Category Archive for Alternative Canada

My Grotto Spa getaway! Tigh-Na-Mara beach resort & mineral pools, Parksville BC. Léo et Violette leather backpack.

mineral pools grotto spa parksville bc

Sending out a siren call to you… from the enticing Grotto Spa on Vancouver Island!

This year has been a crazy one so far, with an enormous trip to Beirut, Paris and Egypt, and a freelance contract with Google’s Touring Bird. At this point, I’m ready to kick back and stick to shorter trips.

best spa british columbia canada grotto

A weekend wellness getaway at Tigh-Na-Mara seaside resort was exactly what I needed to get recharged.

Let me take you for a dip in Grotto Spa’s mineral waters (located in Parksville, a 1.5 hour ferry ride from Vancouver). Read on for an exclusive photoshoot and story from what was voted the best spa in Canada!

leo et violette full grain leather luxury bags ubrique

First, I wanted to share my latest find… Le Petit Backpack, by indie Parisian designers Leo et Violette. The creamy, bleu-marine leather even matches the color of my hair. (I decorated the backpack with an ankh from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.)

A Paris-based couple started Léo et Violette to create handbags and leather goods with an innovative approach. The designs are handmade in small batches, using the finest full grain calf leather. However, they are able to offer remarkably fair prices, considering the luxurious materials and craftsmanship. That’s because Léo et Violette sells only through their site (there’s no middleman or traditional advertising costs). 

jawbreaker clothing moon dress 90s goth girl

It appears I’ve never left the 1990s… I styled my new backpack with this Tidal Moon Phases dress from Jawbreaker Clothing. It features an original moon print, pointed Peter Pan collar and chiffon overlay.

My red platform heels are from Lola Ramona, and my round sunglasses are Edwardson Eyewear. My hair is by Chad Evans at Kore Salon in Vancouver.

leo violette le petit backpack leather goods

Leo et Violette’s baby backpack comes in three colors, and is handcrafted in their Naples workshop. The body is a smooth Italian calfskin, while the top flap is a full-grain leather suede.

On their website, you can see that they sell a wide variety of sleek, timeless, minimalist leather goods for both men and women. In addition to backpacks, Leo et Violette offer bucket bags, messenger bags, crossbody pouches, and small leather goods like wallets, card holders, and laptop pouches.

Léo et Violette purses review, french sacs bags

These photos speak for themselves: you can see the fine hand-stitching and  depth of the full grain leather. Leo et Violette’s leather goods are made in small lots in Naples or Ubrique, Spain (where Hermes, Chanel and others base their productions, but with far higher price-tags).

leo et violette leather backpacks fashion blogger

As you know, I’m all about supporting independent designers with fair practices — so I’m thrilled with this mini backpack from Leo et Violette. You’ll be seeing many more photos soon, as it is my new go-to bag!

1990s gothic long maxi dress

Continuing with my 90s Goth outfit vibes… I think I’m channeling Winona Ryder as Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice.

edwardson eyewear round sunglasses, white half moon clutch

This summer, you won’t see me without this sunhat by Tenth Street Hats. The Scala New Port has a large brim and comes in many colors, but I chose black for a witchy “lewk.”

I’m holding a half moon bamboo bag from Lola Ramona. The vintage-inspired ark shaped purse is perfect for a beach day. My Ivy Sun glasses are from Edwardson Eyewear.

half moon ark bamboo bag, half circle purse

This Ethereal Nature Maxi Dress is by Jawbreaker Clothing. The intricate Gothic print stems from the third eye motif, and the collar has a marvelous choker style detail.

tenth street hats black sunhat scala new port

Living the vampire lifestyle in my Tenth Street Hat. The Newport is packable, and has a 5 inch brim and UPF 50 rating to protect me from the sun.

white cult gaia ark bag lola ramona

Adding a pop of color with my red sandals by Lola Ramona. Their ark / half-moon bag comes in several colors and materials, if you want to nab one like mine.

grotto spa tigh na mara vancouver island

Now, let’s unwind at Grotto Spa at Tigh-Na-Mara! The resort is easy to reach from Vancouver, making it an ideal weekend escape.

