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According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, “spa tourism is one of Canada’s best- kept secrets. Despite the fact that Canada has world class facilities staffed by some of the best trained professionals in the world, nobody seems to know about it."
And many of the best-kept secrets are in British Columbia, where pristine wilderness, stunning mountain, island and seaside settings, and a fitness-minded population (British Columbians are consistently ranked among the healthiest in Canada) create prime territory for health and wellness vacations.
British Columbia is home to well over 400 spas, approximately half of which are tourism oriented. These spas are found in cities, in destination resorts and ski towns, and deep in the wilderness, where many can only be reached by air or sea. Regardless of the setting, our spas offer a uniquely British Columbian mix of personal pampering, outdoor adventure, stunning scenery and connection with the natural world.
The variety is endless: visitors can choose from five-star pampering vacations with hot stone massages and fine dining to simple ashrams where helping with the chores is part of the experience; from weight-loss boot camps to hiking holidays, yoga retreats and meditation centres; from urban day spas and après ski treatments to remote fly-in lodges.
Vancouver’s many day spas include Fairmont Hotel Vancouver's unique Absolute Spa, designed especially for men with a dark, leathery look and male-oriented treatments.
Whistler alone has more than 10 spas to choose from, including Scandinave Spa, offering a refreshing hydrotherapy experience with outdoor baths overlooking the Coast Mountain Range.
Vancouver Island is home to several of BC’s best-known destination spas. These include the Ancient Cedars Spa at the Wickaninnish Inn on the Island’s west coast, where guests can enjoy a massage for two in a private cedar hut on the edge of the pounding surf. Nearby is Healing Grounds, the spa at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, an ecologically sensitive luxury resort set in a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
One of BC's biggest resort spas, home to a 232 square metre (2,500 square foot) natural stone grotto pool and an activity list that runs from beach yoga to wine tasting, is the Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort and Conference Centre, near Parksville on Vancouver Island’s east coast. The Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa, an hour to the north in Courtenay, offers a distinctly west coast spa experience with treatments that focus on the rich ingredients of the sea.
People from around the world come to Hollyhock Centre, on Cortes Island off Vancouver Island’s east coast, to attend workshops on well-being, arts and culture, relationships, wisdom practices, social change and more in a peaceful rainforest setting.
The stunning mountainous region of the Kootenay Rockies also offers a range of healthy options, from the highly structured weight-loss boot camps at Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat & Health Spa, near Nelson, to the spiritual retreats at the Yasodhara Ashram Yoga Retreat and Study Centre north of Kootenay Bay.
Yoga, meditation, and trail rides are an irresistible mix available in BC’s Cariboo Chilcotin ranching country. At Echo Valley Ranch & Spa, for example, guests can ride the range on horseback, hike nearby canyons, or cast for trout in crystalline creeks, before relaxing at the Baan Thai spa pavilion, a palace-like teak and cedar structure where therapists trained in Thailand offer a range of traditional Thai massages and herbal treatments.
At The Hills Health Ranch, also in the Cariboo, guests can enjoy riding, hiking and skiing, as well as spa treatments using pure rosehip oil made at the ranch.
The Hills’ oils are just one of many uniquely BC treatments. Clay from the central coast, for example, is said to be among the purest in the world, while our seaweed makes an ideal cleansing wrap, and BC ginseng is used in treatments at several spas, including the Sunmore Ginseng Spa in Kamloops.
And there’s nothing like the anti-oxidant properties of a good wine grape to revitalize the skin. Spas offering this treatment, called vinotherapy, include Brentwood Bay Lodge and Spa near Victoria on Vancouver Island and Beyond Wrapture Day Spa in Kelowna in the Okanagan.
In BC’s Okanagan, wellness never looked so good. Enjoy posh pampering? Head to Sparkling Hill Resort, near Vernon. European treatments reign at this Swarovski Crystal-encrusted retreat, with KurSpa indulgences that include therapeutic pools, steams and a cold sauna designed for cryotherapy, a bone-chilling experience that stimulates and energizes the nervous and circulatory systems.
Probably North America’s most remote spa is the Elisi Spa & Wilderness Resort, an hour’s flight from Fort St. John in Northern BC. The resort situated within the boundaries of the Northern Rockies Provincial Park, borders the vast Muskwa-Kechika Management Area, a wilderness of glaciers and mountain peaks so rich in wildlife it's been dubbed the "Serengeti of the North." After a day of fishing trips, backcountry horseback riding, jet boat excursions, hiking, heli-hiking and big game viewing, guests can enjoy a gym, yoga and ballet classes, and a full-service spa with infrared saunas and hydrotherapy tub.
The upshot? As with so many of BC’s destination spas, visitors can enjoy some of the world’s last pristine wilderness and have their spa treatments too.