With Vancouver taking its place as a world-class and increasingly high-rise city on the shores of the Pacific, we decided it was time to shine our spa spotlight on the top spas for when you're visiting.
The classic Rosewood Hotel Georgia is newly re-built and re-opened (2011) and perfectly placed for some downtown Vancouver fun. The lobby is warm wood, crystal chandeliers, and a flickering fire. On the fourth floor, the stylish Sense, a Rosewood spa, reached from a dedicated elevator from the lobby, or direct from your room, offers an elegant environment in which to relax and unwind at your leisure.
Take your time. If you are visiting the spa for a treatment, you also have access to the fitness centre and pool, on the same floor, which we thoroughly recommend. The dinky but divine lap-pool has salt water that is soft to swim in. The gradually changing lights -- in geometric panels on the floor of the pool, mirrored in panels in the ceiling above, graduating from lilac, to blue, to green -- make a swim an altogether more sensory experience than usual. There are loungers round the pool, too, so you can stake a claim to some sociability here, as well. The fitness centre is also nicely done, with plenty of towels, water and daylight views over the streets below, as well as cardio and resistance equipment.
The tiny but nicely appointed changing room -- two washrooms, two marble showers, and every amenity you could wish for or even think of -- is where your white robe and spa slippers repose in your electronic locker, alongside a jewellery dish where you can leave your diamonds somewhere safe.
After your treatment, take time to recover in the four-lounger relaxation area, where there is a soft feel to the environment, with fabric on the walls, tea to sip, and clever mirrored screens giving you a sense of privacy as you read your glossy magazine or simply return to yourself.
Treatments to try
Treatments on offer at SENSE include massages and facials, many with a distinctly Canadian twist provided by Beauty Through Balance, a natural spa-product range that uses indigenous ingredients such as Pacific seaweed and glacial clay. (Fittingly for a brand whose motto is "A Sense of Place", each Sense spa around the world features local traditions or ingredients.)
The "Tides" body treatment involves a wrap made with regionally harvested algae and British Columbian glacial mud. The manicures and pedicures include maple-sugar scrubs and glacial honey, as does the "Cocoon" body treatment. Perhaps the most distinctively local experience is the three-and-a-half-hour "Discover Vancouver" package, in which you are driven to the sea wall so you can enjoy a brisk walk in the fresh marine air, taking in some of the most gorgeous views of the city while raising your endorphin levels. On your return to the spa, choose a body treatment and finish with a Canadian Maple pedicure. See the sights and spa all at once!
We tried the Vancouver Signature Sensation treatment, which you can read about in more detail here. The treatment was highly personalised to my needs; my therapist listened to my concerns, took them seriously and delivered just the treatment that my mind and body required.
Don't miss treating yourself to a pedicure if you can. The chairs "with NASA technology" do away with the need to scrunch your knees up while your polish is applied. Instead, you lie back, the chair tilts, leaving you almost weightless, with your feet in just the right position for your therapist. ("Most people fall asleep," the spa manager, Lindsay, informed me. I am not surprised. Zero-gravity does that to you.) The Spa Ritual nail colour range is vegan-friendly, too.
Who would like it?
Anyone who wants to take time out in a soothing ambience, with treatments tailored to you.
Floating in the pool as the lights change around you.
Expect to pay
From $130 for the 50-minute Georgian Revival massage, to $320 for the "Discover Vancouver" package.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, built just in time for the Winter Olympics in 2010, is by the Vancouver waterfront. The hotel is sparkling and sophisticated, while the Willow Stream spa, which takes up the whole fifth floor, is spacious and sociable. From the moment you arrive, with the sound of water rippling down textured stone walls and aromatic scents beckoning you closer, you sense soothing in the air.
Surrounded by views of the city, ocean, harbour and snow-capped mountains, the spa has an open, airy feel. The changing rooms are minimalist and spotless, with electronic lockers, beige tiled floor, and banks of white towels everywhere. Two showers in grey marble house Willow Stream products.
The spa is divided into three spaces, each with their own lounge: women, men and "co-ed". This means you can choose to relax with friends or partners in different zones.
