Pea gravel crunching underfoot announces our arrival at Hastings House. Otherwise, under a winter sky threatening rain, all is peaceful on this rustic island property in the early afternoon. Peaceful and serene.
My sister and I have arrived by car ferry from the B.C. mainland—about a four-hour trip. Stepping away from the day-to-day, we feel as if we have also stepped back in time. Our spacious suite in the Manor House features period furniture, leaded windows and a wood fireplace. Not quite Downton Abbey, but near enough for me.
Authentic heritage on Salt Spring Island
On the evocatively named Salt Spring Island, Hastings House is a “country house hotel” renowned for its fine dining and as a romantic getaway. It boasts the prestigious Relais & Châteaux designation. But where I (quite wrongly) expected pretension, I encounter only old-world charm, premium hospitality and understated luxury. The aura of history is no charade, for this waterfront property—before it was a farm, before it was a luxury hotel—was once the site of a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. A refurbished farmhouse that now accommodates guests dates from 1900.
The Manor House, built in 1940, was modeled on an 11th-century English manor-style home. Builder Warren Hastings must have been a stickler for details. The exposed ceiling beams, rough plaster walls and intriguing wooden door latches make me think I’ve stepped onto the set of a BBC history production or Merchant Ivory film.
A pampering day spa next to the garden
There’s just time for a quick tour of the dormant vegetable garden before our spa treatments. Although the temperature still hovers around 40°F, green shoots reaching skyward promise springtime color. General manager Kelly McAree says that 60 percent of the restaurant’s produce is grown in this garden. Elsewhere on the property, new-born lambs will frolic in a few months’ time.
Right next to the garden, the Wellspring Day Spa occupies a reconstructed barn that also houses five suites. Spa director Terra Dimock has built up this “sleepy little spa” once known only to locals into a first-class venue. As she fills me in on the spa’s history and services, I can’t help but marvel at her radiant complexion, a picture of health.
Our treatments begin with a Gehwol Fusskraft warm herbal foot bath: a perfect beginning, especially in winter. My 90-minute Signature Facial Plus incorporates a massage of scalp, neck and shoulders, making it more restful than any facial I’ve experienced. No painful extractions, only aromatic cleansing and nourishing.
I soon lose track of time and the sequence of steps, my body as relaxed as if floating on a tropical sea. At intervals, Terra’s soft voice is as soothing as her touch. This is a signature Decléor facial, utilizing sublime skincare products made in Paris. Besides the massage, special Wellspring touches include a warm stone placed in each palm.
I emerge with what feels like a brand-new face—my skin softer, smoother, enriched by essential oils. The positive effects will last for weeks, the pleasant memories much longer. Meanwhile my sister has equally enjoyed her signature Swedish massage.
Fresh sea air and a place to dream
Since the on-site restaurant is closed for the season, we savor squash soup, baked salmon and crab cakes in nearby Ganges at the award-winning House Piccolo. The creamy round of goat cheese perched atop my salad is a local delicacy. Later we curl up in our armchairs by the fire like two contented cats.
After a night of rain, the next day dawns clear, the air so fresh it’s as if the world has been washed clean. Treated to a sunrise over Ganges harbor, we enjoy a cooked breakfast downstairs at a window table bathed in sunshine. Kelly—our genial host and breakfast chef and all-round “man of the manor”—soon has a fire crackling in the unusual Inglenook fireplace.
This is only the second winter that Hastings House has been open for visitors, which helps to explain the peaceful ambience. Book early for next winter—and a chance to be pampered in the spa, curl up by the fire, and dream … perhaps of living in your own seaside manor.
~ Naomi Pauls, Healthy Living + Travel