I recommend reserving the ferry in advance; the ride takes 1 hour 35 minutes, from Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) to Nanaimo (Departure Bay). Then, it’s an easy 35 minute drive to the hotel and spa.

Dress by Jawbreaker Clothing, star platform shoes Rocketdog Footwear, leggings Charli Cohen, Dolce sun hat Lack of Color 

tigh na mara seaside spa resort cabins

This is as close as I’ll get to camping… The suites have a log cabin feeling and are surrounded by nature. However, they’re equipped with 5-star amenities like a giant jet bathtub.

The name Tigh-Na-Mara is Gaelic for “House By The Sea.” Starting as a single tent in 1946, the property has evolved into a 22-acre destination resort, featuring luxury cabins under towering trees.

tighnamara hotel beach resort

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort includes three kilometres of Pacific Northwest beaches, which are brimming with sea life. Keep reading to see the creatures we encountered on the sand…

mineral pool waterfall grotto tigh-na-mara

But first, I’m ready for a soak in Grotto Spa‘s award winning mineral pool!

(Photos by Daniel K. Spinal skirt by Lip Service, red halter top by Charli Cohen,)

swimming mineral waters hot tub grotto spa

The indoor space is designed to emulate a natural stone grotto. The large pool is filled with warm water, which is rich with minerals.

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As you can see from this Insta video, it’s a joy to wade through the mineral pools. You can perch on the sides and enjoy the jets, or go under the two story waterfall.

charli cohen red sports bra top

Grotto Spa suggests that you take three 15-minute soaks in the mineral pools. In between, you can wake up your senses under the icy cold cascade, or heat up in the non-mineralized whirlpool.

vancouver island luxury wellness spa getaway

The staff asks guests to “unplug” during the visit, meaning that you can’t use cell phones or cameras inside. In this plugged-in age, it’s a relief to simply focus on the moment. (We had special permission to shoot images before the spa opened for the day, so that we could share the experience with you).

The Grotto Spa At Tigh-Na-Mara resort

Grotto Spa has a limited number of pool passes per time slot, which ensures that the waters are never crowded. From these images, you can see why this was named the top spa in Canada by Spas of America.

wellness spa treatments vancouver island bc

It’s fun to move around and float in this therapeutic pool. The minerals in the warm water help boost your circulation, reduce stress, and nourish the skin.

grotto spa parksville canadian spas

I took three soaks as they suggested, with hydration breaks in between. At the end, my muscles felt soothed, and my mind was calm.

spa vacations honeymoon getaway vancouver bc

Guests can also hang out in the Relaxation Lounge located on the 3rd floor. You can sit in front of one of the four fireplaces, and fuel up on unlimited fruit, specialty teas and coffee.

grotto spa wellness facials massages baths

While at the Grotto Spa, it’s worth splurging on a spa treatment or package. The menu includes facials, body wraps, massages, manicures and pedicures, with a focus on soothing West Coast ingredients.

spa menu grotto tigh na mara

You can take part in a couple’s massage, which begins with a private soak in the copper tub along with fruit and bubbly. Or try a massage with soothing stones, or something geared to your needs (such as expectant mothers).

I had an outstanding one-hour massage by a trained massage therapist: Shari knew exactly which buttons to press! I felt the difference in having her work on me, as she has a scientific understanding of the muscles and nerve points. My masseuse incorporated a stimulating eucalyptus mist throughout the session, and worked out kinks that I didn’t even know I had.

relaxing resorts hotels vancouver island

I ended the day with a warm cup of jasmine tea in the lounge. As the Grotto Spa puts it: “With 20,000 square feet of spa bliss, we give relaxation a whole new meaning!”

parksville beach low tide

Anyone who stays at Tigh-Na-Mara has access to an expansive, private beach. The water is relatively warm, and at low tide, the shallow sand expands by about 1 km! I’ve never seen a beach spread out as far to the ocean as this one.

