Dr. No would be so jealous. Stealthily climbing up the secluded spiraling road by car, (helicopter optional – really!), one is suddenly confronted with an architectural marvel blasted into a mountain. A faceted ‘crystal’ of epic proportions embedded into Vernon’s Mount Royce sparkles provocatively over Lake Okanagan in British Columbia, Canada. The entrance to the $122-million Resort invested by Gernot Langes – Swarovski, patriarch of the Austrian crystal dynasty in partnership with Hans-Peter Mayr, Chief Executive Officer of Sparkling Hill, could be a set for a new James Bond film. Instead, it’s a premier European-inspired wellness and holistic destination and the only one of its kind in North America.
“This was a very difficult architectural challenge,” admits architect, Jorge Remolina, Project Leader at Cannon Design, Vancouver who worked with a team of eight for two of a four-year stop and start project to complete the design for the 2010 opening.
“We wanted the entrance feature to look like a gigantic crystal had been dropped from the sky, splitting the mountain in two. However, the owners as well as us had a mandate to keep as much of the rock and surrounding topography not only intact for the exterior but bring nature inside for a lot of the design. The geometry and logistics were incredible,” he admits.
Walking into the cavernous atrium, the eye is immediately enticed upwards by voluminous tiered waterfalls of shimmering Swarovski crystal chandeliers that resemble rolling fog over the Okanagan’s Monashee Mountains.
“I was like a kid in a candy store,” laughs corporate designer, Gerry Shinkewski, Principal, SSDG Interiors Inc., Vancouver when he flew to the “Swarovski mothership” to confer with the Circle of Innovation Team in Innsbruck to choose lighting and get inspired to design the interiors. “I was so relieved that we could be subtle and use a neutral colour palette throughout the Resort, taking our cues from nature otherwise the Swarovski chandeliers would have looked way over the top and gaudy. We actually gathered wood, stone and even moss from around the site as a reference to reproduce the textured stone walls of the lobby and stylized log walkways to suites over which the elegant chandeliers are suspended in metal frames,” explains Shinkewski. In the PeakFine Dining Room, a Swarovski crystal chandelier billows like the clouds over Lake Okanagan, reflecting the real thing through the floor to ceiling windows. Backs of chairs are subtly inlaid with crystals that catch the light from the immense rock and crystal gas fireplace.
With over 3.5 million crystals incorporated into the Resort’s décor, every room is literally a gem in Sparkling Hill’s architectural crown. A floor to ceiling sliding glass wall provides a breathtaking panorama of mountains and lake, creating an indoor oasis for each of the 152 rooms and three penthouse suites. There is a custom designed Kohler soaker tub placed strategically at the window in each room, (a roll-down scrim offers privacy from soaring eagles or other wildlife in the outdoor pool below,) and the oversize shower à deux, also with spectacular views, is convenient for wheelchair entry.
Now this is outdoor camping I could get used to!
“We wanted a simple ash partition to separate the bed area from the bathroom where double sinks are embedded into countertops carved from solid dappled stone weighing 600 lbs each and imported from Europe,” says Remolina. Crystals are delicately cut into mirrors and bedside tables. At night the room is transformed into a delightful Swarovski galaxy as the partition contains a small fireplace of LED-lit crystal stalagmites flickering red and purple. A projection of a magnified crystal facet twirls on the ceiling and recessed twinkling crystal stars on a light-emitting diode above the glass wall are all a tribute to Shinkewski’s playful imagination.
The 40,000 sq.ft. wellness KurSpa offering over 100 treatments, was specifically designed to tantalize all the senses. A cross between the classical Roman and Turkish baths with a futuristic Star Trek vibe, a series of seven therapeutic steam, sauna and aromatherapy rooms designed in London, England and assembled on site, boast sculptural Swarovski crystal art. The Rose Steam Room imbues the subtle scent of roses also reflected in the heated wall tiles embedded with rose petals. (At 38 degrees Celsius, I realized I had stayed inside too long when I noticed the ink in my notebook starting to run!) Crystal Steam, (42 degrees Celsius) is a mystical experience using eucalyptus aromatics, with tiered seating surrounding a hypnotic LED-lit crystal sculpture. The Finnish Classic Sauna (90 degrees Celsius) is designed with tiered cedar seating and a rendition of Michelangelo’s famous Creation of Adam (no wonder he’s disrobed in that heat!) on the ceiling. The Igloo, (10 degrees Celsius) offers a welcome cool-down with ice- tiled walls and a large crystal- embedded font spewing crushed ice that feels invigorating rubbed on the skin.
Floating dreamily to the underwater music in the indoor saltwater pool, I’m mesmerized by a stunning crystal constellation on the ceiling designed by Shinkewski that is especially dramatic during a nighttime plunge. A ‘secret’ swim-through tunnel leads to an expansive infinity pool outside where nature’s own design of lake and mountains is perfection.
If You Go:
There are direct flights from Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto as well as several U.S. cities into the Okanagan’s Kelowna International Airport. It is a 30-minute drive to Vernon. Sparkling Hill Resort also offers two helipads for private helicopters and nearby Shell Aerocentre for private jets. The Resort’s expert staff were trained in the art of Austrian service and hospitality. Front Desk Manager, Elaina Stepanchuk and KurSpa Manager, Andrea Fisher go out of their way to make sure your stay is a memorable one.
Top Photo: Sparkling Hill Resort is located in Vernon, British Columbia, Canada overlooking the spectacular Okanagan Lake. Photo: Ema Peter Photography