For a restorative wellness getaway, Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is the perfect shoulder season retreat.
Imagine… Your mod-luxe digs in a freshly renovated suite overlooking the Pacific Ocean’s Strait of Georgia or in a fire-warmed, hand-hewn, rustic log cottage set in the towering old-growth coastal rainforest at Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre in Parksville, British Columbia.
It’s the perfect base from which to explore Mother Nature’s prolific bounty (all vegetation on Vancouver Island is Jurassic Park-sized, it seems) and engage in a host of outdoor pursuits sure to destress and restore.
Like forest-bathing in Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park just down the way or joining a whale watching or paddling tour. Or rediscovering the delights of low tide beach-combing, like the child you once were. Twice daily, the ocean fronting the resort recedes an astonishing kilometre or so, baring tidal flats and rippled sandbars and revealing tidal pools teeming with marine life. And surely a walk amongst the endangered 800-year-old giant Douglas fir trees of Cathedral Grove or an easy hike to Little Qualicum Falls will boost your spirits.
Back at Tigh-Na-Mara, soothe your soul in the resort’s award-winning Grotto Spa, voted one of the best ocean spas in North America. A long, meditative soak in the detoxifying mineral pool is sure to wash your worries away (or at least derail them for a few days) and prep you for a massage or body treatment or two.
The promise of all this, and more, recently drew me west to Vancouver Island for a solo, five-night shoulder season wellness break from my busy (and noisy) city life. I was seeking solitude and quietness to ponder and recharge and self-permission to electronically disconnect while reconnecting with nature.
Cozy or contemporary? You choose
Located on the eastern fringe of Parksville, a laid-back beach town on the island’s east coast in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region (about 45 minutes north of Nanaimo Airport), the 22-acre resort is perched above a natural, ungroomed three-kilometre beach and meanders through the old-growth forest all the way to the Island Highway, crossing Resort Drive en route.
With 192 accommodations, my hardest decision was whether to stay in one of the three, three-storey buildings housing oceanview rooms or one of the charming single or duplex rustic log cottages or spa bungalows set in the woods.
While a log cabin — the quintessential picture of coziness with its wood-burning fireplace — would have won had it been winter, I opted for the oceanview as the sunny, late September days still felt like summer, urging me seawards for delightful contemplative hours beach-combing and wading bare-legged in the clear tidal pools, some chock-a-block with sand dollar beds that I did my best to veer around. Boasting the warmest ocean swimming in Canada thanks to the tide that rolls back in over the sun-warmed sand, young children paid no heed to the autumn calendar and raced on in.
After watching the sun set like a fireball from my perch on a giant log strewn on Rathtrevor Beach, I meandered homewards along gravel pathways running through the provincial park. It is peaceful this time of year, its scores of picnic tables empty, nestled amongst the trees with a view over the sand dunes to the sea. I was alone, save a couple of dog walkers and a handful of domestic-looking but wild rabbits that contently nibbled the plush green lawn.
A stylish modern haven
In the growing dusk, I left the sand and trudged up the paved walkway to my Oceanview Deluxe Studio on the top floor of the recently renovated Ballenas Building. I was back in my sanctuary, which I truly loved.
The chic, contemporary room was bright in the day and cozy at night, and, thankfully, quiet, thanks to the renovation’s additional soundproofing. The open floor plan (except the bathroom with shower) has an equipped kitchen with coffee maker, microwave, a full-size fridge and stove/oven, a bar-sized dishwasher and stools ponying up to the counter. Beyond is a dining table and an air Jacuzzi next to the king-size bed (tres romantic), where I soaked in bubbles each night before bed with the gas fireplace adding comforting ambiance. An L-shaped sofa, coffee table and desk invite one to lounge and read a book or watch the flat-screen television or, heaven forbid, work (which I didn’t).
Best of all, the furniture is crafted of local wood so fitting to this environment it looks like it was made on-property in the forest outside (almost — it is the handiwork of talented craftspeople at Live Edge Design in nearby Duncan).
I was not ready, however, to be indoors. With snacks and a glass of vino, I slid open the glass doors and sat on the glass-railed balcony with a lovely view through the trees to the ocean.
In darkness only broken by a handful of stars and lights on the peninsula over yonder, I continued to unwind.
