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Tigh-Na-Mara: House by the sea 

Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort & Conference Centre is a sprawling 22-acre property that began its journey as a simple, single tent. That tent exploded outwards; this journey began in 1946, and what has developed from it is one of Vancouver Island’s premier all-season destinations.


Tucked away within a fir forest and overlooking the ocean, Tigh-Na-Mara aptly gets its name from the Gaelic for “house by the sea”. The entire experience of the resort is built around an integration with nature, showing off the beauty of British Columbia to its guests. Its 192 handcrafted log guest rooms and rustic cottages are scattered throughout the trees, encouraging guests to stroll through the trees; stroll far enough, and in just a few minutes, you can follow the woods all the way to the ocean to the east, or to the resort’s acclaimed Grotto Spa to the west.  

The resort is available for family holidays, weddings, romantic getaways – anything that takes its guests fancy. In the words of Paul Drummond, TighNa-Mara’s General Manager: “Our tranquil forest and oceanfront destination resort and spa offers our guests a variety of opportunities to relax and reconnect with nature and themselves.” One of the main functions it was created for was to host business events. The amount of accommodation and the private, peaceful yet activity-filled location makes it ideal for booking up for a work retreat, and in order to support that, the resort has a series of conference rooms. 12 different meeting rooms offer 10,000 square feet of conference space, including both indoor and outdoor spaces, and make the most of natural light in both to keep meetings feeling airy and engaging. 

As for the rest of the property, Tigh-Na-Mara has two restaurants: Treetop Tapas & Grill (connected to the Grotto Spa) and Cedars Restaurant & Lounge (connected to the main resort building). These restaurants are seasonally supplied by locally grown crops, locally gathered fish and locally created cheeses, all in an effort to both operate in a greener manner and to bring the menu alive with fresh British Columbian flavours.  

The resort also boasts many facilities to keep guests busy and entertained, including an indoor pool, fitness facilities and sports courts. If all of that isn’t enough, then there’s the naturally provided activities of exploring the surrounding woods and seaside. Located in Parksville, arguably one of the most attractive areas on Vancouver Island, the resort enjoys over 20 km of crisp, pale sandy beaches with clean, vivid blue waters and luscious Douglas fir, cedar and arbutus trees all around. Not only is the immediate area beautiful, but it is a stone’s throw from a huge variety of ways to pass the time. For example, thanks to the mild climate, the numerous golf courses in the area are open nearly every day of the year. For lovers of the great outdoors, one can explore areas such as Cathedral Grove, Little Qualicum Falls and many other areas of natural beauty on land, or they can paddle past the stunning mountain views across the Strait of Georgia when they try their hand at sea kayaking. If that’s a little too athletic, there are also many boats ready to take visitors out fishing, whale-spotting or looking for the area’s harbour seals and sea lions.

For skiers and snow lovers, Mount Washington is only an hour’s drive from the resort, or if you’d rather explore down than up, Horne Lake Caves are only 45 minutes away. There are even many areas of interest for the academically minded, from the Deep Bay Marine Field Station to museums such as the Parksville Museum (the history of early settlers) and Qualicum Beach Museum (a highly regarded palaeontology collection). The list goes on, including wildlife recovery centres, craft farms, and even a decorative garden – Milner Gardens & Woodland – established by British aristocrat Veronica Milner, who was related to both Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales. The point is, there’s plenty to discover, and all at an easy distance from Tigh-Na-Mara. 

The resort has received a number of awards throughout the years. Most recently, its famous Grotto Spa was voted the #1 Spa in Canada by Spas of America for the second year in a row. Offering 10,000 square feet of spa bliss plus a 2500 square foot mineral pool to dip in, fireside refreshments, speciality teas and range of spa treatments, the Grotto is relaxing to even think about. It features 21 treatment rooms and a private group lounge, which enable the Grotto Spa to offer treatments to individuals, pairs or groups. The use of the Spa is, amazingly, and it is recommended to book treatments in advance to enhance your experience and stay. “I’m very proud of our team at the Grotto Spa for their dedication, pride and commitment to our guests,” said Paul Drummond, in response to the Grotto’s recognition for the second year in a row. “We sincerely appreciate our long-standing partnership with Spas of America and this esteemed recognition from their viewers.” 

After using the spa, you can even enjoy 16 courses of Endless Tapas in the aforementioned attached restaurant, access to which is reserved purely for robed guests, leaving you full and sated as well as calm and pampered. The restaurant overlooks the surrounding woodland, providing incredible views that leave you feeling above your troubles and on top of the world. 

Many of the Grotto Spa’s treatments use products from the Hungarian company Eminence Organic Skin Care – the spa’s exclusive skincare line since 2006. Founded in 1958, the company has always prided itself in its use of sustainable farming and green practices to create natural, organic products, including its new line of Mangosteen products that the Grotto will introduce to its guests this spring. 

Tigh-Na-Mara currently employs around 300 members of staff, making it the largest hospitality employer in the region. Hiring and retaining a team of these numbers has been challenging at times, due to the fact that the area itself is largely a retirement community, with only 1/3 of its population of 26,000 still in employment. This small pool means there is competition between Tigh-Na-Mara and other companies seeking the right staff, but the resort has found success through quality training and treatment. Through the right training, it can bring the very best out of its staff and create the team it needs out of the employees it has, and through the correct treatment of this team, it has achieved strong retainment rates.

As well as being conscious of how it takes care of its staff, as the steward of 22 acres of stunning woodland and coastland, Tigh-Na-Mara is aware of its responsibility to conduct its business in a green and sustainable manner. Tigh-Na-Mara understands the importance of their footprint and is striving to coexist with its environment as much as it invites its guests to integrate with it. When it comes to its buildings, it aims to achieve both goals at once by creating accommodation that are as green as they are rustic: the guestroom ’ decks are made from an eco-friendly composite of recycled wood and plastic; metal roofs allow water to run off clean, preventing anything harmful entering the ocean; for insulation, the resort has used soy-based spray foam; for interiors, recycled logs. Keycard-activated LED lighting, water-based paints, low-flow plumbing – the attention to detail is everywhere. The resort has even invested in electric car charge stations to encourage and support cleaner driving. 

Always striving to offer guests the very best experience it can, the resort made these green changes as part of a multi-million-dollar renovation that it has been carrying out for the past few years. The Ballenas Oceanview building was completely redone in 2016, the Gabriola Oceanview building in 2017, and the Cedars Restaurant kitchen underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 2018. Now, in 2020, work is beginning on the Texada oceanfront 53-unit building, and BBQ stations are also being added throughout the resort to add another social outdoor element to people’s stay. Improvement isn’t just happening through building work, however: for example, the resort has devised many green initiatives that impact the way both its staff and guests makes choices. There are a series of ‘green incentives’ that guests can opt for, such as declining the day’s housekeeping service. The incentive to pick this green choice is $10 of resort credit per day that it’s selected.

These sorts of incentives are fantastic for the planet, and they’re also just good business: after all, without the local area being protected, Tigh-Na-Mara loses its fantastic location and a key draw to the relaxing hideaway. Additionally, in order to truly enjoy the views around them, guests will be far happier and more at ease knowing that they are making minimum impact on their surroundings, and instead contributing to a resort that is conscientious about safeguarding the land around them. All in all, the resort’s conduct is as appealing as the location itself; if you ever find yourself heading to Vancouver Island, be sure to check out this woodland escape. We know we will.