3 spas to steam, scrub, soak the sunshine back in

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      January feels pretty bleak as the effects of all that holiday indulgence set in. As we struggle to regain our energy, we ask ourselves again why we choose to live in this Noah’s ark of a city.

      One word: spring. But until then, there’s the spa.

      From the moment they hand you that fluffy white robe, a spa’s goal is to make you comfortable. And warm, oh so very warm. But most importantly, you’re there to restore your mental and physical health—or at the very least, to emerge relaxed and looking like sunshine.

      After pondering my perpetually cold extremities, I tried three different ways to get my winter groove back as a guest of these spas.


      Miraj Hammam Spa

      1495 West 6th Avenue, 604-733-5151, www.mirajhammam.com

      The Treatment: Hammam (steam bath), gommage (scrub), and “Orientale” massage, $109 for about an hour. Owner Surinder Bains says the session is detoxifying and “a complete cleansing and reconditioning of your skin”.

      The experience: I’ve visited hammams in Turkey and beyond, and Miraj re-creates their essence well, but as a private experience rather than a communal one. After donning a sarong, I relax in the steam room on a marble bench, inhaling the scent of eucalyptus, lemon, and lavender, and admiring the room’s graceful arches. After 15 minutes, aesthetician Mulu Weyesa beckons me to a less steamy area, where I disrobe and recline for the scrub. With textured gloves and fragrant olive-oil soap, she scrubs me from head to toe, back and front, in a gentle but no-nonsense manner, and then rinses me down. This is not a treatment for the modest, but I find it delightfully comforting, as if I’m a toddler being bathed by Mom.

      A 15-minute body massage follows in a tranquil room with Moroccan accents, like the decorative wrought-iron screens that, with light streaming through them from another room, cast the illusion of a sun-dappled window. The Tunisian night-massage oil—a house blend of rose, black pepper, and sandalwood meant to stimulate circulation—smells blissfully exotic. Afterward, I rest in a communal area on jewel-toned pillows and nibble on a honey-almond sweet, feeling as if I’ve escaped to an oasis in rainy Vancouver.


      Spa Utopia & Salon at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel

      1001–999 Canada Place, 604-641-1351, www.spautopia.ca

      The Treatment: Hot Chocolate Bliss (exfoliation, mud wrap, hydrotherapy bath, and Swedish massage), $257 for 100 minutes. Spa general manager Kevin Nevins says the exfoliation rids the body of dead skin: “If you moisturize and you never exfoliate, it’s almost like you’re moisturizing over saran wrap.” The mud wrap mobilizes toxins to flush them out, and is anti-inflammatory, while the hydrotherapy bath aids circulation.

      The experience: Spa Utopia is spacious and gracious, with a sauna, steam room, and well-equipped lounge to bookend your treatment. Massage department head Jody Tennant starts my treatment with a pleasantly scratchy dry sisal exfoliation. A master of the art of discreet towel-draping, he makes me perfectly comfortable while smoothing warm, cocoa-infused mud over most of my body. After relaxing while swaddled in towels and a layer of plastic, I step straight into the hydrotherapy tub, mud and all.

      This is no ordinary bath. Gleaming white, extra long, and equipped with a computerized panel that programs therapeutic jet combinations, the tub looks like it could take off. I soak for 15 minutes as the 252 jets massage me from every angle, turning the mud into a sensuously murky blue lagoon.

      Back on the massage table, I melt into a 55-minute Swedish massage. Tennant’s technique is so good that at one point, his kneading motions flow in sync with the soothing background music. To finish, he drapes my face and feet in hot towels. Definitely blissful.


      The Spa at Semiahmoo

      9565 Semiahmoo Parkway, Blaine, Washington; 1-800-770-7992, ext. 2009; www.semiahmoo.com

      The Treatment: Hydroptimale THI3 three-dimensional autohydrating treatment, US$150 for 1.5 hours. Spa director of operations Kassie Guglielmino says the facial is a “deep-moisturizing treatment” that’s “great for winter weather” and the dryness that comes from spending time in heated buildings.

      The experience: Since my face is as parched as a rice cracker, I’m tempted by the Semiahmoo spa’s Web-site write-up of this treatment, which “teaches your skin to auto-regulate its water balance and maintain its moisture reservoir”.

      Just 20 minutes from the Peace Arch, I find the spa to be a tranquil getaway, with a sauna, steam room, outdoor heated pool, and Jacuzzi. Aesthetician Holly Grant pampers my face as I lie under a blanket on a heated, ergonomic recliner. Using Sothys products, she gently cleanses, exfoliates, and moisturizes. It’s hard to keep track of the number of creams, masks, and gels she applies and then blots off, and soon enough I realize I don’t have to. As she massages my face, neck, shoulders, and arms, I understand that the point is as much to relax as to soak up the products’ benefits.

      By the end, I feel positively dewy. “You look smooth and nice and shiny—in a good way,” my husband offers. I’m not sure if my old skin has learned new tricks, but I do know that I would pay just to lie on that heat-radiating chair once again. My extremities have never been so warm.




      Jul 10, 2010 at 2:10pm

      You are right on with Miraj, its amazing. I cannot understand why you put the Spa at Semiahmoo in the category, I think its totally out of its league in this company. If you want to add a spa in that area that can compete I suggest http://www.aruspa.com in White Rock is a good rival.