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11 Great Hotel Spas Across Canada

With sweat lodge ceremonies, traditional Chinese medicine and cold socks to boot, Canadian hotel spas are going beyond backrubs to heal the 21st-century traveller.

Sweat Lodge

Sweat Lodge Purification Ceremony

On the relaxation patio of Skwachàys lodge
A thick-set man named Old Hands, wearing only jeans and a pair of glasses, asks me, “How many rocks do you think you can handle?” I tell him to bring on the pain. The willow tent frame is overlaid with thick blankets. Inside it’s pitch black, and we sit cross-legged on the dirt floor. Old Hands’ assistant enters bearing lava rocks heated in a kiln to 520ºC, cradling them carefully between two deer antlers. “Grandmothers and grandfathers coming in,” he says, referring to elder spirits residing inside the stones. He ladles water over four rocks stacked in a central pit, filling the tent with steam. I can’t decipher the words sung by Old Hands, a native of California’s Western Shoshone tribe, but the drum beat drills itself into my soul. We take turns speaking about our challenges of everyday life – it feels surprisingly freeing to bare my soul to two strangers. And we sweat. After four rounds, we emerge for good into the sunlight. I feel lighter, cleansed. “Sometimes life is like wearing a heavy backpack,” says Old Hands. “We don’t realize how much weight we’re carrying until we take it off.”

Skwachàys Lodge, Vancouver
With a 12-metre totem pole jutting out from the roof above its Victorian facade, this aboriginal-run property features original installations by local First Nations artists in each of its 18 suites.
29/31 West Pender St., 604-687-3589,

Van Active Body

Van Active Body

At Willow Stream Spa
Normally, when I need to shake off a flight to Vancouver, I take a jog around Stanley Park. Today, with a light drizzle falling, I head up to the fifth-floor, 790-square-metre spa looking to get my pistons firing again with a treatment designed to boost my get-up-and-go. I begin face down with an exfoliation, the aromas of geranium, ylang-ylang and pine, a reminder of the nearby forests. Then I’m whisked away to shower off and sweat it out in a glass-walled steam room. After a second shower – cold, to shock the system – I’m back on the massage table for a final detoxifying rubdown with a concoction of organic juniper, fennel and lavender. Scrub, shower, steam, massage – it’s like a Grouse Grind for the soul.

Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver
The sleek Coal Harbour tower with views over Burrard Inlet is anchored by a lobby bar filled with well-dressed business travellers taking in sets by emerging musicians.
1038 Canada Pl., 604-695-5300,

Flotation Therapy

Flotation Therapy

At Madrona del Mar Spa
“I floated regularly for a year, and my lucid dreaming was ridiculous,” says Carol, as we descend to the saltwater flotation tank, housed in this 418-square-metre beachside retreat. Weightless floating is supposed to induce a sleeplike state of relaxation and relieve everything from stress and insomnia to arthritis and sports injuries. Count me in on the first two complaints. Alone inside a candle­lit room, I slide my body into the slate tile pool and drift, limbs spread like those of a seastar. I’m suspended in a supersaline solution, dosed with one kilogram of Epsom salt for every two litres of water. I let my body go, and my mind follows. Carol flicks the lights on and off to signal that my session is ending – the closest I’ve come to a push notification in hours.

Galiano Inn & Spa, Galiano Island, B.C.
Wood-burning fireplaces in each of the 20 rooms and suites at this Gulf Island property make for cozy spots to enjoy glowing pink sunsets reflecting off the snow-capped peak of Mount Baker.
134 Madrona Dr., 250-539-3388,

Peaks of Slimness

Peaks of Slimness

At the Spa at the Hazelton
After a restaurant-reviewing spree, I’ve come seeking a treatment designed to break down cellulite and make me (at least appear) more toned. “There’s not a lot of meat on you, is there?” says my treatment provider in a thick Estonian accent as she applies a Valmont slimming serum D. Solution Booster, containing caffeine and forskolin, an extract from a medicinal plant commonly used in India, Africa and South America. It delivers a pleasant icy-hot tingle to my skin as she pinches, twists and rolls my thighs and underarms in a croissant movement to break down the fatty cell walls. As she works the flesh atop my shoulders, she confesses that the spa doesn’t get many men requesting this treatment. What, don’t men lunch in Yorkville? Around my midsection, she manages to gain a bit better traction. Goodbye love handles; hello pre-flight jelly doughnut.

