Travel Story 

Instant Grotto-fication!

By Kyla Jardin

I’d 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 didn’t 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 time’s 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 I’d 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 day’s 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 Grotto’s 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 didn’t want to jump on the bandwagon – we wanted to drive it."

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