladysmith. It becomes such a sparkling wonder that local kids call it “Christmas Town” and more than 20,000 sightseers drive through town to admire the display. Downtown storefronts, streetlights, hillside homes—all are resplendent in twinkling lights.
The festival begins every year the last Thursday in November. This year that is November 24, a day of festivities that include a spaghetti dinner (how small-town friendly is that?), Christmas craft fair, street entertainment and food vending, and a countdown to the moment Santa turns on the lights. That's followed by a light parade and capped off with a fireworks show, which is about the only thing that could outshine the town at that moment.
One more standout distinction for Ladysmith: the 49th parallel runs through the center of town. But, for six weeks every winter, it truly has no parallel.
Boutique Shopping in the Vancouver Island Region
|Spirit of the Fire – Outside Break, Tofino, Vancouver Island|
The term “boutique shopping” means different things in different places, and on Vancouver Island we interpret this in our own special fashion. Visitors here will find few of the international chain stores that have proliferated globally. Instead, we offer unique experiences sure to be both entertaining and worthwhile for travellers.
Lots of small cities have a tea store, for example—but Victoria, our capital, has long been known for tea-after all, it was once a colonial capital in the British Empire, and an important port for Asian trade. Today it is home to two standout tea emporiums. Both are on Government Street, the city's main shopping boulevard, within a few blocks of each other, but they are profoundly different. Murchie’s is a traditional English-style tea emporium, founded in 1894, whose inventory ranges from everyday breakfast tea to exotic, specialty keemun at $280 a pound. Silk Road, at the edge of Chinatown, is a New Age tea and aromatherapy store that features dragon tears (shaped tea balls whose unfurled patterns in the cup foretell the future), yerba maté from Paraguay, and undiluted yarrow oil.
Lots of places have clothing stores—but Vancouver Island is just about the only place to shop for a true local specialty, the Cowichan sweater. These colorful, practical and warm garments have been hand-made in the Cowichan Valley since the late 19th century; now they are available at stores in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo and other Island destinations. The same is true for First Nations hand-crafted art, ranging from small souvenir totems to peerless cedar wall panels that could be the dominant artwork in any home.
Victoria’s Fort Street is a famed antiques district, with boutique stores offering from British Empire colonial antiques, such as formal Wedgwood china, to rattan patio furniture. In downtown Nanaimo, locally owned stores focus on Canadiana, metaphysics and handmade suits and tailoring. Campbell River has a friendly downtown street called “Shopper’s Row” where visitors can find everything from local books to coffee and pastries.
Every town on the Island has its own distinctive small shops. Sidney, north of Victoria, is a European-style “booktown,” with eight major outlets whose shelves have every kind of book imaginable, from military to maritime. There’s an artisan jeweler in Sooke; a famous First Nations painter in Tofino; a boutique in Ucluelet specializing in, among other rarities, B.C. jade. Comox and Courtenay have an artisan cheesemaker, two fine First Nations art galleries, and three ski, dive and surf shops.
Every one of our towns and cities has a district perfect for strolling among local shops, stores and galleries—and on our Island, with fresh salt air, friendly people, blue Pacific skies and the keen scent of rain-washed cedar and fir, the journey is at least as much fun as the result.
Boutique Shops in the Vancouver Island Region.
- Wilde and Sparrow - Parksville
- Lady's Mantle - Parksville
- Lucid Records & Clothing - Nanaimo
- Quintessentials - Nanaimo
- Barton & Leier Gallery - Nanaimo & Yellowpoint
- Radway Studio - Cowichan Bay
- Habit - Tofino
- Tofino Fishing & Trading Company - Tofino
- Bamboozle - Coombs
- Fabrications - Duncan
|Photo: Wilde & Sparrow - www.wildeandsparrow.com - Parksville|
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