Sparkling Hill Resort, Canada: Spa retreat in a crystal land

Gary Maddox finds himself slipping into a relaxing, futuristic lifestyle.

It's like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Resort guests, all identically dressed in white bathrobes and slippers, pad silently down a corridor decorated with thousands of shimmering crystals.

Some are heading for a swim in the indoor pool, where classical music plays underwater beneath a crystal-studded ceiling. Others are planning a session at the cryotherapy sauna at minus 110 degrees Celsius.

Sparkling Hill Resort is a European style "health and wellness resort" perched on a hill overlooking the picturesque Lake Okanagan near Vernon, in Canada's British Columbia. Opened in 2010, it was built by the Austrian company Swarovski with 3.5 million crystals featuring in the design. 

They dominate the foyer and blend into every other part of the hotel, even down to a crystal fireplace that lights up red and glitters at night in rooms.

The resort is designed to relax, comfort and treat ailments. 

After checking in, guests seem to seamlessly slip into a Space Odyssey lifestyle that has even the most self-conscious walking through the corridors in that white bathrobe-and-slippers uniform, even to the point where some wear them to the breakfast table.

The rooms are everything you would expect from an exclusive resort, with a bath overlooking panoramic floor-to-ceiling views of the lake or the Monashee Mountains and windows that open to let in fresh air. 

But it is the huge KurSpa that staggers for its scale and opulence. 

As well as that indoor pool with the underwater music, it has an outdoor infinity pool, rooms for massage, steam, gym, yoga and "serenity", and a "waterway", where guests can step their way around around water at different temperatures, that "stimulates and invigorates the nervous and lympathic systems". 

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Always uncomfortable in hotel bathrobes and slippers, I discover that they are compulsory to use the spa. So I dress accordingly and take the special lift to investigate.

It offers massage and skin treatments, an anti-ageing program, nutritional counselling, intravenous vitamin infusion, acupuncture, and naturopathic, homeopathic and Chinese herbal medicine. 

But the most striking feature of the spa is the Ice Lab – and, no, it has nothing to do with what Walter White does in his spare time on Breaking Bad.

The cryotherapy sauna promises an endorphin rush – in the cold, you take in almost twice as much oxygen with each breath than at room temperature – as well as fighting inflammation and assisting with joint pain by boosting the nervous and circulatory systems.

For sheer novelty, I decide to try it out.

After filling out a medical questionnaire, the dress code is even less fetching than a bathrobe – swim togs and running shoes. The three patients in my session include a frail elderly woman whose attentive husband is helping her through 10 treatments over five days for crippling arthritis.

An attendant named Paul, nattily dressed all in black with a white belt, hands out extra gear to make the look even more surreal – a white headband to cover the ears, a face mask and winter gloves.

After testing to make sure our blood pressure is normal, Paul dons a full winter kit – a parka, beanie and gloves – and we head into the Ice Lab. 

The first three seconds at minus 15 degrees pass quickly, as do four seconds at minutes 52 degrees.

Then we move into the main chamber for the real cold – three minutes at minus 110 degrees. 

It looks (and feels) surreal: we three patients and Paul walk in a circle, wiggling our fingers and getting colder, while Don't Worry, Be Happy plays through a speaker. 

Early on, getting through three minutes seems debatable. But when an assistant outside indicates 90 seconds are up, we change direction and another 90 seconds shuffling in the opposite direction seems survivable. 

At three minutes, we leave. My shoes feel frozen and my skin is red. The extreme cold has been stimulating but it's hard to say what affect it has had from just one treatment. 

I'd already swum laps in the outside pool that morning – only to discover later that exercise is discouraged prior to cryotherapy – so there was no endorphin rush. But it was certainly a unique experience and if it helps that elderly lady with her arthritis, it will be well worth the cold.

Once at the resort, it feels like there is no reason to leave, especially given it has an excellent restaurant and a coffee shop, but we had already booked a mountain bike trip. 

While Monashee Adventure Tours runs everything from casual cycles for corporate groups to serious rides for experienced road cyclists, ours is focused on the scenery – a ride on touring bikes along the old Kettle Valley Railway Line that has been converted into a bike track with trestle bridges and tunnels.

After a couple of hours of easy riding interspersed with stops to talk about the railway's history, we head to Gray Monk Estate Winery for lunch on a patio overlooking the vineyard.

Then it's back to Sparkling Hill. The bathrobe goes on again. It's time to grab a book and head back down to 2015: A Space Odyssey.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

sparklinghill.com

STAYING THERE

Sparking Hill Resort is in the Okanagan Valley, just outside Vernon in British Columbia. It has standard rooms from $195 a night or $230 a night for deluxe rooms. An introductory cryotherapy session costs $45  or 10 sessions cost $305. 

GETTING THERE

Air Canada flies to Vancouver daily. From there, fly to Kelowna International Airport. The resort has a shuttle for the 30-minute trip from the airport.

EATING THERE

The PeakFine restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is also a coffee shop that turns into a wine bar serving light meals at night. 

The writer was a guest of  Destination British Columbia and the Canadian Tourism Commission.  

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