black sand dollar shell

As you take the long walk to the water, you’ll encounter fascinating creatures in the shallow pools and wet sand. These black sand dollars have a rather Gothic look. The dark ones are still alive, while white ones are dead and bleached by the sun. (We put this guy back after the photo).

lack of color sun hat wide brim hats

Pacific Northwest beaches tend to have a feeling of drama. (My sun hat by Lack of Color had a long strap that I could tie around my chin, to prevent the wind from carrying it off. This Line Friends Brown bear jacket is from Hong Kong’s Chocoolate shop.)

vancouver island beach sea life shells

Look down, and be amazed by the diversity of critters. Tiny crabs scuttle between the shells and seaweed. You might even be surprised by a large red crab.

travel blogger yoga pose beach

Low tide creates shallow pools, which might soak your shoes as you walk through them. My Rocketdog disco platforms turned out to be appropriate footwear, as they kept me elevated above the water!

tigh na mara spa bungalow cabin

Time to relax inside my Spa Bungalow. Tigh-Na-Mara’s luxury log rooms are named after various BC Gulf Islands. The resort also has rustic cottages and oceanview suites, to suit all travel styles.

suite room bedroom tighnamara

The bungalow has a back-to-nature rustic charm, while being outfitted with modern amenities (two sinks, two TVs, a kitchenette, private patio). At night, we rented a DVD player from front desk and watched a sci-fi movie.

endless tapas menu food grotto spa

We dug into stone-fired pizzas from Cedars Restaurant and Lounge, which paired perfectly with a red Catalunya wine. The restaurant features a seasonal, local menu. You can customize the pizzas with goat cheese from nearby farms, and take them out to enjoy in your room.

cedars restaurant parksville tigh na mara

In the morning, we enjoyed a West Coast breakfast a-la-carte at Cedars restaurant. Eggs Benedict with avocado and wild smoked salmon, and waffles with Canadian maple syrup.

grotto spa dip dine packages prices

Such a pleasure to take a calming trip to Tighnamara and Grotto Spa. If you’re yearning for a relaxing vacation near Vancouver, then this Parksville spa & resort is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Rathtrevor Beach Park parksville beaches

My 70s shoes reminded me of James Brown: “Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would. Now I feel good, I knew that I would, now. So good!”

Have you ever done a spa getaway? What was your experience like?

PS: Thanks for your fab feedback on Google’s Touring Bird so far! I wrote 15 local tips about Vancouver for the site (along with articles for dozens of other cities). If you’re looking for alternative, local things to do in Vancouver BC, I hope you’ll find my TouringBird suggestions helpful.


Charli Cohen alternative activewear: Edgy fitness fashion! Musee du Bonbon & Smash Therapy Vancouver.

instagram museum candy ice cream vancouver canada

Sugar sugar… Have I stumbled into Candyland?

Presenting one last photoshoot before I fly to Paris, Cairo, and Beirut — featuring Charli Cohen’s progressive activewear for the modern super-heroine! 

charli cohen skirt, jacket model

As you can imagine, being a travel blogger means I’m always on the go. More than ever, I need a wardrobe that fits with both my lifestyle and alternative aesthetic.

These days, I’ve been turning to Charli Cohen for her edgy, technical “futurewear.” As you can see, this designer activewear can seamlessly go from day — running around, working out — to night. (Just add fishnets and heels!)

charli cohen sports bras fitness fashion

I shot images of her designs at the new Musee du Bonbon in Richmond, BC. This pop-up is designed for taking photos, and the first of its kind in Vancouver. The 3000 square foot space has over 20 creative displays, which are perfect for snapping and sharing on Instagram.

valfre jolie black white dress

This pink hallway let me channel Sheena Easton in her 1983 song: “Long long distance love affair (whoa-oh!). I can’t find you anywhere (whoa-oh!).  I call you on the telephone, but you’re never home…”

When it comes to building fantastical sets, Musee Du Bonbon doesn’t phone it home. Read on to see my playful photoshoot with the various set pieces, wearing several different outfits. (This Valfre Jolie dress is from Forest Ink.)

charli cohen technical apparel high end activewear

This diamond room was the perfect spot to showcase Charli Cohen. All her garments are beautifully tailored with high-end technical fabrics.

