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Steamy weekend

Fort Garry Hotel’s luxury spa and yoga classes make for a relaxing getaway

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Jessica Moreno is still enjoying the afterglow of a vacation she took a few weeks ago.

She and her sister, Andrea, went on a yoga trip of sorts, complete with yoga classes, a luxury spa treatment, a nutritious gourmet dinner, and a hotel stay.

The best part? Moreno, 27, and her sister didn’t leave Winnipeg. They signed up for a yoga weekend at the Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre.

The historic, downtown hotel — known for its ornate, architectural details and its 10th-floor spa — now offers overnight yoga weekends. It’s the kind of experience you might get at an American fitness-based resort.

One of a handful of the city’s top yoga instructors teaches the four hours of classes every weekend. Participants are also treated to a hamam, the hotel’s modern interpretation of a Turkish bath.

Moreno, a manager at Pulse Furniture Design, can’t get the experience out of her head.

"I was hoping for a really relaxing, pampering weekend," says the North Kildonan resident, an experienced yoga student who got what she wished for.

She loved the classes, but was blown away by Ten Spa’s communal, steam-filled hamam. During the treatment, an attendant scrubbed her while she rested on a heated, marble slab. A sprinkling of tiny, recessed spotlights lit the dark ceiling, adding to the exotic atmosphere.

"It felt like we were under the stars at night time," says Moreno. "It felt like a mini vacation. I would definitely go (back again) with three or four girlfriends."

Jessica’s sister, Andrea Moreno, 21, also plans to return for more.

"It was really nice to be in the steam room and have girl talk," says the University of Winnipeg arts student. "I would go back. I wish I was there this weekend."

That type of response initially surprised hotel co-owner and managing partner, Ida Albo. She says she introduced the yoga weekends in January to promote an upcoming lifestyle and wellness conference her hotel will host in March. Considering she didn’t advertise the $130 spa/yoga package externally, she didn’t expect it to sell out.

"There’s a waiting list," says an excited Albo, noting that the weekend workshops have attracted everyone from yoga newcomers to yoga masters to couples celebrating anniversaries.

She says yoga weekends will likely become a permanent part of the hotel’s offerings.

Albo admits that yoga is her current passion. In fact, she’s about to make the activity a substantial part of her business, formerly known as the Fort Garry Hotel and re-named in November the Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Conference Centre.

The rebranding emphasizes the hotel’s world-class spa and the 35,000 square feet of party/conference space the hotel has taken over in neighbouring Fort Garry Place.

The new space —connected to the hotel by a skywalk — is undergoing the last of $1 million-plus renovation so it will match the turn-of-the-century décor style of the main hotel.

Albo says weekend yoga classes are held in the hotel’s ballrooms, conference rooms and new space.

Aside from taking classes at several local yoga facilities and "handpicking" some of her favourite instructors to teach for her, Albo has also earned her own yoga teaching certification. The ever-hands-on businesswoman trained with a specific purpose.
"I’m certified to teach yoga, but, no, I do not teach yoga," says Albo, who took 200 hours of teacher training in Los Angeles when she decided to go into go into the yoga business. "I did the same thing when I opened the spa. I took esthetic courses to understand spa culture."

Albo says the hotel’s first public trade show since its name change is yoga-based and will take place over two days starting March 20. The Live This Life Expo is set to feature 80 exhibitors — including five California-based "celebrity" yoga teachers that Albo personally invited to attend the conference.

"I think everyone should do yoga and everyone will be happier and better and feel great," she says. "I love yoga the way I love spas. I’ve been exploring lots of different styles."

Albo’s exploration has also resulted in the beginnings of Yoga Public, a state-of-the-art facility she and her husband, Rick Bell, plan to open within the next year. It will be located at 280 Fort St., near the corner of Portage and Main. According to www.yogapublic.com, it will feature three yoga studios, 100 classes a week and a café.

Albo says she can’t share definitive details about the new enterprise since it’s just in its infancy stages.

"What Ten is to spas is what this will be to yoga. We’ll raise the bar of what it looks and feels like," says Albo, who promises her facility will be "priced very, very competitively."

Winnipeg is home to many yoga studios, including what could be the city’s newest centre, Moksha Yoga Winnipeg on Waverley Street, a hot yoga studio that opened at the end of 2009. It is the second Moksha Yoga location in the city.

Albo is confident that yoga is alive and well in Winnipeg. She says despite current economic conditions, people are willing to splurge on her hotel’s yoga weekends out of curiosity and because of the luxurious perks that come with the package.

She says she’s sure her upcoming Fort Street yoga venture has a bright future as most yoga enthusiasts look at it as a lifestyle rather than a passing fad. She says people who don’t want to purchase a yoga membership at her facility can instead drop in for classes at $15 a session. "Personally, I would use it as a substitute to dinner and a movie; yoga and a movie," says Albo.

Have an interesting story idea you’d like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca

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