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Jen Mallia

Guest contributor

Jen Mallia is an Edmonton-based writer who spends her days debating if it is too late for coffee or too early for cocktails. She is notoriously bad at making the right call on that so is quite a lot of fun.

It is impossible to stifle a little scream while plunging into a deep tub of chilly water. It’s a sound very much out of place in the serene surroundings of the rooftop terrace of the Fairmont Pacific Rim, decked out with twinkling lights strung in the hedges and an atmospheric West Coast winter fog. After baking in a barrel sauna, the icy splash is almost unbearable. Even a quick dunk is invigorating, if not actually long enough (as we were warned by the spa attendant) to be therapeutic.

The rooftop of a ritzy hotel in one of Canada’s most happening cities may feel far removed from hydrotherapy’s 10,000-year-old roots, but this sparkling new spa experience is very much in line with the tradition of being where the people are. In her book, Sauna – The Power of Deep Heat, Emma O’Kelly states: “Every culture, through every age, has enjoyed its own form of sweat bathing. From the Ottoman hammam and Mayan temazcal to the Japanese mushi-buro and kama-buro, from the banyas of Russia to the saunas of Finland, heat therapy has stood the test of time, waxing and waning in popularity, and crossing continents in various iterations.” 

We would argue that heat therapy is very much riding a wave of popularity right now, with smaller urban spas (like the Lost Faucet Sauna House in Courtney, B.C. or SKA Thermal Spa in Calgary) and innovative hotel experiences holding their own with more established spa resorts like Sparkling Hill in Vernon, B.C. or Rancho Valencia, just outside San Diego. 

Kim Carmichael, spa director at Fairmont Pacific Rim agrees that now is a time when people are looking for balance and trying to find ways to incorporate holistic health into their busy lives, for example, by adding an extra day onto a business trip in order to take advantage of the property’s wellness offerings. 

In 2023, the hotel introduced the Four Pillars of Wellness: Nourish, Move, Sleep, Stay and have built amenities around each. Carmichael says the goal is “to weave wellness through the entire guest experience.” She notes that  much of the impetus for these offerings comes from guests.

Under the Nourish pillar are the restaurants at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Even on a weeknight, the Lobby Lounge and adjacent RawBar were buzzing. (As an aside, the space is shared with the front reception desk, which made check-in a little challenging. One can only shout “Pardon?” so many times while maintaining any degree of elegance. Checking in before the after-work rush is probably wise.) Consulting chef Masayoshi Baba has created an impressive sushi program and they have a nice selection for those craving something else. An abbreviated version of the menu is available to order at the Willow Stream Spa.

Botanist, on the second floor is a bit of a dream. Fresh West Coast ingredients and creative flavors had us wishing we had more room in our stomachs to sample more dishes. Breakfast, while not under the Botanist banner, is also served in the airy restaurant. 

We needed no assistance with Sleep in the sophisticated terraced room, but a pillow menu, dehumidifier and aromatherapy linen mist are available for the asking. As for Move, well truth be told, our movements were limited to sipping cocktails, searching for the switch on the patio’s fireplace, and trotting down the hallway to the spa. Had we been so inclined, there is a full gym and movement studio, and yoga classes are offered (for a fee) on the pool deck beside the spa. 

Photo courtesy of Fairmont Pacific Rim

Things like the stellar service and luxury spa offerings fall under the Stay category. The Nordic spa is a seasonal experience for the winter. The Willow Stream Spa, however, is a permanent fixture. Even if you can’t get in for a treatment, you may be able to visit for your own heat and hydrotherapy circuit, with luxurious amenities, a mineral pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna and “experiential” shower (in the women’s change room.)

Looking ahead at what’s in store at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, Carmichael teases some intriguing things to come. Building on the strong response it has seen not only from hotel guests, but also locals, the team is exploring more ways to incorporate ancient wellness traditions. Watch for things like meditation pop-ups, sound bathing and weekend retreats.  

Photos by Jen Mallia unless otherwise indicated. Hero image courtesy of Fairmont Pacific Rim.

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