Sparkling Hill Resort: A wellness spa and hotel that shines with Swarovski crystals

Sparkling Hill
The entrance of Sparkling Hill Resort
Sparkling Hill
Sparkling Hill Resort’s lobby

Travel coma is not unusual for me but within minutes off the plane I’m suddenly fully conscious and stunned by my dazzling surroundings. It’s a sunny day in the Okanagan Valley and the mountains are mirrored in lakes like the photo we’d like to snap. Lush greenery is dotted with various architectural styled upscale residences. But I’m completely out of coma mode when I suddenly get a peek at the top of one of the hills. There’s an elongated, stainless steel , glass and wood building set among the rocky terrain and it’s like no other edifice in the area or almost anywhere else. The setting is superb for the newly opened Sparkling Hill Resort and is breathtaking (and I know it seems like too many superlatives but there’s nothing else to describe this scene). Suddenly it disappears as we round the tortuous road leading up to the hotel/spa/wellness clinic, a newly opened state-of-the-art, 4 storey, 152 room complex conceived by Gernot Langes Swarovski, of the Austrian crystal empire. Here he brings the age old treatments of wellness, sometimes strange to North Americans and melds them with spas that we’ve become to rely on for pampering and de-stressing. It’s a fine healthy mix, a sort of granola for soul and body.

Even from this vantage point I know I’m in for an experience that is different from all other spas and there have been many dozens in my travel writing excursions. It’s no surprise as we get closer to the winding entrance that various signage is topped with enclosed diamond knockoff crystals. So what if it’s a bit of Las Vegas meets mountain aerie. Although the attempt wasn’t meant to be more is more and more, it is over the top but interestingly here the ever present glitz seems perfectly, well sparkling and suitable.

Even the atrium entrance has a huge glass section, each panel different and together made to look like a faceted diamond . Sparkling Hill Resort meets the Royal Ontario Museum’s Crystal Museum?

Rhinestones are everywhere and there are over 3.5 million and counting. Crystals appear enclosed on several architecturally decoratively designed glass cases throughout the hotel and spa sections, the dark wood stairs have some large sparklers set in narrow white marble strips along the side -a wonderful lead to the room dining room, Peak Fine restaurant. Now here’s the competition. In the glassed-in lobby ‘s cathedral high ceiling is what could be described as a huge hula skirt chandelier dripping with strands of crystals that sway and shimmer casting lovely stars over the subdued décor versus the undulating, somewhat Ruben-esque long round and curvy crystal ceiling fixture in the Peak Fine Restaurant. It actually reminds me of the curvaceous and gutsy Mae West and think what she would have given to see all this bling so reminiscent of her costumes. Cher too, could probably get some wardrobe inspiration. And I have to wonder, is this décor just a bit ‘de trop’? I think not since I’m really enjoying the discovery of the rhinestone implants everywhere. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt and find myself looking under , above and over searching for that bit more of glitz.

Sparkling Hill
Stunning venue for a wedding
Sparkling Hill
The KurSpa swimming pool

And I haven’t yet been to my room. Finally, at my given room #258, there’s floor to ceiling windows that overlook Lake Okanagan and of course the backdrop of the always present Monashee Mountains in this unique area of British Columbia. My tub is set beside the window allowing a sudsy dip and a super vista. The décor is pale wood with splashes of bling and the “fireplace” is totally irresistible with a huge and peaked hunk of crystal encased in glass that at night turns red, pretending to be a fireplace. It’s splendid as its reflections form great ceiling designs with no need for any wall accoutrements. Smartly hidden in a side wall cabinet is a mini bar and laundry hamper that only on inspection would you know exists. So there is some subtlety! Double sinks set in grey and white granite, ditto the floors, a shower with two glass entrance doors and fluffy, whitest of white towels , robes are some of the fine amenities.

Definitely, this is a spa with a difference with little that resembles any other and that includes treatments. I take this time to visit the various public rooms and a walk through the KurSpa. My guide whispers that their guests expect complete silence. I do, however, see a dog walk unexpectedly and forbidden, through the spa. An elevator mistake, I’m told in sotto voce. Although dogs are accepted, they should be treated like young children – seen but not heard. A quick study of KurSpa is that no expense has been spared…anywhere.

