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No more naked dashes to the Pacific

My last (and only other) spa-type experience on Long Beach on Vancouver Island was in 1970 and involved sweating in a home-made driftwood-and-tarp sauna and then dashing naked through the rain into the rolling Pacific.

Sigh.

Well, times change and bodies age. This time I'm sitting in a comfy chair in an alcove just outside the world-renowned Wickaninnish Inn, swathed in a bathrobe thicker than my carpet back home, my feet in a bucket of Epsom-salted warm water with marbles in the bottom, while my "practitioner" Lorna Watson brings yet more blankets to tuck around me. The wind whistles. The waves crash. My tootsies massage themselves on the marbles.

This must be what is known as pampering. It's my first time ever to a spa, and I've started at the top. The Ancient Cedars Spa at Wickaninnish Inn was voted the number one resort spa in Canada in the April 2005 issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

(The Inn itself was voted the number one hotel in Canada in the August 2004 issue of Travel+Leisure magazine's World's Best Awards.)

The Wickaninnish prides itself on use of local materials and local arts and crafts, and the spa carries through on this theme.

It looks like a luxurious beachside cabin with large rough-hewn wooden beams and driftwood chairs made by a B.C. artisan. Pictures by a local Tofino artist grace the walls. The goal for the spa, and the inn as a whole, is to "bring the outside in," said spa manager Leah Austin.

Watson, who is about to administer my hot stone massage, is a relaxed, soft-spoken, almost motherly woman of about my age who was formerly a physiotherapist but who decided to make a life change and come to Tofino. Austin says every employee in the spa has at least 1,000 hours of training in a field related to their spa duties.

The massage room is a cosy cocoon of a place with soft music, candles and the sound of the pounding surf just outside. Watson takes the stones from their bath of warm water, oils them and massages me with them before placing them at strategic points on my body. She tells me she has chosen the stones herself from the beach and hand scrubs them after each use; the stones have energy, she says, which I will begin to feel in my body.

I ask her the origin of this treatment and she says it is not ancient, as I assume, but rather came from a Native American elder channelled through a healer in the U.S. Southwest, about 10 years ago.

(Spa Manager Austin said later in an interview that Ancient Cedars attempts to integrate the spiritual and physical in its treatments both here and in their lomilomi and kahi loa Hawaiian-style treatments.)

The massage continues for an hour and a half until every muscle is oiled and rubbed and the stones surround me on the massage table. Watson thoughtfully turns off the music when it goes to a busy Baroque piece, leaving us with just the sounds of the sea.

Do I feel the energy of the stones? Well, no. Am I extremely skeptical of the idea of a departed elder channelling this technique? Yes.

Nonetheless, I leave happy and deeply relaxed, feeling nurtured as well as massaged - so who knows?

(lbates [at] canwest [dot] com)

ANCIENT CEDARS SPA AT THE WICKANINNISH INN

The treatment : Hot stone massage, 1 ½ hours. Many other treatments are available from body wraps to exotic-Hawaiian massages to facials, manicures and pedicures.

Where : The Wickaninnish Inn is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island between Long Beach and Tofino.

How much? : $170 plus tax and tip. (Treatments range from $70 for a manicure to $300 and up for a side-by-side duo.)

Who : Both men and women are welcome and couples frequently choose the side-by-side duo massage. Practitioners include both men and women. 

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