This review of Circle Wellness in Vancouver is part of the series 100 Baths, my search for the world’s best spas and public bathing rituals. Read more and see the list here!
I almost don’t want to tell you too much about Circle Wellness, the semi-secret private water circuit spa in Vancouver, BC.
Oh, I want you to go there. But part of the thrill of my visit was not knowing exactly what I was getting into. My in-the-know friend had secured us a Circle Wellness booking during my visit out west. “You’ll love it,” was basically all she said.
Pulling up in a taxi outside the place, I got flashbacks to frequenting underground nightclubs in New York’s Meatpacking District back in the ‘90s. This is not to suggest a shady or unsafe neighbourhood – more like an air of mystery around an exclusive wellness experience with no signage, surrounded by autobody shops.
We pass through the dark metal door into an empty courtyard of what looks like an artist’s studio. A smiling host welcomes us, offers us slippers if needed, then directs us to a large metal shipping container and proceeds to unlock the door to our private oasis for the next two hours.
I’ve never seen a spa like this, a private oasis in the heart of a city.
Circle Wellness is my dream backyard. The enclosure is small, and covered in plants. High-quality speakers pump out ambient music, a murmur under the sound of water filling a giant cedar soaking tub. Warmed stones underfoot. Dry ice for extra Goth points. There’s no ceiling to this place, just an open sky.
“Nobody can see you inside here,” explains the host. Ah, an excellent reason to locate in an industrial area without high-rise spies. I knew the spa was clothing optional. Although we both brought suits, the idea of a completely private space made us feel so relaxed before we even got undressed.
Like most hydrotherapy spas, Circle Wellness has a circuit. A cleansing shower. Hot soak in the cedar tub. Their version of a sauna, called the WelPod (more in a minute). Cold plunge into a clawfoot tub. And rest on the heated stone floor. Exhale.
They had me at the cedar tub. It’s beautiful – a simple rectangle design inspired by Japanese ofuro baths. And deep. Large enough for two ample bodies to rest in. Because each visit is a block of time, but nobody wants to keep looking at their phone, there’s an old-fashioned sand hourglass to keep track of how long you are soaking. I could have stayed in here forever, watching birds fly overhead, the grey Vancouver sky … but the “pod” was calling.
Circle Wellness in Vancouver has no sauna. It has a Welpod.
Instead of a typical sauna, they have crafted their own hot room, with a unique design combining traditional practises and modern tech. The 10×10 foot infrared “WelPod” is an empty space covered floor to ceiling in beautiful, glowing Himalayan salt brick walls. The climate is kept at 50 degrees (versus a usual 90 degree sauna) so that you can spend much more time inside. Before entering, you can press a button which starts a 45-minute programme of gentle sound and light. I can imagine some folks do hot yoga in here. We simply laid down to rest.
At one point, the lights shut off completely. I admit this freaked me out, to open my eyes to complete darkness in an enclosed space. But I resisted the urge to flee, ultimately letting myself just be until the lights came on again, which signals the end to the circuit.
It’s a good thing the Circle Wellness experience is completely private and self-guided. Which means no staff had to see my ungraceful entry into the cold plunge pool. (I may have yelped.) The next step is officially a rest on their heated stone walkway. (Like a hot stone massage in reverse.) I went back to my beloved cedar tub, until a soft gong sound indicated our time was almost up. We used their spa products to freshen up and floated back out into the city.
Circle Wellness was the ultimate spa experience to visit during Covid times.
No need to distance from anyone – there’s nobody else there! All tubs are emptied and cleaned between each private session – so no need for chlorine or other chemicals in the water. But it would also be a treasure at any time, for those of us who don’t have backyards to turn into such sanctuaries.
So what’s the catch? There is only one location. With a handful of private slots per day. And it’s popular. Which means getting a booking is a bit like scoring tickets to a hot concert. Check here for more details on their wait list. Our host explained they are hoping to open a second location in Vancouver in 2022. Until then you’ll need to be lucky. So Good luck!
What did I learn at my first visit to Circle Wellness spas in Vancouver? That no matter how blissful a public bath or spa might be, it can’t compare to having your own private space. I’ve been very relaxed in other environments, but the presence of even the quietest of other patrons and staff are distracting. Here, it’s just you (or you and your partner – it’s perfect for an intimate couples experience), the sound of the elements and your own breath and heartbeat. I also realized that I want my own ofuko soaking tub, a place to relax that is separate from washing – at least to visit Japan where I can explore more of this.
If you really want to unplug from the daily grind and be alone with your own thoughts as you benefit from hydrotherapy and heat, this is the place!
Know Before You Go
My last visit was November, 2021. Please check for the latest information on their website, circlewellnessspas.com
Where: 390 Industrial Avenue, Vancouver, BC V6A2P3.
When: Tuesday to Sunday. There are five 2-hours sessions per day, starting at 8:30am and into the evening at 9:30pm. We went during the day and it was very peaceful, but I’d love to go back at night. Important note! Booking opens on the 1st of each month and slots are filled almost immediately, so set a reminder!
What To Bring: All the essentials are provided for you – robes, towels, slippers, a locker to hang your things. They have showering gels and other beauty products and ask that you do not bring your own, as to not introduce unknown chemicals into the wooden tubs. A pot of herbal tea is brewed and waiting for you, but you’re welcome to bring your own drinks. And your swimsuit – if you are not going nude. I don’t usually recommend a camera at spas, but since this is your own private space if you want pictures you can! There are no electrical outlets or washrooms within the circuit itself but you can use those inside the studio.
How Much: Weekday: $199 + GST ($208.95) or Evening / Weekend: $229 + GST ($240.45). The price is for use of the space and is the same whether you book for 1 or 2 people. (Max two people per booking.)
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