Northern Exposure

With Scenic Coastlines, Abundant Wildlife, and Majestic mountains, British Columbia's Vancouver Island has much to offer. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that it is often referred to as Canada's Paradise on the Pacific. What many may not know, however, is that the island is also home to a burgeoning spa scene. In fact, spa-goers can now make their way around the island following the spa trail that has recently emerged.

 LEFT: A sense of luxury pervades the treatment rooms at Willow Stream the Spa at The Fairmont Empress. RIGHT: The relaxation lounge is situated at the base of the stairs, which lead up to the treatment rooms. BELOW: Decorative accents, such as fresh flowers and a glass waterfall feature, can be found throughout the spa.
LEFT: A sense of luxury pervades the treatment rooms at Willow Stream the Spa at The Fairmont Empress. RIGHT: The relaxation lounge is situated at the base of the stairs, which lead up to the treatment rooms. BELOW: Decorative accents, such as fresh flowers and a glass waterfall feature, can be found throughout the spa.

Victoria

In Victoria, B.C., the renowned Fairmont Empress is home to one of the city's premier spas, Willow Stream the Spa at The Fairmont Empress, which opened in January 2002. The 8,500-square-foot spa has 11 treatment rooms and hosts approximately 65 to 85 guests in an average day. According to spa director Michelle Young, the spa's typical clientele can be described as women between the ages of 37 and 60, with middle to high incomes. The spa also attracts its fair share of men. Male clients make up 35 percent of the spa's clientele. In terms of nationality, Canadians and U.S. residents make up the bulk of the clientele. Locals comprise about 52 percent, whereas hotel guests make up approximately 40 percent, many hailing from California, Florida, Texas, and Washington.

Like other Willow Stream Spas, The Fairmont Empress's spa offers the complimentary Spa Ritual, which begins with the Finnish Dry Sauna, followed by a visit to the Steam Inhalation Room and a soak in the Hungarian Therapeutic Mineral Pool. "Bathing rituals are popular in Asia, but we really model ours after the ancient European rituals," says Young. The Spa Ritual is recommended before any face or body treatment. Offering Kerstin Florian products, the spa features a results-oriented menu with treatments such as the Power of the Sea Thalasso Kur ($155, 90 minutes) and the Cellular Repair Facial ($122, 90 minutes). The spa's most popular treatment is the Willow Stream Marine Energy Facial ($138, 90 minutes), which includes a caviar ampoule exclusive to Willow Stream and a lifting massage. "Guests are often disappointed in a menu that overpromises," says Young. "Our menu speaks honestly when describing each experience. It features the process, the products, and the results."

LEFT: The locker rooms at The Spa, Essence of Life feature spacious rainfall showers. TOP RIGHT: Slate tile used in the showers can also be found in the treatment rooms. BOTTOM RIGHT: The spas relaxation lounge offers a selection of local tea.
LEFT: The locker rooms at The Spa, Essence of Life feature spacious rainfall showers. TOP RIGHT: Slate tile used in the showers can also be found in the treatment rooms. BOTTOM RIGHT: The spas relaxation lounge offers a selection of local tea.

In addition to the results it provides, the Kerstin Florian line was chosen on account of the company's overall views toward wellness. According to Young, it mirrors the spa's own mission. "Our philosophy makes us unique," says Young. "It's a philosophy [focused on] filling up the part of us that gets depleted from the stresses of our every day lives." The 43 staff members are encouraged to share ways in which guests can find their energy at home with breath work, laughter, products, yoga, and more.

Brentwood Bay

Located on Saanich Inlet in Brentwood Bay, B.C., Brentwood Bay Lodge & Spa is one of Vancouver Island's newest additions, opened in May of last year. The Spa, Essence of Life offers vinotherapy, using organic grapes, stems, and leaves from local vineyards in various scrubs, massages, and pedicures. The 3,500-square-foot spa features nine treatment rooms, one of which is a couples suite. There's also a West Coast–inspired aroma garden that can be found adjacent to the spa's pool deck. It features numerous indigenous culinary and medicinal herbs, plants, and more.

