Revel in the elements at these nearby and faraway retreats
Words Jane Zatylny
Scrolling through my friends’ travel photos on Instagram, I can’t help but notice the throngs of tourists in the background. They’re there with them waiting for a gondola ride in Venice, in an unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower or a on walking tour of the Colosseum.
“We loved Rome,” my friends all said. “But the crowds were terrible.”
The fact is, post-pandemic travel is up—way up. According to Statistics Canada, more than seven times as many Canadians travelled to the US and Europe in June 2022 over June 2021.
Looking to avoid the crowds on your next trip? Here are eight retreat locations—both close by and far away—that are off the beaten track and inspired by the four elements: earth, water, air and fire…
Nk’Mip Cellars, Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre and Spirit Ridge Lake Resort, Osoyoos, BC
For tens of thousands of years, the desert lands near Osoyoos Lake have been the traditional territory of the Osoyoos peoples. Today, they are also home to Nk’Mip Cellars, an Indigenous-owned-and-operated winery and restaurant; Spirit Ridge Lake Resort, a Hyatt property; and Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre.
In addition to teaching guests about the lands, legends and people of this unique ecosystem, the cultural centre promotes conservation efforts for desert wildlife within an eco-friendly semi-underground rammed-earth building. Immerse yourself in the “Living Lands” outdoor exhibit and sculpture gallery, stop to smell the wild sage along the network of walking trails on the 50-acre site or explore the living culture of the Osoyoos Indian Band at a reconstructed village. nkmipdesert.com
Ka’awa Loa Plantation Bed and Breakfast, Kona, Hawaii
Few flavours are earthier than coffee grown in the rich volcanic soil of the Kona region on the Big Island of Hawaii. At the Ka’awa Loa Plantation bed and breakfast, located in the heart of the Kona Coffee Belt, you can absorb all the big-bean vibes.
The five-acre property is a start-up coffee and tropical fruit farm at the temperate elevation of 366 metres above sea level, perched directly above Kealakekua Bay. Base your activities here, choosing from ocean-view rooms, a cottage or a luxury suite. Daily breakfast includes coffee and seasonal fruits from the plantation and local market. The plantation also cares for Mother Earth: 100 per cent of its operations are driven by solar power. kaawaloaplantation.com
Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa, Royston, Vancouver Island
As ubiquitous as water is to Vancouver Island, Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa’s Pacific Mist Hydropath takes the benefits of hydrotherapy one step further. With this unique spa feature, you’ll follow an attendant through a re-created West Coast shoreline, complete with sandstone sculpted caves and pools. There you’ll experience eight unique elements, from a steam cave and a tidal bath—with the spa’s signature salt scrub—to a glacial waterfall that offer remineralization, detoxification, relaxation and more.
Afterwards, cool down, rehydrate and reflect in the spa’s relaxation lounge, which overlooks the ocean, mountains and nearby islands. Total time to complete the experience is one hour, plus relaxation time in the spa lounge. kingfisherspa.com
Buubble Golden Circle Tour, Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland is, of course, also surrounded by water, and this tour perfectly fits our watery theme. For the overnight Golden Circle Tour, you’ll be picked up from a chosen location in the capital city of Reykjavik, and then taken to several scenic stops, including the Strokkur geyser hot spring, the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall and the Secret Lagoon natural hot spring at Fludir. Here, guests are invited to relax in a unique natural hot spring that is also Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, built in 1891.
The tour’s final stop is the Bubble Hotel, where up to nine guests will spend the night under the stars (and perhaps even view the Northern Lights) in transparent, igloo-like bubbles. Just turn out the lights for complete privacy. Checkout is the following morning at 8:30 with a transfer back to Reykjavik by 10:30 am. buubble.com
Tyax Lodge and Heliskiing, Gold Bridge, BC
Soaring high into the sky by helicopter is an exhilarating way to travel—even more so when the destination is the peak of an untouched mountain range and the activity is heliskiing. Tyax Heliskiing near Gold Bridge (west of Lillooet, BC) offers about one million acres of terrain to explore, with more than 275 runs and elevations from 1,524 to 2,895 feet.
After a day on the slopes in this transition zone between the Coast Mountains and the Fraser Plateau in the South Chilcotin Mountains, come back down to earth at the Tyax Lodge, a recently renovated log cabin structure, or splurge on one of the company’s three fully catered private lodges. tyax.com
Mashpi Lodge Cloud Resort, Quito, Ecuador
Not so sure about heliskiing, but still great looking for a great lofty adventure? At 950 metres above sea level, Mashpi Lodge Cloud Resort in Ecuador has you covered. The rainforest nature lodge, which is situated on a picturesque plateau, offers panoramic views of the surrounding forested mountains through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
Situated on a reserve that ranges in altitude from 500 to 1,200 metres, Mashpi promises luxury in a very special natural environment. Here amid thundering waterfalls and breathtaking flora, you may encounter 400 species of birds, trees, frogs and species found nowhere else in the world. Take a nighttime hike or observe the forest canopy from the Dragonfly Gondola, “Sky Bike” or Observation Tower. ashpilodge.com
Kananaskis Nordic Spa, Turner Valley, Alberta
Kananaskis Nordic Spa opened in 2018 as Alberta’s first Scandinavian wellness spa. Designed to offer 50,000 square feet of indoor-outdoor space, this Canadian version of the Scandi-spa experience was inspired by the elements of the great outdoors. Here, you can warm yourself in the eucalyptus steam room, cedar barrel sauna cabin or Finnish sauna, or just relax in a hammock before an outdoor fire pit.
The spa’s hydrotherapy pass includes access to all the indoor/outdoor amenities. Operators recommend following a hydrotherapy cycle for three to four circuits using a combination of its hot and cold features for optimal wellness. knordicspa.com
Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort, Tucson, Arizona
With more than 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson really delivers when it comes to warmth. Above the bustle of the city, Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort offers breathtaking mountain, desert and city views, beautiful Moorish architecture and a storied history.
Built in 1929 as a ranch school for daughters of elite American families, this Sonoran Desert retreat was converted to a guest ranch in 1944, and it attracted stars like Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Clark Gable.
You can unwind in one of the resort’s historic or new rooms and suites, meander through the lush botanical desert gardens, take a dip in the outdoor pool or enjoy the resort’s award-winning menu in one of its two outstanding restaurants. haciendadelsol.com