The spa facilities in the female-only space are limited: an experience shower and large but soon-to-be-refurbed tiled steam room, but there is a roomy lounge with a homely feel that makes you feel you've just popped into a good friend's library: books on the shelves and a variety of teas (Tranquillite? Energie?) on offer. Snuggle down on the soft sofa with a magazine, in front of the warming fire, where flickering logs give a soft glow, and you can feel the relaxation taking hold.
You can order from a spa menu while you relax in the lounge, perhaps choosing a quinoa salad, a Bento box with scallop and lobster, sashimi of albacore, or a raw bar platter, perhaps with a spa smoothie. (You could also wander downstairs to eat at Oru after your spa time, the hotel's light and relaxed restaurant. This serves dishes which will make you happy and complement your treatment, whether you're after organic, low-fat, vegan, or macrobiotic foods, are following the Mediteranean diet, or simply hungry.)
There are nine treatment areas in the Willow Stream spa, each in neutral tomes, including a couples' room with Japanese Zen tub, a mani and pedi space, and a huge fitness centre. However, where the spa really comes into its own is on its outdoor terrace: a rarity for the city of Vancouver. This large area has covered cabana beds and fire-pits, and two Jacuzzis along with an infra-red sauna, enveloped in city and sky views.
Treatments to try
Although Willow Stream is a spa brand that is at home in Fairmont hotels all across the world, each individual Willow Stream spa offers locally inspired treatments, with a focus on the pure and natural. The spa at the Fairmont Pacific Rim is no exception, featuring authentically Canadian ingredients. While the treatment menu includes a variety of wraps, facials, massages, and beauty therapies, you can home in on the soothing 60-minute Pacific Rim Body Buffer, which includes a Bio-Maple compound to penetrate, soothe and condition your skin. The Great Canadian Facial bathes your skin in British Columbian glacial water, involves a hydrating mask of Saskatchewan clay, and ends with a maple-infused facial massage.
Anyone who likes to mix up their spa experience: you can retreat to be alone in a meditation pod on the terrace, chat over tea in the lounge, and discuss treatment experiences in the Jacuzzi.
Visiting when the weather allows you to make the most of the hot tubs in the sky.
Expect to pay
From $155 for the 60-minute Great Canadian Facial to $229 for the Pure Ener.g 90-minute revitalising experience to $235 for the 90-minute Van Active Body treatment (great if you've been climbing up those local mountains lately).
In traditional Chinese philosophy, "chi" is the universal life force. According to legend, Shangri-La is an earthly paradise, where everyone is young and happy. CHI spa at the Shangri-La, Vancouver offers a haven to restore your own life forces, enjoy some happiness and, if not actually achieve eternal youth, then at least experience some anti-ageing therapies.
The downtown hotel, an engineering miracle of glass and light -- with fresh flowers at every turn -- hides a spa secret of luxury and serenity which can be yours as soon as you press the button for the fifth floor. On arrival, the water wall welcomes you. The reception area where you fill in your consultation form has carpeted floors, stone walls in neutral colours, soft sofas with orange throws, and an Eastern feel to the hand-carved artwork and furnishings. Gentle music plays under the gentle lighting.
CHI offers a "spa within a spa" environment. There are no communal heat facilities, pools, changing rooms or relaxation lounges. Instead, your treatment takes place within a private suite, each of which comes with its own fireplace, shower, relaxation area, and changing space. There is also a suite for couples. My suite was larger than some apartments I have rented, with a deep bath, personal steam room and golden glowing fire.
On the same floor as the spa is the hotel's health club, open 24 hours, with attendants who can help design a customised workout. From your cardio machine, look out through the 6-metre-high floor-to-ceiling windows down onto Vancouver's busy Georgia Street below. The health club also has an outdoor terrace, with pool and Jacuzzi.
Treatments to try
The treatments at CHI draw on Eastern well-being therapies such as wellness massages, and also feature local and organic, hand-harvested wild seaweed in the "West Coast Wave" massage or the "West Coast Wrap".
