Miraj Hammam Spa, 1495 West 6th Avenue at Granville Street, Vancouver. Listed in the top 50 spas in Canada, its Hammam and Gommage high intensity steam chambers, fine-mist cleansing, and invigorating exfoliation treatment (on Jerusalem gold marble with black Moroccan soap) is touted as authentically Middle East. Being this, it's not the usual approach to massage many of us are familiar with (some upright time with one's attendant is required). The Sultana Lounge provides a post-treatment resting period on velvet beds and silk cushions with tea and sweet cake. www.mirajhammam.com
Loden, boutique hotel, 1177 Melville Street, Vancouver, Traveller's Choice Trip Advisor says, "Number one luxury hotel in Canada," 77 guestrooms and suites, business amenities, massage available in a spa suite that features an infrared sauna for detoxification, 604-669-5060, reservations 877-225-6336, Coal Harbour area of Downtown, www.theloden.com/boutique-hotel-vancouver/spa/
Wedgewood Hotel & Spa, 845 Hornby Street, Vancouver, boutique hotel with luxury, award-winning spa voted “Best Day Spa In Vancouver” by the Georgia Strait Critics Choice awards; rooms, suites and penthouse suites; weekend afternoon tea; sophisticated elegance; 604-689-7777, toll free North America 800-663-0666, on Robson Square Downtown, www.wedgewoodhotel.com/files_2/spa.php
Rivendell Retreat Centre, Bowen Island, Christian retreat on 6.5 acres on top of Cates Hill, trails, beautiful views, four-story main lodge provides accommodations, groups welcome, take ferry from Horseshoe Bay and West Vancouver, “prayer, silence, simplicity and hospitality…spiritual renewal,” 604-947-0077
420 Horne Lake Road
Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, BC
Along the Inland Island Highway of Vancouver Island's eastern shore, just north of Qualicum Beach, lies a most remarkable place: Free Spirit Spheres. Here, amidst five acres of mystically lush B.C. rainforest, hang three magnificent spheres you can sleep, work and dream in—a one of a kind experience, to say the least. Free Spirit Spheres is the result of the creative genius of Tom Chudleigh who, along with his wife, Rosey, operate the facility and graciously welcome hundreds of guests over the course of each year.
It is a nature-based experience of the finest order. Visitors climb spiral staircases and, in one case, cross a short suspension bridge into the canopy home of these beautifully designed and furnished rooms. Eve was the first built—nine feet in diameter and made of fine cedar. She holds a single bed with settee, cupboards, counter space, and two, four-foot circular windows. Eryn is ten-and-a-half feet and made of Sitka Spruce, nearly 80 percent larger than Eve. She has a double bed and loft space, with a small sink and refrigerator. And fiberglass Melody, whose radiant yellow exterior is painted with ravens flying along a winding musical staff, is also gorgeous with a black walnut interior, five windows, and even a skylight. An ingenious, hand-crafted Murphy bed folds down as do two workstations. Comfortable linens, luxurious duvet covers and built-in stereo speakers in each (through which to transmit sound from your own mobile device) help ensure an environment like no other. Towels for the hot showers and sauna in the nearby bath house are also provided, and the toilet facilities are contained within an inconspicuous but, oh, so necessaire, mushroom shaped, wood-shingled composting toilet that provides an eco-friendly solution to the peopling of the forest. Think back-to-the-basics but cradled in comfort at the same time—one guest commented that to sleep inside one of these magnificent creations is to be "adrift in a sea of stars and trees."
The fine craftsmanship of the spheres is immediately apparent and undeniably incredible. Because of their unique structural form, every component has been carefully and painstakingly created by hand and only a craftsman of Tom's
caliber could possibly rise to the occasion, devoting years of work to each. The woodwork and joinery are exquisite, and each piece of brass trim has been hand cast. All has been carefully thought through, as with the closets acting as bulkheads to support outwardly opening oval-shaped doors that close with tight precision. A background in engineering and shipbuilding has helped make this all possible: Tom Chudleigh is the only person in the world creating anything of its kind.
The placement of these magnificent orbs above the forest floor is accomplished by what Tom describes as "a marriage of tree house and sailboat technology." Each orb is tethered by three, nearly vertical ropes to a triad of surrounding trees, the angle keeping movement from without to a minimum: only a gentle swaying can be felt within, mostly from one's own movement. Additional anchoring for the walkways and stairs nestles gently and unobtrusively against the tree itself in the manner of a yacht's mast, comprised only of rope and wooden slats that fold outward to lie horizontally to the ground, not penetrating the bark in any way. Extremely secure, all the rigging can be removed in a day, leaving no trace of its ever having been there.
But beyond this remarkable technical expertise lies also the mind of a true visionary. The nut-shaped, uni-walled spheres provide extremely strong, light-weight and portable housing, exemplifying the concept of "biomimicry" and its more advantageous environmental consequences. Their placement serves to bring humans up off the forest floor to feel interconnected with the surrounding ecosystem in a very real and ecologically responsible way. Instead of being mired permanently in hard-edged, waste and pollution-producing buildings attached to immobile foundations, they allow occupants to feel at one with the natural environment in a very immediate, direct, and ultimately, very spiritual manner—Tom points out that the theme of three trees in a sacred grove was practiced by the ancient druids. "It's all about unity and oneness," he says. "It's the character of the grove that determines the style of the spheres it houses."
Tom and Rosey hope to eventually find a more permanent home (the current site of the past 19 years is leased) in an even more old-growth forest somewhere in the province, and to create a spiritual retreat with a total of 10-15 spheres. And what if humankind did begin to become more aware of its integrated place among other living things by making the shift to housing of this kind? Would we then not begin to make better, more sustainable and broader-reaching choices about our interactions with and stewardship of this planet? I think so, and many others do as well. Free Spirit Spheres provides real hope and a positive vision for the future—be sure to put it on your bucket list. www.freespiritspheres.com
Overheard from a first-time arrival to Salt Spring Island, talking to a fellow passenger on the bus ride into Ganges village from the ferry terminal: "BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, eh! BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, eh! AMAZING--I could just die here! Oh, maybe I shouldn't say that, but you know what I mean...BEAUTIFUL, just BEAUTIFUL!"