Finally, my treatment day arrives and I’m fully booked (luckily since there are many requests from guests).

“Shush”, I’m told again as we enter the 44,000 square foot spa area. “Don’t speak louder than a whisper”. As we pass a circular white reception desk of the beauty centre where all treatments are booked, there’s the ever present sparkle, but here the stones are coloured , again encased in rectangular cases and inserted into the counters.

Sparkling Hill
Coat of arms
Sparkling Hill
Three are better than one

The Tea Room filled with white chaises longues again have full windows offering panoramic views only seen in films or paintings. The counter top has containers (no bling) of lemon or cucumber water and choices of tea. The white terry clad clients don’t issue a word. I’m loving this place before I’ve even had to fill out a lengthy health form.

With 7 steam rooms and saunas one never feels crowded. Ditto for the dozen treatment rooms.

I’m a hot house type of person. Ninety degrees (30c) is my preference so you can imagine the panic when I see the listing of my first treatment. There’s something called a Cold Lab (Cryotherapy), unknown so far, in this part of the world and the first in North American but widely loved in Europe. The window sign is enough to make me want to run. On it says something about -110c degrees. On the treatment counter are two penguins. One looks sad and droopy while the other looks fresh and virile. That’s the before and after affect one should achieve. However, I’m concerned that it may well be the other way for me. After my blood pressure is taken, I’m given a wide terry band for my ears, a surgical mask for my nose and mouth, socks and soft shoes and gloves and these are the accessories to my bathing suit. I ask if I could at least put on my exercise jacket. The look from the technician is that of “who is that idiot? so I drop the subject. I’m cold just thinking that I agreed . The 3 minute excursion starts with a walk though a small chilly chamber where the temperature -10c degrees, then quickly into another similar room which is -60 c degrees and then finally the three minutes in -110c. Sure, it’s very freezing but Bob Marley’s reggae music has the three others and myself dancing to the music to try to imagine that we’re warm and maybe in the Caribbean? It doesn’t work for my warm-bloodedness. I am frozen. All this is monitored from the outside and a disembodied voice starts the countdown from 20 seconds. We come out cheering that we survived. Our skin looks tanned, I defrost in about 10 minutes and suddenly my aching back is no more, my skin looks great, I’m full of energy. Who would have thought that this intense treatment could be so efficacious? Other benefits are great for inflammation of joints, muscles, helps with skin disorders. Although we’re told not to have any hot drink or swim in hot water for an hour, I do take an out-of- water walking tour of the infinity pool which goes from inside to the outdoors and intend to use the Kneipp water track which goes from hot/cold segments , invigorates the circulatory system and relaxes the nervous system. That comes later that evening and given that there’s the alternative warm water, I have some incentive.

Sparkling Hill
The hunk of crystal posing as a fireplace
Sparkling Hill
The restaurant and curvaceous crystal chandelier
Sparkling Hill
Crystal fire place
Sparkling Hill
The Tea Room with crystal fountain

The Serenity Room with unrelated blocks of red, white and black, perhaps just for colour, has black relaxing chairs and is a great room to spend at least 15 minutes in complete quietude observing the scenery which is easy since most guests opt for the Tea Room and every time I walk passed, there’s not a person there.

Soon Stephen, one of the technicians, leads me to one of the treatment rooms for my foot reflexology. couldn’t think of a better treatment after the Cold Lab. Twenty five minutes later, I feel as though I could fly. Shortly afterwards, again Stephen and I are in another room for a hot Fango treatment made of pure volcanic dust (from Fohberg, Kaiserstuhl )mixed with water. This is ‘slapped’ in bulk on my back after which I’m covered with a plastic sheet and four other covers, reminding me of a human sushi. The aftermath is a messy shower but the effect on my always pained back is great as is my skin circulation.

Keiser equipped fitness studio with the latest machines is next to a room for yoga, stretching and other supervised exercise. Paul, who oversees the gym, seems to have devised new stretches that I had never done or seen before and the 7 in the class at times look like human pretzels.