The belief is that for good health, your life energy -- "chi" or "qi" --must flow freely within the body. Movement is a key element in releasing any energy blockages, and many of the therapies at CHI are designed to release energy through massage and hydrotherapy. The signature "Wushu" massages are inspired by the stretching of the body for martial arts, and include not only stretches, but guided breathing, warm bamboo rolling, and flowing Tai Chi massage movements.
The facials sound tempting from their names alone: who wouldn't wish for a "Jade Jewel" facial with gemstones, or desire an antioxidant green-tea face compress if it delivers "Pearl Radiance"?
Who would like it?
Anyone who wants a perfect, private, pampering or pep-up experience.
Taking time out in your personal steam room, to loosen your muscles before your massage.
Expect to pay
From $145 for the 50-minute "West Coast Wave" massage to $395 for the "Enchanted Journey", which features three hours of skin polish and hot stone massage, with welcome foot bath and personal aroma steam shower along the way.
This beautiful spa in a Heritage building in downtown Vancouver is all marble and whiteness. Drinking my caramel rooibos tea - a flavour combination of which I was initially unsure but which turned out to be deliciously warming --I admired both my dainty white china teacup and the original carvings at the top of the high columns. Breathe is a basement spa, down a grand marble staircase, but has a light and elegant aesthetic with a friendly and helpful atmosphere. Independently owned and operated, Breathe Spa is unique to Vancouver and worth a visit for that reason alone. There are just five spacious treatment rooms, each with its own chandelier.
Breathe Spa is the spot to hit if you're after a tailored, customised, personalised, individualised -- or any other word not yet invented that means specific and unique to you -- facial treatment. That's what we booked in for, and the treatment we recommend. This is the skin on your face that we are talking about. Who are you going to trust with that? Only someone who knows what they're doing, obviously. And that's what the therapists at Breathe Spa know all about; each one of them has at least four years of skincare experience.
Breathe Spa doesn't get swamped by out-of-town visitors -- and that's because savvy Vancouverites book their next treatment as soon as they leave their previous one -- so it's not always easy to turn up as a tourist and book on the spot. So get ahead of yourself, facial devotees, and check out their booking service before you arrive (contact details below). When you do arrive, check out the original marble columns, too.
You can try a shortened version of the facial if you're pushed for time, or a version with warm stones. You could also book in for a Hawaiian organic body scrub, hand and foot treatments using Zoya nail colours, or add-on services such as waxing or lash tinting.
Who would like it?
Anyone who takes their skincare seriously: locals and the well-informed.
Getting to the spa a little early so you can sip some signature caramel tea in the marble lobby and start to feel serene already.
Expect to pay
From $80 for a relaxation massage, to $140 for the two-hour signature facial, to $360 for the "Imperial Package" with six hours' worth of treatments including that facial, massage, manicure and pedicure.
It's always lovely to have your feet paid attention to, so we were pleased to end our spa tour of Vancouver with a little loving for our tootsies. Absolute Spa is a Canadian phenomenon. Starting in the Century Plaza Hotel -- which is why we wanted to sample this flagship location -- there are now ten locations across the city where you can find an Absolute Spa.
The Century Plaza spa is reached through a glass wall in the hotel lobby, and is large, covering three floors of relaxation and recovery. There are nine treatment rooms, plus four suites for couples. The reception and some treatment rooms are on the ground floor. On the lower floor is a pool, with a small steam room in both the men's and women's rather basic locker areas. There are complimentary herbal teas on offer in the dimly lit relaxation lounge, and light meals and snacks available in the somewhat Spartan café. On the upper floor are more treatment rooms and a huge manicure and pedicure area, which has plate-glass windows overlooking the street.
The spa has a relaxed atmosphere and, given its size, is certainly the Vancouver spa that we saw most suitable for large-group spa-going. There were renovations going on when we visited, so it will be nice to see the spa restored to glory.
Treatments to try
You can try almost anything you like, as the spa menu is extensive and varied. Alongside prescription facials are more specialised treatments such as microdermabrasion or a glycolic peel. Massages range from lomi-lomi to British Columbian river stones, and you can also choose wraps and scrubs. Beauty therapies include waxing, brow treatments and tanning, and there are specific treatments for men, teens, and mums-to-be.