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Royal treatment

B.C. resort spa fit for an empress

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The Empress Sissi spa treatment features a milk and honey bath before a side-by-side couples massage.

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The Empress Sissi spa treatment features a milk and honey bath before a side-by-side couples massage.

If my wife is the empress, then that makes me emperor.

It's the kind of inane chatter we can have while soaking in a bath of milk and honey in a marble tub built for two, as we sip champagne and nibble on salted caramel dark chocolates.

After all, this Empress Sissi spa treatment at Sparkling Hill Resort, just outside of Vernon, B.C., is meant to be indulgent on a royal scale.

After a half-hour in the milk and honey tub, we proceed, tipsy, to the tables for a side-by-side couples massage.

It's fitting the treatment is named after Sissi, the health-and-beauty-obsessed empress of Austria from 1854 to 1898.

The connection is also apropos because Sparkling Hill Resort is owned by the Swarovski family of Austria, the clan famous for those eponymous crystals.

You can't miss the Swarovski influence at this 149-room luxury resort.

A total of 3.5 million crystals are incorporated into every aspect of the $122-million property, from the signage, lighting, sculptures, floors and windows to furniture, cabinets, stairs, ceilings and mirrors.

The grand entrance is a giant glass atrium that looks like a unturned crystal piercing the mountaintop. It sparkles like a crystal in the light of day and when spotlit at night.

In the four-storey lobby, three crystal chandeliers hang in tiers, with a gift shop to the left selling all things Swarovski.

The family built the showpiece as a destination spa hotel that would attract discerning travellers from around the world.

While the Empress Sissi treatment costs $375 per couple, the basic spa experiences are included with the room rate.

That's how my wife and I find ourselves doing the progression of seven saunas and steam rooms in the glamourous spa wing.

Start in Aqua Meditation for a gentle warm-up before ambling over to the Rose Steam, which naturally smells like freshly crushed rose petals. Then it's on to the even-hotter Crystal Steam, before entering the dry Panorama Sauna.

Well-heated, we seek reprieve in the Igloo, a cold sauna with ice walls and ice chips in a marble sink to scrub the body.

Goose-bumped, we proceed to the last two saunas, Herbal and Classic, before having a rain shower, complete with chirping birds and squealing monkey soundtrack.

Sparking Hill is so spa-oriented, it's perfectly acceptable to pad around in your bathing suit, slippers and white fuzzy robe, not just in the spa and pool areas, but along the hallways, through the lobby and even to the restaurant for breakfast.

You'll want to dress for dinner at PeakFine restaurant though, to enjoy locally-sourced food with a European twist.

We devour our lobster in pesto cream and bison rib-eye steaks in Béarnaise sauce, accompanied by pinot noir from nearby Mission Hill Winery.

Rooms are European-sumptuous, with a bathtub perched in the bedroom at the floor-to-ceiling windows so you can bathe with a floating-in-the-sky feeling.

There's an indoor pool with glass walls and Swarovski crystal starry sky ceiling, and an outdoor heated pool accessed through an open tunnel so you can enjoy it on even the coldest winter day.

My wife and I gravitated to the infinity edge to stare at the stunning view of Okanagan Lake far below and the mountains beyond.

If guest do tear themselves away from the property it's to ski at nearby Silver Star Resort, tour wineries or golf at adjacent Predator Ridge Resort.

Before leaving we had to experience the -110 C cold sauna everyone was talking about. While everyone mentions it, it seems few have the guts to go through with it.

Five per cent of guests pony up $45 each to step into North America's only cryotherapy chamber for three minutes while scantily-dressed in a swimsuit, surgical mask, headband and red-and-white Canadian Olympic Team mitts.

We march around to distract ourselves and sing along to either the most annoying, or more inspired, choice of song piped in: Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Within seconds the whole body protests and tingles before the serious pins and needles set in.

We want to exit at one minute, definitely want out at two minutes, don't think we'll make it by the 2 1/2-minute mark, but ultimately make it to three minutes.

We emerge giggling, with frost on our eyelashes, giving mittened high fives.

While invented to help arthritis patients fight inflammation and increase mobility, cold saunas have become therapeutic, too.

They are touted to increase general well-being, refresh the skin, provide an endorphin/adrenaline/energy rush and boost the immune system.

Days later my wife is still convinced her skin is smoother, firmer and luminescent.

Special overnight rates start at $225 and included access to the basic seven saunas and steam rooms, pools and breakfast and dinner for two at PeakFine.

Check out SparklingHill.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 15, 2014 E3

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