Charli’s designs brilliantly express her passion for futuristic technology, luxury couture, streetwear, and sportswear. I’m 100% behind her evolved approach to fashion, which insists on sustainable materials and production.

charli cohen technical apparel

I’m going to be wrapping myself up in her Trojan Bomber all spring. This burgundy cropped jacket is made with the softest technical silk, which is breathable and has Thinsulate climate-control insulation. How adorable is the cropped coat design, with a cinched elastic waist, and zip pockets?

alex streeter egyptian jewelry egypt earrings ring

I paired my look with Alex Streeter silver jewelry. The Marquise Scorpion ring and Sphinx earrings arrived in time for my trip to Egypt. (The scorpion was a powerful symbol of protection, hailed by the ancient Egyptians).

The Radiator Cuff is a space-inspired bracelet by the “New York Goth-father” silversmith.

chari cohen activewear fitness clothing

Details of my Charli Cohen Cipher skirt. Love the versatile style, with side slits to show a bit of leg, and pockets down the front. I’m excited to wear this piece on my travels, as it can be styled in a variety of ways and for different occasions. (I’ll take it from the temple of Luxor to the nightclubs of Beirut…)

I matched this outfit with strappy red-heeled shoes by Le Babe.

alex streeter scorpion ring sphinx silver earrings

Another close-up of my Alex Streeter jewelry. I’m wearing these Silver-Plate Sphinx Earrings, which are intricately acid-edged. My Alex Streeter ring features a black Marquise-cut stone, held by two mirrored scorpions.

Ancient Egypt is one of Alex’s influences, and I’m honored to wear his designs soon at the Great Pyramids of Giza!

charli cohen british designer designer fitness apparel

Charli Cohen’s red Athena multi crop lives up to its name: it can be worn as a sports bra, edgy top, swimwear, you name it. I’m all about the cut-out back and apocalyptic paneling. It’s easy to put on, with a clasp at the top of the neck.

As always, Charli uses sustainable materials that are excellent at wicking away sweat, and moving with the body. (The red fabric is a technical polyamide made with recycled econyl fibers.)

pile of hermes orange boxes musee du bonbon

I had fun posing with the various backdrops and props that Musee du Bonbon makes available for their guests. It’s remarkable how the “empty” sets pop once you see them in photos.

charli cohen couture sportswear trackpants

You can tell I’m a fan of Charli’s zip trackpant. The wide leg and elastic waist are made for dancing, and the vertical white striping makes it stand out. She adds two handy front pockets to the pants, which are made with technical scuba.

I’m blown away by Charli Cohen’s luxury fitnesswear. Her alternative designs are unlike anything you’ll find in stores, and they function at the highest performance level.

You can find out more on her website and @charlicohen Instagram (she makes clothing for both men and women, and ships worldwide).  I hope I’ll soon get a chance to see one of her London Fashion Week shows. Until then, I’ll be “kicking it” in her apparel on my upcoming travels!

instagrammable photo studio vancouver bc

The Musee du Bonbon had a highly Instagrammable rainbow room, featuring a confetti paper pool and large neon arc-en-ciel light.

The colorful scene called for a monochrome look, so I wore my Cryptic Apparel Secret Society sweatshirt with a hood.

egypt nails, egyptian symbols nail art hieroglyphs

In anticipation of my Egypt journey… Glam Nail Studio dolled up my nails in glittering gold and blue – the colors of King Tut! This Japanese nail salon is based in Richmond (Vancouver-area), British Columbia, and they deservedly win top awards for their nail art prowess.

My nail artist drew these designs by freehand, using a tiny brush… look at the lines on Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus! We based the artwork on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Can you spot Horus, Osiris, Bastet, a scarab, and an ankh?

richmond musee bonbon photo sets studio instagrammers

Hanging out in a neon-lit rainbow swimming pool… just a typical day.