The Hazelton Hotel, Toronto
This design-focused property on the cobbled uptown streets of Yorkville is a film industry favourite replete with a mohair-walled private screening room.
118 Yorkville Ave., 416-963-6300,

Indigenous Hot Stone Massage

Indigenous Hot Stone Massage

At Riverstone Spa
I’m here to experience a treatment that was created in recognition of the First Nations community’s rich history in the region, and it’s intended to rebalance my energy and harmonize my body, mind and spirit. We begin with setting a personal intention – mine is to stop judging my aging body’s physical limitations too harshly – while my therapist Lisa, who has no idea that today is my birthday, lights a sweetgrass candle (the symbol of happiness, kindness and strength). Using a ceremonial eagle feather, Lisa “smudges” herself, then me and finally the treatment room and stones, as smoke from smouldering sage, cedar, wiike and sweetgrass clears any unwanted energy from our surroundings. Asked to choose from a line up of tiny chakra crystals, I find three that speak to me. “That little turquoise one signifies the throat chakra,” she says of my favourite selection. It seems a little New Agey at first, but I soon start to sense positivity overflowing my internal riverbanks. Lisa massages my legs with heated basalt stones, and I can feel their warmth penetrating my muscles, right down to the bone. She places two of the stones in my palms, and I hold them while she works her fingers into my scalp. By the end, I’m feeling solid as a rock.

Inn at the Forks, Winnipeg
Set where the Red and Assiniboine rivers meet, the 117-room boutique hotel serves up farm-to-table cuisine at Smith restaurant and is a short walk to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
75 Forks Market Rd., 204-942-6555,

Hammam and Gommage

At Miraj Hammam Spa by Caudalie
“This is the best cure for a red-eye, ever,” says my wife, Sarah, who’s wrapped in a sarong after having flown all night from San Francisco to join me. Besides our scrubber Tina, there’s nobody else in this sprawling mosaic-tiled hammam, a traditional Middle Eastern wet steam sauna (known in centuries past as “the silent doctor”), where condensation drips from a curved ceiling. Sarah and I retreat to a glass-enclosed section while a gurgling basin releases hot, moist air infused with eucalyptus, and sweat out our collective toxins. Tina comes for Sarah’s gommage treatment first, and when my wife returns, she looks like the most contented odalisque in the empire. When it’s my turn to go lie on the big slab of Jerusalem gold marble, Tina roughs up my dead skin with Moroccan black soap, a vitamin E-rich vegetable paste made from crushed olives, oil, salt and potash. Then she rinses the sloughed molecules of the former me away. We cap the afternoon by lounging over sweet tea, baklava and grapes – a particularly Turkish form of delight.

Shangri-La Hotel, Toronto
This glass temple of luxury has 202 rooms (among the most spacious in the country) and is home to the Asian-inspired cuisine of Bosk.
1188 University Ave., 647-788-8888,

Wet Sock Circulation

Wet Sock Circulation

At Spa at Claramount
This heritage property, a stone’s throw from Picton Harbour, is a fitting place to get my feet wet. Brandy begins with a foot and calf massage with peppermint scrub. “It loosens up the circulatory system,” she says, pulling a pair of rolled-up baseball-size spheres from a bucket of ice and unrolling them to reveal white cotton compression socks. “These guys are going to constrict it.” The idea is to stimulate the immune system and help to detoxify the blood by increasing circulation, pushing the body into fighting mode as it warms up those frigid tootsies. Given how many wineries I’ve been visiting – the arduous obligations of a certified sommelier – I’m a prime candidate. My entire body braces as she applies the freezing socks. A second layer adds more pressure and insulation. For the next 15 minutes, it’s just me, a pair of cold feet and Brandy’s fingers performing a glorious scalp massage. When the socks come off, I’m ready to run a marathon – barefoot.

Claramount Inn, Picton, Ontario
This antique-filled, restored Georgian-colonial mansion in the heart of Prince Edward County makes a perfect base for exploring nearby Sandbanks Provincial Park and surrounding vineyards.
97 Bridge St., 613-476-2709,

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine

At the Spa
I’m not sure what to expect from my first-ever Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment, and neither is my therapist, Inbal. That’s sort of the idea: I answer Inbal’s questions, confessing to some asthma and skin-related issues, and she decides that some acupuncture will get my body’s energy, or qi, flowing to the trouble spots. (What other afflictions should I declare next time in order to experience the Tibetan chimes?) “The skin is our third lung,” she says. “Everything is a part of everything.” I barely feel the stainless steel needles as they’re inserted – seven in total, including one in the middle of my forehead. I begin to feel reactivated, a new energy flowing through me, along internal pathways that I will from now on be referring to as my meridians. “The needles message your qi to start doing work,” Inbal explains once she’s removed them. I’m starting to see her point.

Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto
Rising 55 storeys above the intersection of Bay and Yorkville, the flagship of the Canadian hotel group boasts Yabu Pushelberg-designed interiors and Café Boulud on the second floor.
60 Yorkville Ave., 416-964-0411,

Lomi-atsu Massage

Lomi-atsu Massage

At Scandinave Spa vieux-Montréal
It’s only 125 steps over Old Montreal cobblestones from the door of the Saint-Sulpice to its partner Scandinave Spa, and I consider wearing my robe. Inside, with its understated Scandinavian esthetic and cocoon-dark lighting, a number of young couples are whispering conspiratorially, presumably about playing hooky for a midday soak. I’m led by Lise-Bebianne past churning water baths to a quiet room. Lomi-atsu massage combines the wavy, rhythmic forearm work of Hawaii’s lomilomi technique with the pressure point focus of Japanese shiatsu, intended to facilitate detoxification of the abdominal internal organs. It’s a journey around the world – Honolulu, Tokyo, Stockholm and back to Montreal – but I’m feeling the opposite of jet-lagged. “We worked on your energy,” she says, “so for the rest of today, just be...” I wait for her to complete the thought – be what? – but that’s the gist of it. Just be.

Hôtel le Saint-Sulpice, Montréal
All of the 108 rooms at this Old Montreal boutique hotel are spacious suites, and its French restaurant, Sinclair, features a glass-walled dining room and a garden terrace.
414, Rue Saint-Sulpice, 514-288-1000,

Maple body scrub

Maple Body Scrub

At Spa du Manoir
The room smells comfortingly Canadian with its strong aroma of maple syrup. I find myself dreaming of sugar shacks as Mélanie buffs me up with a L’Herbier maple-based scrub from Mont-Saint-Grégoire, its star ingredient rich with minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. Next she mixes up a concoction that looks like pancake batter and feels about the same and applies it to my skin. I drift off for a catnap, and when I awake 20 minutes later, the clay body wrap has hardened, and I only regain my mobility after a quick shower. A sweet-­smelling body lotion leaves me with the softest skin imaginable – and strangely hungry for French toast.

Hôtel Manoir Victoria, Quebec City
Opposite the first permanent hospital in North America, the 156-room property features a saltwater pool and Nordic-inspired cuisine at Chez Boulay Bistro Boréal.
44, Côte du Palais, 418-692-1030,

Signature salt glow

Signature Salt Glow

At Spa at Ninety4
Directly up the hill from where the restored Bluenose II schooner bobs in Lunenburg Harbour, I sit soaking in a warm oasis tub made fragrant with olive oil bubble bath. LEDs phase through colours beneath the water – some sort of signal light, telling me to chill out? I know what else will help me relax: a glass of wine! (All spas without liquor licenses, please walk yourself off the nearest plank.) Sufficiently softened, I lay my hull down on a table where Lacey goes after my skin’s various knobs and barnacles with a mix of massage oil and deionized salt, buffing away the rough edges. Afterward I feel as shiny and new as the Bluenose II must have felt when she was relaunched in 2012. Shipshape.

Lunenburg Arms Hotel & Spa, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Settled atop a hillside in the historic South Shore port town, this blue clapboard house is run with warm Maritime cheer and is just a block’s walk to Montague Street’s shops.
94 Pelham St., 902-640-4040,



Comments… or add another

Anna Larsen

Tuesday, February 9th 2016 21:59
You missed including Sparkling Hills Resort in Vernon, BC. Among more regular spa attractions, it also has quite a unique "cold" chamber which is the opposite of a sauna and beneficial for certain conditions. It is also a unique piece of architecture, has a splendid view overlooking famous Lake Okanagan and is decorated with stunning Swarovski crystal. It should be experienced at least once by all.


Monday, February 15th 2016 19:55
Fabulous feature on some great "Spas" however terribly disappointed not to see my client, Sparkling Hill Resort included. Only CRYOTHERAPY outside of Europe and it's here in the gorgeous Okanagan. Perhaps next spa feature? Love to have you come for a visit. Kindest Regards; Cheryl
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