By Kyla Jardin
Id never considered myself the spa type . At a hammam in Istanbul, I was scrubbed down with such vigor that when the massage was over, I didnt know whether to use my towel to dry off or to dress my wounds.
My second spa experience was almost as traumatic, as I splurged on a hydrotherapy treatment in which a jet of glacial water with diamond-like precision repeatedly traced figure-eights on my bare belly.
I had all but closed the door on spas when a certain e-mail from my editor came knocking: Brand new spa at Tigh-na-mara Resort, Spa and Conference Centre; B.C.s biggest. Wanna check it out? It was time to face the Feng Shui once again. What was that saying, the third times the charm? I was counting on it.
Winding my way up towards Parksville along the eastern edge of Vancouver Island, a route that is ablaze with golden Scottish broom in early June, I felt a bit like Dorothy following the yellow brick road to meet the great and powerful Oz. Before I had even set foot inside the Grotto Spa, I was certain it was built to break the rules. The name itself rolled and echoed through my mind. Spa I could imagine; grotto kept me guessing. The anticipation had me half-hoping to see a scarecrow or tin man with his thumb out at the side of the road to share the adventure.
One last, deep breath and I was out of the car, the three-storey cabin-inspired spa before me. So this is what 16,000 square feet looks like , I marvelled. Imposing though the structure was, it managed to nestle in cozily amongst a host of serpentine arbutus and sweeping cedars. The facility is the most recent addition to the Tigh-na-mara Resort, a 21-acre property which famously marries land and sea. Rustic family-style and forest studio cabins huddle in the shady embrace of coastal conifers, while beachfront accommodations overlook a swath of sand that spans 3 km to the northern boundary of Rathtrevor Provincial Park. I wandered the tranquil grounds, savouring the moss-moist, sea-salted air and using up my film before Id even gotten to the beach.
When I returned to my suite after sunset, a trail of soil, sand and fir needles traced my path from the door to the Jacuzzi tub. Reflecting on the days discoveries, I sank a little deeper and soaked a little longer, a satisfied explorer.
The next morning during a pre-spa breakfast with Tigh-na-mara owners and managers Jackie and Joe Hirsch, they shared the Grottos story. The Hirsches first discussed adding a spa to the resort in 1997, before the spa industry really began to gain momentum. A few years later, with the industry approaching runaway-train status, they decided to plunge into what had become an extremely competitive market. "From day one," said Jackie "we didnt want to jump on the bandwagon we wanted to drive it."