Changing seasons signal time to slow down

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      There’s something soul-stirring about greeting the day on a beach at dawn. At least, that’s what my A.M. Yoga DVD implies. I intended to try some sandy sun salutations myself this summer, but sunrise always came so ridiculously early.

      So I was pleased to find myself on a misty beach in Parksville last weekend watching the sun rise at the reasonable time of 7:45. As I stretched and took deep breaths of ocean air, the orange sky blended the backdrop of autumn leaves into the water like a sparkling Monet painting.

      Being up early enough to watch the sunset in reverse is one of the pleasures of a fall getaway. But two days earlier, as my husband and I drove to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal with our windshield wipers working frantically, I had cursed the end of summer. So much for my plan to take long walks on the beach.

      But the morning after we arrived at Tigh-Na-Mara, we grabbed our golf umbrellas and decided to give the walk a shot. The resort fronts on Rathtrevor Beach, where the sea retracts almost a kilometre at low tide, leaving a vast expanse of rippled sand. The wide-open space is heaven for city dwellers. Unfortunately, this city dweller wore her urban shoes to the beach, so we had to stick to a narrow ribbon of packed sand that ran along the high-tide mark.

      “Nice footwear,” my husband remarked with envy to a slicker-clad couple who passed us on their way back from stomping through puddles in the sand. Each sported a pair of shiny rubber boots. “We learned from our soaking feet the last time we were here,” the woman replied with a laugh. This time, they had stopped en route and picked up some boots.

      Jumping in puddles wasn’t in the cards for us that day. So we returned to our room and rediscovered the upside of inclement weather: a guilt-free excuse to hole up and do nothing.

      I had planned to hit the spa, so we were booked into one of the spa bungalows. Tigh-Na-Mara has expanded considerably in its nearly three decades and now sits on nine hectares of land and has 192 log structures that contain a vast variety of room types. The spa opened in 2003 across the road from the original cabins, and the cedar-log spa bungalows now surround it.

      Although our bungalow backed onto a thicket of Douglas firs, our living room patio was a little too close to the highway, with its low whiz of traffic, to offer a back-to-nature feel. I’ve enjoyed the stunning views and meditative silence from the oceanview rooms before, however, so I’d book one of those the next time and stroll the six minutes to the spa.

      But the right room depends on the nature of your visit. Our bungalow would have been fantastic for a stay with friends or family; indeed, the bungalows are often occupied by groups of girlfriends on a spa retreat. At 865 square feet, the one-bedroom unit was larger than our apartment. It came with a queen-sized Murphy bed in the living room, grand double doors leading to an expansive room with a king bed, a full kitchen with an island and eating area, two fireplaces, and vaulted ceilings.

      Oh, and a massive jetted soaker tub in the bedroom. I spent the rest of the morning immersed in bubbling hot water while my hubby read a book next to the living room fire, where he had hung my socks to dry.

      He had thrown together some groceries for the weekend but was apparently still in summer camping mode. Pepperoni sticks, a jar of peanut butter, pancake mix, and crackers didn’t quite cut it, so that afternoon we ventured out for provisions.

      Tigh-Na-Mara resort in Parksville is popular with groups of girlfriends who escape reality at the spa together, but the fireplaces and soaker tubs in the rooms make it enticing for couples as well.

      Our first stop was Little Qualicum Cheeseworks. This visitor-friendly dairy farm offers a self-guided tour of the cow barns and milking stations. Although there wasn’t any cheese-making happening when we visited (“Half an hour of excitement packed into eight hours!” the sign boasted), we were content trying samples at the farm shop, and bought some Brie to go.

      Next stop: French Creek Marina. After hunting down a tiny fish shop at the end of an industrial pier, we bagged some of the Comox Valley’s Fanny Bay oysters. A couple more stops for bread and sparkling wine, and we hunkered down once again at the bungalow.

      There’s a lot to be said for an oyster feast, a rainy night, and few distractions. But the next morning, I was happy to wake up to a dry day. After stretching on the beach at sunrise and then enjoying a pancake-and-bacon breakfast in our room, it was time for the spa.

      I first took a dip in the Grotto Spa, a pool that’s infused with minerals and trace elements that are purported to be detoxifying, and then moved upstairs for a massage. Sometime during the 90-minute treatment, I started to have random positive thoughts about the upcoming colder season.

      As the therapist swaddled my feet in hot towels, I mused that winter can be warm. As she massaged my scalp with fragrant mandarin-mint oil, images of mandarin oranges in the produce section of a grocery store floated through my head. And then, as a spritz of lavender water gently came to rest on my face, I made a groggy mental note: buy rain boots.

      Access: To reach Parksville, take the ferry to Nanaimo and drive 20 minutes north. From October 27 to the end of November, studio and one-bedroom spa bungalows at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre go for $111 to $139 per night. The writer stayed as a guest of the resort.




      Oct 22, 2009 at 6:32pm

      I really enjoyed reading your post. Parksville holds special memories for my hubby and I. We stayed at a little spot on the beach for a few days about 25 yrs ago. Sounds like it's time to go back! I too am trying to embrace the changing of the seasons. This year I am enjoying taking "fall" photos around Vancouver and putting them in an adventure book. We are so lucky to have so-o-o many beautiful colors to welcome us into yet another autumn in the city!