Vancouver’s Best Spas

Luxury Spas

Gwyneth Paltrow’s been spotted here, J Lo too; but Absolute Spa’s Vancouver-wide empire has been built on the rubbed backs of mere mortals. Its diverse real-estate outposts include YVR and the flagship location at the Century Plaza Hotel (with a focus on luxury and anti-aging like the Diamond Microdermabrasion and Oxygen facial where essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and pure oxygen molecules get blasted into every pore, from $190). But it’s the Green Concept Spa in Park Royal that newly sparkles. Opt for the Relaxation Massage in the Westcoast Waterwall Suite, $110. 2002 Park Royal S., West Van, 604-684-2772.

ZeZen comes in many holistic shapes and sizes, but we like it best when it’s swanky like the warm, wood-panelled digs high above the fray at the tony Chi at the Shangri-La. Here, all treatments are based on natural healing methods. Take the brand-new Wushu Body Wisdom Massage, which starts with stretching (imagine yoga poses over a bamboo stick), then finishes with an hour-long massage with oils customized to your primary element (metal, water, wood, fire, or earth) to harmonize the body’s energy, $225. 1128 W. Georgia St., 604-661-3359.

You’ve hit the racks at Holt Renfrew, but your new Marni sandals would look so much prettier with hot pink toes. Few know Holts Salon & Spa’s sleek white space is right downstairs—quite possibly the city’s most conspicuous secret. Now that you’re here, consider the whole Halcyon Package: a 55-minute aromatherapy massage by an RMT, aromatic indulgence facial, and a deluxe manicure and pedicure, $325. Retail therapy, indeed. 737 Duns­muir St., 604-681-3121 (ext. 71607).

Sure, Hawksworth Restaurant stole all the thunder when the Rosewood Hotel Georgia re-opened last summer, but those in the know also discovered a hidden gem on the third floor that offers less caloric respite. Sense Spa is a cozy warren of treatment rooms in muted tones of taupe and grey where you’d do well to book a Vancouver Signature Sensation treatment (80/110 mins, $175/$225), which kicks off with a minty, herb-infused sea salt scrub to slough away dry skin, followed by a hydro-massage Vichy rinse (far warmer and more relaxing than the drizzle outside), and a coma-inducing shea butter massage. The spa uses locally made Beauty Through Balance products loaded with natural ingredients like B.C. glacial clay and Pacific kelp. Bonus: Local residents get 20% off all services until August 2012. 801 W. Georgia St., 604-682-5566.

Don’t expect to just drop in on a weekend: even at its behemoth size, the Pan Pacific’s Spa Utopia is regularly full and often has a waiting list. But some things are worth the wait: choose 100 percent Canadian ingredients like Moor mud (detoxification and better sleep), clay (kick-starts circulation), salts (heals), and West Coast seaweed (zaps cellulite) for the Canadian Treasures treatment, which includes a full body exfoliation, body wrap, hydrotub session, and Swedish massage, $259. 1001-999 Canada Pl., 604-641-1351.


First thing upon arrival at a Vida Spa (three downtown, one in Whistler): determine your dosha. According to Ayurvedic principles, everyone is dominant in Vata, Pitta, or Kapha, which determines the best treatment for your skin type and temperament. Our Vata tendencies (dry cool skin, anxious personality, drawn to sour and salty flavours) mean we need “grounding and calming” treatments (sounds about right) like a multivitamin facial ($120). The spas also offer facial rejuvenation acupuncture and one-on-one yoga classes. Multiple locations.

We’re a little surprised at the number of locals who frequent the Spa at the Wedgewood Hotel, many who have trekked here for eons to see therapist Asuncion. In an industry rife with turnover, this veteran has been a fixture here for almost a decade. Those in-the-know book one of her most popular treatments: the machine-free microdermabrasion facial that uses a microscopic magnesium crystal scrub that’s a surprisingly effective alternative to laser and chemical peels, 60/90 mins, $150/$180. 845 Hornby St. 604-608 5304.

The Willow Stream at the Fairmont Pacific Rim has been the flavour of the month since it opened—two years ago. Probably because it sits surrounded by killer water views and a cavernous footprint that allows for three lounges, two fireplaces, and an outdoor spa terrace. (And for the less disciplined, platters of cookies, muffins, and fruit while you wait.) Although ridiculously perfect for girlfriends’ getaways, it’s equally great for the solo venture: the Van Active Grind (60/90 mins, $159/$209) targets Grouse Grinders with a specific massage of the lower back, glutes, legs, and feet to help speed recovery for the next ascent. 1038 Canada Pl., 604-695-5550.

Neighbourhood Spas

At A Touch Above, Cathy Mitchell works her magic with a little electrolysis wand (10 mins, $20) like a follicle-fighting Leonard Bernstein. (And FYI: Arbutus Laser Clinic refers all its clients here for post laser treatments.) But getting in is slightly trickier. The key is to be flexible with your time and opt for mornings and off-peak hours. The spa also specializes in microdermabrasion (from $45) and discreet men’s hair removal. 3284 Heather St., 604-875-9228.

With its all-white interior, Breathe Spa, in a tiny hideaway below ground in the city’s downtown core, feels more celestial than subterranean. Just as heavenly, this little spa’s Signature Facial ($140) clocks in at two full hours (for seriously zoning out). To target problem skin, therapists opt for Physiodermie, a botanical line from Switzerland. (Vivierskin, a pharmaceutical-grade skin-care line out of Montreal, is sold for at-home treatment.) Ask for Paula, the dewy-faced therapist who hails from Ireland—or, quite possibly, straight from Central Casting. 464 Granville St., 604-688-4769.