Suddenly, a bright glow from behind the hill on the peninsula caught my attention. Swiftly rose the harvest moon, which soon revealed itself as full. Kayakers, taking advantage of the serene night, paddled into the shimmering light beam shining a path towards me. Purely magical, I wished I could join them.
Casual west coast fare
I didn’t want to leave my embryonic retreat but a rumbling stomach urged me to stroll to the resort’s Cedars Restaurant & Lounge under the helm of Executive Chef Eric Edwards. The casual spot was full of locals socializing and watching hockey on the lounge’s screens. I opted for a Margherita pizza baked in the stone oven, a popular addition in the recent renovation (takeout is a popular option too). While yummy, I was anticipating the culinary extravaganza booked the next day at the other onsite restaurant.
Clothes forbidden in the treetop
If you want to partake of the tasty tapas prepared by Chef James Tripe (and you do), you must shed your clothes and shoes for a robe and sandals, which I quickly discovered was better than stretchy pants!
Overlooking the forest, the Treetop Tapas & Grill is exclusive to spa guests. My two-hour Endless Tapas experience was a progression of 17 gourmet small dishes featuring fresh seasonal British Columbia ingredients with anti-oxidant properties including seafood, wild game, organic produce and delectable desserts. Vancouver Island wines, like a pinot gris from Blue Grouse Estate in the Cowichan Valley — Canada’s Provence — paired beautifully.
Once completed, guests can re-order any dish (I couldn’t eat one more morsel, groan!). A note of advice: take it easy on the first items (like hummus) to save room for the delights to come.
The spa bungalows are currently undergoing some renovation and the oceanview Texada Building will be fully renovated in 2020.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- A range of studio to two-bedroom accommodations offer a choice of styles, decor and ambiance, from rustic wood-panelled suites and spacious, pet-friendly log cottages with wood-burning fireplaces to spa bungalows to newly renovated, bright and contemporary oceanview units. Perfect for a quiet solo or couples getaway or a multi-generational vacation with the grandkids or a family reunion.
- All units have kitchens. A briquette barbecue is available on request and four top-notch gas barbecues are provided in the common area, as are coin-operated laundry rooms. Complimentary wifi & parking.
- There’s an indoor pool, whirlpool, sauna and fitness facility, a playground and an outdoor multi-sport court, and a beachside fire-pit. British Columbia’s most extensive resort recreation program is offered during high seasons.
- Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are great times to visit, as temperatures are mild and there are fewer visitors. Rates drop and special promotions and packages are offered.
- With its mild climate and short winter, Vancouver Island is popular with snow-birders. Tigh-Na-Mara offers long-stay monthly rates ($1,600 to $1,800 Canadian) in the low season.
- Ideal location in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. Explore the abundance of outdoor activities including golf, hiking, caving, cycling, kayaking, skiing and whale watching. The concierge can help you plan.
- The Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara was voted the #1 spa in Canada and the #1 ocean spa experience in North America. Designed to emulate a natural stone grotto, the 2,500-square-foot warm water pool is infused with natural minerals and trace elements to detoxify the body. Treatments utilizing West Coast natural ingredients include facials, body wraps and glows, massages, manicures and pedicures. I blissed out in a hot stone massage by the expert hands of therapist Shari. The Relaxation Lounge provides complimentary fresh fruit, infused waters and tea and coffee.
- Since Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre is about 45 minutes from Nanaimo Airport or an hour from Comox Airport (if traffic is light), it’s best to rent a car or bring your own on BC Ferries from Vancouver or Seattle. Shuttle service from the airports is available.
- The walkway ramp to the beach, while paved and with railings, is steep and may be challenging for those with mobility issues.
- There are no elevators in the three-storey seaside buildings, although entry from the parking lot is on floor two, so it’s only one flight of stairs up to the third floor or down to the first. If you have difficulty climbing stairs, reserve a second-floor room or single-level log cottage or spa bungalow.
- At night, noise from gatherings around beach campfires may be heard on balconies in the seaside buildings.
- Rooms are not air-conditioned (although it’s rarely needed).
IF YOU GO
Photo credits: All photo credits, Theresa Storm, unless otherwise noted.
The Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre partially hosted the author’s visit, but as always, the reviews, opinions and experiences are her own.
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