And then Magdalene, the facialist from Poland, has me wanting to take her home. She is most knowledgeable about various skin types and the need of the different products. Here at the spa, Professional Solutions Skin Care products are natural and free from synthetic chemicals, fragrances and preservatives. After the 90 minutes my face looks absolutely flawless. What’s so interesting about KurSpa is that they don’t ‘push’ their lotions and potions since Mr. Swarovski and Hans-Peter Mayr, the GM, are adamant that this is not a retail business but a fine serviced spa. Prices of these truly good products are reasonable starting at approximately $30. Magdalene helped me with the decision-making of products for the purchase which I initiated.

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The entrance to the Cold Lab
Sparkling Hill
Dripping strands of crystals
Sparkling Hill
One of the many swarovski crystal chandeliers
Sparkling Hill
The café at Davison Farm

I see many men and seek out one who has had treatments. Here KurSpa embodies gender neutrality in both the décor and treatment menu. Any male would feel quite comfortable visiting either alone or with a companion. Besides the indoor spa, the outdoors include nature walks with healthy hiking/trekking trails. Chris, my male spy, also emphasized that he liked that “the treatment rooms are minimalist and that the off white neutral colours accents the scenic Lake Okanagan” . His favorite treatment was the Alpine massage with the choice of oils and Aleisha, the technician was “able to break though a complex of knots stubbornly adhering to my shoulder blades.”

Sparkling Hill
Davison Orchards
Sparkling Hill
Sparkling Hill

Sparkling Hill Resort is also in the process of installing a de-tox ‘clinic’ for maximum of 20 people. This is a treatment known to many Europeans but certainly one of the first in North America. As strange as the food regiment sounds, it seems to have had great results. Forget about fine food for the first or second week, depending how long you stay. This is a serious regime where the morning starts with salted water and white bread which is chewed for an hour. Soup, later on, is made up of the peelings of fruits and vegetables.

It’s been a full day and soon it’s feeding time. And as much as I would like to de-tox, I don’t think I’d make it through one day. However, I could certainly take a week of treatments and the great cuisine and of course, the stunning scenery.

The young chef is (another superlative coming up) most creative and excellent. I start with pink banana squash soup, so delicious that I have it for lunch the next day. Each day there’s another menu – Land, Earth and Sea has something for everyone’s palate. I soon learn about the chocolate covered carmel squares sprinkled with sea salt that becomes my constant dessert. Not your average spa food but this is not your average spa. The Peak Fine dining room has traditional damask linen clothes, banquettes and chairs where, of course, the backs have three large rhinestones.

And after a few digestive hours, the swimming pool beckons. As I stare at the now mist covered dark mountains, the stars obscured, so in lieu there are hundreds of tiny ceiling lights. It may well be the earthly interpretation of heaven. After all, Okanagan does mean “transport toward the heavens’.

Before drifting off to dreamland I spend time watching the flicker of my magical red crystal fire


All tours can be arranged by Sparkling Hill Resort’s concierge

Take time off to see some remarkable destinations starting with a grand tour of the Gray Monk Estate Winery. The Heiss family are true pioneers in this business in the Okanangan Valley and celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2007. Gray Monk produces about 170,000 bottles, mainly white, a year. Wine Tours and tastings are available and there’s a great wine shop and restaurant.

Then to a brewery,Okanagan Spirits, considered western Canada’s finest craft distillery.. The small staff is more than happy to discuss the process of taking the locally produced fruit for their fruit brandy, liqueurs and grappa. The day I visited, I watched pears being spun in a large installation. They also produce Canada’s only Genuine Absinthe.

In the warm months from about May to October, there’s the Davison Orchards, an outdoor market with about 70 stalls of food. And everything sold is make from produce from this 80 acres of this fourth generation farm family. The indoor section has an equal amount of shops and outdoors is a very active and adorable playground for kids. My great treat was a tasting feast of their famous pies. Although one was apple pie with ice cream, it was exception and the secret is not to add too much cinnamon and allow the apples to create their own flavor. Next were the extraordinary apple crumble and pumpkin pie.