Catering primarily to North American travelers, the spa is typically frequented by savvy spa-goers looking to relax. "We usually find them snuggled up in our tranquility lounge reading a book by the fireplace," says assistant general manager Christine Smiley. With approximately 20 employees on staff, the spa offers a range of treatments. The most popular is the Essence of Life Massage ($151, 80 minutes), which combines flowing massage techniques with heated basalt stones, a seaweed-based product applied up and down the spine, and an exfoliation on the back and feet.

ABOVE: The Cedar Sanctuary at Ancient Cedars Spa captures the area's rustic elegance. BELOW: A treatment room features soothing lighting.
ABOVE: The Cedar Sanctuary at Ancient Cedars Spa captures the area's rustic elegance. BELOW: A treatment room features soothing lighting.

Pevonia is the product line of choice, including the company's exclusive Ligne Myoxy-Caviar line. The spa also uses a locally harvested and prepared seaweed line called Outer Coast Seaweed for select treatments, including the Essence of Life Massage. For a local taste, the spa serves tea from Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Company, located in Victoria's historic Chinatown.

"We wanted to have a variety of treatments available and a few unique ones, so we are different from the other surrounding spas," says Smiley. "A lot of our products are unique to the island and are produced and manufactured here. We wanted to offer treatments that you wouldn't find on the mainland using products only available here, so our guests would truly have a wonderful and unique experience."

Tofino

On the wild and rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, The Wickaninnish Inn is ideally situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the Pacific. Making the most of the stunning locale, the Ancient Cedars Spa (Tofino, B.C.), opened in 1998, features a patio with dramatic ocean views, where guests are treated to foot soaks before each treatment. The 2,000-square-foot spa has two couples rooms, three multipurpose treatment rooms, a hydrotherapy room, and a room for manicures and pedicures. Capturing the inn's rustic elegance, the spa also features a cedar cabin, adjacent to the patio, called the Cedar Sanctuary. With gorgeous oceanfront views, it is perfect for side-by-side massages. Yoga is available in the spa's Rainforest Haven, which can also accommodate side-by-side treatments.

TOP LEFT: The exterior of The Kingfisher Oceanside Spa captures the coastal setting with its driftwood entryway. RIGHT: The spa's Massage Hut is ideal for beachside rubdowns. BELOW LEFT: The Pacific Mist Hydropath features a mineral massage pool.
TOP LEFT: The exterior of The Kingfisher Oceanside Spa captures the coastal setting with its driftwood entryway. RIGHT: The spa's Massage Hut is ideal for beachside rubdowns. BELOW LEFT: The Pacific Mist Hydropath features a mineral massage pool.

According to spa director Leah Austin, the spa caters to its fair share of couples. Because the resort is such a draw for guests celebrating special occasions, the spa by extension is an attractive option for commemorating anniversaries, birthdays, engagements, or honeymoons. "Many repeat guests make the Wick a part of their yearly travels," says Austin. Depending on the time of year, the spa can see anywhere from 20 to 50 people per day. The staff itself is made up of 25 employees. "We tend to have all staff members work three to four days per week so they have time to take care of themselves and are therefore able to take care of our guests," says Austin.

The spa's environmental stance played a key role in the choice of product line. "We use Aveda exclusively, as we are an Aveda destination spa," says Austin. "We chose them because they believe in a similar mission—environmental leadership and sourcing sustainable ingredients—and because they have a great in-room amenity program." In creating the menu, Austin stuck with tried-and-true treatments that relax, rejuvenate, and pamper guests. She also left the menu a bit vague so treatments can be customized to suit a guest's individual needs on any given day. The spa's most popular treatment is the Hot Stone Massage ($139 for one person, $311 for two; 90 minutes), followed by the Aromatic Massage ($93 for one, $219 for two; 60 minutes) and the newly introduced Lomilomi ($143 for one, $321 for two; 90 minutes). For the Hot Stone Massage, therapists gather their own stones in an effort to promote positive energy. Personalized lockers, customized treatments, and a spectacular setting are just some of the things that make Ancient Cedars Spa such a treat to visit.