You know Deserving Thyme for its local, organic aromatherapy line gone global (found in resorts and hotels all over North America as well as Air Canada’s chichi first-class toiletries), but few know about the Deserving Thyme Lifespa. Treatments include the brand’s signature line—all blended with pure essential oils, botanical extracts, and skin-loving vitamins (with no synthetic colours or fragrances). Try the Ultrasonic Wet Dermabrasion Facial (45 mins, $125) that uses radio frequency instead of chemical products—we haven’t found this anywhere else in the city. 102-1055 W. Georgia St. (lobby level of the Hyatt Regency), 604-683-5433.

Once upon a time she worked at Suki’s, but when she opened her eponymous Joanne Chong Esthetics Studio, the beauty throngs followed. All the major Arts Umbrella donors frequent here, and we even spotted the wife of a noted local cosmetic surgeon. The South Granville location is so off-grid that there’s no website, so don’t expect to just waltz in. But if you’re lucky enough to score an appointment in advance, book the two-hour Collagen Facial ($200) that includes a deep-hydrating paraffin treatment to the neck and décolleté. Goodbye crepe-y skin. 319-1529 W. Sixth Ave., 604-808-6776

Something Kits doesn’t do well: hustle  ’n’  bustle. Something Kits does very well: organic indulgence. J Spa, a tiny upstairs boutique, packs in an infrared sauna, microdermabrasion, and detox body slimming, but it’s the organic facials—some of the best in town—that people line up for (90 mins, $125). J-Naturals, the locally made organic in-house skin-care line, launches its equally luxe men’s line this spring. It’s 100 percent natural so theoretically you can eat it, but we don’t recommend. 201-1937 W. Fourth Ave., 604-564-1662.


Time moves like pomegranate molasses inside Surinder Bains’s South Granville oasis, and though she’s been offering a deluxe hammam experience (from $109) to rain-chilled Vancouverites at Miraj for over a decade, the steamy house still holds up as the most distinctive spa in the city. Blindingly thick vapours and a cotton sarong provide modesty in the central hammam chamber; during the gommage, flake out on a marble bench while a therapist scrubs you with black Syrian soap and a loofah mitt. Then it’s off to an individual treatment room for a massage. Transition to the gilded Sultana Lounge after your treatment to sip mint tea and nibble on Middle Eastern sweets. (Note: Thursday is men’s night; Sunday is couples’ day.) 1495 W. Sixth Ave., 604-733-5151.

Saskatchewan native Amanda Beisel made a pilgrimage to California to study under Martha Lucas and the Oprah-approved Mei Zen discipline of cosmetic acupuncture before opening her minimalist SKN Holistic Rejuvenation Centre in Yaletown—all to offer holistic alternatives to Botox and fillers. Start with a half-hour complimentary consult (including a 10-page intake form that looks closely at your eating habits, lifestyle, and beauty regime); from there Beisel customizes a treatment that may include needle work, photo rejuvenation, chemical peels, or a good dose of Chinese herbs. Laser technician Katelyn Rouselle is the best in the city for hair removal. 150-1152 Mainland St., 604-568-6333.

The time-pressed and taut of flesh have a trick up their French-cuffed sleeves—Skin Gym memberships at Skoah, which offers 12 Fitskin (get cleaned, toned, exfoliated, and hydrated in under an hour) or eight Facialiscious (the same, plus extractions, masques, and a soothing massage) facials for $500, a screamin’ deal if you can lump it. (One-off treatments start at $70, like the Power Hour that includes a shoulder and neck rub to combat computer hunch.) We love Skoah’s focus on skin care in its modern but never clinical rooms, and its line of in-house products, especially the tingly hydrate-and-exfoliate AHA mask to use between treatments. Multiple locations.

While most foot reflexology outlets are little factories that churn out clients, the concept at our two favourite outposts is all about relaxation. At Sole Spa, magic-fingered reflexologists listen to your feet (and may even note things like a lower intestine that needs some TLC…hello, fruit and vegetables): the Deluxe Footy is a 75-minute session that includes a foot soak, reflexology, and hand and shoulder massage, $60. 3086 Cambie St., 604-876-6808. Farther west at Footworks Relaxology, traditional foot reflexology and body acupressure massage treatments are doled out in a fresh, fun, and modern studio space. Choose an essential oil booster (like bergamot, eucalyptus, or lavender) for an enhanced healing or calming effect (50 mins, $39). 2992 W. Broadway, 604-730-2992.   

It looks and feels like a spa with its swish Yaletown digs, but Spruce Body Lab is part wellness clinic, too. We know one person with a persistent skin rash whose therapist told him to use a coating of Selsun Blue to combat what doctors couldn’t cure. Problem solved! The Full Physical Package ($215) includes an infrared sauna treatment (take our word for it, you’ll emerge feeling like you’ve just had a restorative nap), then an RMT’s massage followed by a Customized Facial (with some of the most thorough extractions we’ve yet experienced). 1128 Richards St., 604-683-3220.

You book into the spa to de-stress, but the trip downtown just doubles your angst. Enter Spamobile, which brings the experience to you. There’s a serious West Side following—the Arbutus Club crowd doesn’t mix wet nails and seatbelts—and whether at home or at the office (and even at girly parties), manicures are most popular ($45), but owner Amanda Solomon-Guthrie also offers pedicures, waxing, facials, tinting, and spray tans. Have beauty, will travel. 778-893-3420.