I’m wearing Jungle petrol patent boots by Underground Shoes, a subculture and music inspired footwear brand from the UK. Shop their footwear below:

miffy nail art, 3d nails acrylic cute rabbit

Here’s another example of the jaw-dropping nail art you can get at Glam Nail Studio. (These aren’t my hands, but as a Miffy fanatic, I wish they were!) Check out more Japanese kawaii nail art inspiration on @GlamNailStudio Instagram. 

neon rainbow lights, cryptic apparel sweatshirt

Ready to meet the Sphinx, in my Cryptic Apparel hoodie featuring a pyramid and Egyptian symbols. Love how their designs blend Gothic, street, urban, and ancient history.

sabrina spellman cosplay costume chilling adventures

Now, for an even darker look…

Have you heard of “rage rooms” or “anger rooms”? The concept began in Japan: people pay to release their stress by destroying objects in a safe environment!

Smash Therapy (situated right next to Musee du Bonbon) is Vancouver’s first anger room. You gear up in protective clothing that makes you look like a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Then, you pick up a baseball bat or other weapon, and smash objects in the room to your heart’s delight!

smash therapy rage room richmond vancouver bc

I’m not actually smashing anything here — just posing with a heavy metal hook, which can really do damage to someone!

Fittingly, I’m wearing a witchy Goth dress from Forest Ink (it’s by French label Valfre). Forest Ink is an online shop “created for peculiar girls who don’t mind standing out.” (Sounds like anyone you know?) They have the most delectable range of Gothic / cute / grunge clothing, pins, and patches — sourced from indie brands and artists worldwide.

alex streeter devil pentagram bag

Love how the Smash Therapy room has a pentacle on the wall, drawn in what appears to be blood. It matches nicely with my devilish Alex Streeter “Gothfather” bag. (Hail!)

forest ink goth fashion, valfre jolie dress

I paired the dress with Charli Cohen’s Helix leggings, which have a sleek fit and laser cut detailing down the sides. (I’ll show you more details soon.)

My Valfre Jolie black and white dress from Forest Ink reminds me of the Weird Sisters in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. This elegant, high-collared dress comes with a black ribbon that can be tied in a variety of ways around the neck.

bloody red pentagram on wall

I added a hair ribbon to channel Sabrina Spellman’s headband. (Anyone else into the show about the teenage witch? You may recall I went to Spellman House, an event celebrating the Netflix release, around Halloween.)

rage rooms, smash rooms vancouver

Next time I need to let off some steam, I’ll be heading back to Smash Therapy to destroy everything in sight! (Visitors can bring their own items to bash, or purchase packages of items like old computers and vases.)

forest ink blue corduroy skirt

It’s fun how I can play up different sides of myself, in Musee du Bonbon’s various photo rooms.

This “Parisian cafe” staged set is getting me in the mood for France. I’m wearing a versatile light blue corduroy skirt, also by Forest Ink.

valfre not yours ballerina wrap top

Forest Ink also sent me this delicious Valfre ballerina wrap top, which has ribbon ties that you can loop around your waist. Note the white swan logo on it, and the cheeky words “Not Yours”!

My gold minimalist barrette is by Sylvain Le Hen.

valfre shirt, forest ink gothic grunge clothing

Here’s the look from head to toe. My light-up backpack is by Cyberdog: the flashing colors mimic the backdrop.

instagram selfie museums vancouver canada

Vaporwave aesthetic, anyone? Lounging with hot pink palm leaves and a chessboard floor. (My boots are by Underground Shoes, see more below.)

musee du bonbon, instagram backdrops walls

It was a joy to get creative and play with photography at Musee du Bonbon. The special photo/art exhibit is open in Vancouver only until March 31, so get a ticket and take pictures before it’s gone.

ancient egyptian nail art, gold blue egyptian ankh gel nails

A last look at my scintillating Egyptian nail art bestowed by Glam Nails.

Head’s up — it’s going to be quiet on the blog for the next while, as I’ll be off on adventures in Egypt, Beirut, and Paris!  However, I’ll be updating daily on Instagram: add me @lacarmina.

girl large rainbow neon wall light

See you over the rainbow… in the land of the Nefertiti, Osiris and the Sphinx!