The Spa Spy blog

Enter the ice-sauna! Canada’s Sparkling Hill dazzles.

The final stop on my Canadian spa tour took me from Vancouver on a short flight to Kelowna, in the Okanagan Valley. Sparkling Hill is a Wellness resort, which opened earlier in 2010, set above Lake Okanagan, surrounded by the Monashee Mountains, with spectacular views all around.

Sparkling Hill is well named. The resort has $10 million of Swarovski Crystal incorporated into its design, from the jaw-dropping waterfall-like installation in reception, to subtle twinkling accents on chairs. Dazzling in the daytime, the crystals took on a new life in the evening, and glittered under the lights.

My room was wonderful, a memory-foam mattress bed for a well-supported night's rest, with a perfect view over the greeny-blue lake. But what about the KurSpa? Well, Sparkling Hill is based on the "European" spa idea of full-body wellness. (I think they really mean Austrian, as the spa didn't feel awfully Greek... or French... or British!)

Relaxation room at Sparkling Hill, Canada

KurSpa is wonderfully well-equipped, with excellent thermal facilities. Seven experiences, including a delicious-smelling rose quartz steam room, an Aqua meditation room, and the absolute best ice room I've ever been in -- the scent of invigorating eucalyptus and the sound of cracking ice truly invigorates all the senses!

Two relaxation rooms, both with magnificent views over the lake, offer a chance to either be silent and contemplate nature, or indulge in a spot of gossip with fellow spa-goers, over a pleasingly large supply of glossy magazines and coffee-table books. I adored the outdoor infinity pool, and the indoor pool, both linked via a swim-through door. One small niggle, the website promised underwater music in the indoor pool, which I couldn't hear, which was a shame.

As for the treatments, I had a muscle-meltingly good massage and an incredibly thorough facial. Sparkling Hill may model itself on a "European" spa model, but its skin care is North American, which means that extraction -- and plenty of it -- is the order of the day. Even the milia (tiny keratin-filled white bumps on the skin) on my eyelid were removed. Not a recommended experience if you have a low pain threshold. As milia have no pore, my therapist used a special tool -- like a fine needle -- to create a small hole to squeeze out the contents. Yes, on my eyelid. OW! But I now have bump-free eyelids and I can't imagine a British therapist currently offering such a brilliant service.

Mask and gloves on ready for the ice lab

The star attraction at Sparkling Hill is its cold sauna, where you can experience cryotherapy: spending no more than three minutes in minus 110°C! The extreme cold is said to be beneficial for those with joint or muscular aches and pains, as the cold affects your pain receptors, and also reduces inflammation. Thanks to the shock of the cold, you experience an endorphin rush. Also, as the air is twice as dense in extreme cold, you breathe in twice as much oxygen which makes you feel revitalised. Cryotherapy is even said to be good for sleep disorders and depression.

It's a little scary getting ready, putting on ear warmers, face mask and protective gloves but you do have a therapist with you. You first enter one chamber set at minus 40°C, then another at minus 60°C, then into the small minus 110°C chamber. The cold hits you like a headache. My breathing became a little rapid, and my warm out-breaths became snow flakes! My arms felt a bit painful and I could see them reddening. My therapist and I walked around in circles, chatting to each other to stave off any panic. I began to feel a little giggly and light-headed. At two minutes, I decided that I'd had enough and came out, my nostrils iced up. Is it worth it? I felt ache-free, giddily euphoric, and couldn't stop chattering and laughing. I loved it!

Of course, no stay-spa would be complete without great food; Sparkling Hill's Peakfine did not disappoint, offering the chance to try delicious BC specialities such as Bison tartar, a Pink Banana Squash Soup (Mmmmmmmm!) and lavender ice-cream from the herb garden.

There are a few new-opening issues to iron out. (I was disappointed with the lunch place, and the general lack of signage could make the spa experience needlessly confusing for blissed-out guests.) On the whole, however, this was a five-bubble experience in five-star surroundings.

Find out more at www.BritishColumbia.travel