Courtenay

On the east coast of the island, Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa (Courtenay, B.C.) sits upon an unspoiled shoreline and amidst fir, cedar, and balsam trees, many of which are more than 100 years old. The Kingfisher Oceanside Spa was introduced in 1998 as an 8,000-square-foot facility. It initially consisted of only eight treatment rooms but has undergone three expansions in the last four years. In 2003, the Pacific Mist Hydropath experience was created to expose guests to the true benefits of hydrotherapy. Today, the spa is 12,300 square feet and consists of 22 treatment rooms, many with ocean views. The spa also offers yoga in its Starfish Yoga Studio.

ABOVE: A birds-eye view of Poets Cove Resort & Spa at dusk on Pender Island. BELOW: The couples room features a stone fireplace and plenty of natural light.
ABOVE: A birds-eye view of Poets Cove Resort & Spa at dusk on Pender Island. BELOW: The couples room features a stone fireplace and plenty of natural light.

With more than 65 employees on staff, the spa can treat approximately 120 clients on a relatively busy day. According to spa director Kathy Ford, the spa caters primarily to Canadians and gets a large influx of guests from the province of Alberta. It's also not uncommon to run into guests from elsewhere on the island as well as Americans from the West Coast.

Wanting to offer a sea-based product line, the spa uses Phytomer, a line from the northwest coast of France. "The reason for choosing Phytomer seven years ago was that the line reflects where we are and what we believe in," says spa director Kathy Ford. She points to the minerals in the seawater and the seaweed-based therapies as having been scientifically proven to possess anti-aging, healing, and detoxifying benefits. With the menu, Ford wanted to offer simple yet effective and relaxing therapies that would appeal to a variety of spa-goers. The spa's most popular treatments are the signature facials and massages such as the Marine Mud Massage ($78, 60 minutes). Another favorite is the Pacific Mermaid ($123, 90 minutes), which combines a full-body thalassotherapy wrap with a hydrating seaweed mask and cooling eye treatment.

Evoking natural seaside elements of Vancouver Island's west coast shoreline, the Pacific Mist Hydropath ($45, 60 minutes) offers a truly unique hydrotherapy experience. Guests follow a winding path through sandstone sculpted caves and pools while taking advantage of the Hydropath's many features, such as Swiss showers, mineral massage pool, a series of waterfalls, an aromatic steam cave, a river walk, tidal baths, and more. Says Ford, "It is the best start of any spa getaway or spa day."

Pender Island

Nestled in Bedwell Harbour on Pender Island, B.C., Poets Cove Resort & Spa provides the ultimate retreat from the city. The fact that it is only accessible by boat, ferry, floatplane, or water taxi makes it an ideal escape from the stresses of everyday life. Adding to the resort's idyllic environment, Susurrus Spa has six spacious treatment rooms, including one devoted to couples. According to spa manager Trish MacKinnon, one feature that helps set the spa apart is its outdoor sandstone Steam Cave, found beneath a cascading waterfall. On a typical day, the staff of eight can accommodate up to 30 clients.

In the summer, the spa attracts visitors from California, Oregon, and Washington. Boaters are especially common due to the resort's marina and customs office. "Some have been coming to Bedwell Harbour for twenty to thirty years," says MacKinnon. The spa is popular with visitors from Victoria and Vancouver as well, although more so in the fall and winter. Because most of the spa's guests are primarily interested in relaxing, MacKinnon is focused on offering treatments that nourish the body and soul. The spa uses Éminence Organic Skin Care, Y-Spa for Men, and Jane Iredale Mineral Cosmetics. Poets Cove Signature Massage ($111, 90 minutes) and Aromatic Moor Mud with Exfoliation and Nourishing Lotion ($102, 60 minutes) are among the spa's most popular treatments.

Despite Susurrus Spa's tranquil setting, staffing can be an issue. According to MacKinnon, it's a challenge finding staff members willing to live and work on such a remote island. Currently, all but one on-call therapist live on the island. The resort recently began offering water taxi service to the mainland for a minimal charge to employees. Challenges aside, the stunning natural landscape makes Pender Island, as well as the larger Vancouver Island with its unparalleled spa scene, an ideal place to relax and unwind. —Heather Mikesell

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