Extreme and spa. Two words that do not belong in the same sentence – ever. After a trip exploring Nordic spas in Quebec, Canada there’s no other way to describe it but an extreme spa adventure. Four days = six spas, five spa treatments. But we’re not complaining. There are worse things to OD on.
A nordic spa experience consists of three steps:
1. A thermal bath, steam room or sauna for 10-minute intervals.
2. A thrilling (or terrifying, depending on who you are) plunge in an ice cold plunge pool, spring, or waterfall for 10-seconds.
3. A period of relaxation, usually lounging by a fire outdoors on a recliner or hammock, for at least 10 minutes.
According to Nordic spa theory, this process should be repeated three times to receive maximum health benefits (stress management, improved circulation, sore muscle/joint pain relief).
If there’s anywhere on the planet to try out an extreme spa vacation, it’s Quebec. There are more than 50 nordic spas in Quebec, servicing a province of eight million people.
But, WHY are there so many Nordic spas in Quebec?
No one was really able to give us a definitive answer. Theories ranged from the cold winters, similar to that of Finland where this type of spa treatment was invented, to the European influence that dominants eastern Canada. Or perhaps it’s the wellness culture and need to rejuvenate the body and increase circulation during the long, colder winter months.
Here’s a rundown of our ‘hurry up and relax already‘ spa-licious extravaganza in Quebec’s Mauricie and Lanaudiére regions:
Day 1 –
KiNipi Spa, Trois-Rivières, Mauricie – Less than a year old, the facilities are impeccable with immense outdoor soaking pools, two Finnish saunas, a hammam, cedar wood burning fireplaces and six relaxation rooms. We both had Swedish massages. KiNipi’s remarkable feature, beyond the statue of a couple in the act of lovemaking created by a local artist near the outdoor pools (see photo in gallery below), is the food. With Chef Jonathan Tellier at the helm, the menu offers delicious gourmet options like the shrimp and artichoke salad, a fresh baguette topped with smoked trout and the carbonara gnocchi. Open to non-spa guests, it’s a favorite upscale dining spot for locals.
Auberge Le Baluchon, Saint-Paulin, Mauricie – Like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the rustic resort, framed with the soaring trees and open fields, is a destination property unto itself. With cafe/coffee shop, fine dining restaurant, gift shop, Nordic spa, hiking trails and horse-drawn carriage rides, it’s ideal for a tranquil weekend in the country. Lanee had an 45 minute hour/neck head massage. It’s a combination of acupressure and massage, designed, according to the description on the brochure, for ‘those who have difficulty letting go’. Being on the computer all the time and a bit of a control freak, it was just what she needed. Lindsay had a bamboo massage that used bamboo cylinders to roll out the muscles, literally, as if the body was the dough and the bamboo was the rolling pin. By the end, perfectly kneaded muscles.
Although La Baluchon’s fine dining menu is only in French (most servers do speak English to help with translation), point to anything and you can’t go wrong. Many of the dishes feature local, Quebecois meats, seafood and produce. Make sure to end with the crepes suzette – a spectacular fiery show + dessert.
The rooms are modest with comfortable beds and fancy spa shower heads.
Day 2 –
Spa Natur’Eau, Mandeville – Thinking we were way out in the country at La Baluchon, the trek to Spa Natur’Eau took us ever deeper into Lanaudiére’s (the region east of Mauricie) backcountry. It is hard to find, but the tradeoff is pure silence – nothing but the winding rustling through the trees, the crackle of the outdoor fireplace and the soothing splish-splash of the waterfall to be heard. Like KiNipi, this is also one of the newer nordic spas in Quebec, offering three outside hot tubs, one Nordic bath with a waterfall, a Finnish sauna, a hammam, and an aromatherapy room overlooking a stunning natural forested landscape. A rub down with hot candle wax sent Lanee to la-la-land while Lindsay had her debut reflexology treatment with an intuitive ‘foot’ reader therapist in a yurt. A hotel is in the works, but there is a cozy cabin onsite to rent (sleeps up to 6).
Auberge du Lac Taureau, Saint-Michel Des Saints – Located on the Saint-Michel Des Saints Lake, the lodge, that feels like a elevated summer camp, is an outdoor lover’s playground. From dog-sledding and ice fishing in the winter to archery and canoeing in the summer, there is much to do. Although the spa facilities are small, the treatment menu offers some exotic options like a lakeside massage in a teepee and a chocolate maple body wrap. With the hearty feast at the hotel’s restaurant, La Grand Pic, the night before. Both Lanee and Lindsay opted for facials. If modern rather than rustic is more your style, request the newly remodeled rooms rather than the condos.
La Source Bains Nordiques, Rawdon – Climbing what felt like a thousand stairs to reach La Source, we definitely earned our delightful lunch of smoked salmon paired with a glass of crisp Ontario white wine. The stairs were not intended for a pre-spa workout as we originally thought, but rather to “lift guests out of their everyday lives, above the problems and stress,” says owner Patrice Lalancette. Although we didn’t have treatments here, based on its trendy, eco-conscious design which melds itself into the mountainside and the ‘darkroom’, it was both of our favorite Nordic spas in the area. The darkroom is a trip – literally and figuratively. It’s a pitch black room, so when you first enter, eyesight is nil. Taken by this surprise of being absolutely blind in a room we’d never been in, we giggled a lot even though silence is strictly enforced. Stumbling around sans vision, trying to find a lounge chair without sitting on someone is comedy of errors, no doubt. Be sure to take a plunge in the natural spring too.
Auberge de la Montagne Coupée, Saint Jean de Martha – Only an hour away from Montreal, this homey country manor caters to the retiree crowd. It does offer a nordic spa experience, and Lanee enjoyed a scrumptious smelling vanilla scrub, but we wouldn’t consider it a spa destination spot. In order for us to return, it needs a bit of a decor makeover in both the public spaces and rooms. However, the reason to visit when in this region is simply the superb dining with excellent service and the panoramic views of the valley (see photo above). And nearby, don’t miss a visit to Abbaye Val Notre-Dame, the local monastery’s gift store, that offers excellent souvenirs like monk-made chocolate, cakes and sauces.
Hot Tips for a Nordic Spa Vacation in Quebec
- Brush up on your French or just imagine you’re in France (it’s easier to wrap your head around the concept of a total French-speaking Canada). Many of the hotels/restaurants/spas we visited had no menus/info/signage in English. The farther you are from Montreal or Quebec City, the less likely to find many (or any) English speakers. Just see it as part of the adventure.
- Bring flip-flops. Most Nordic spas in Quebec do not provide sandals.
- Pack your favorite essential oil for a little aromatherapy treatment during the steams and saunas.
- Schedule at least 3-4 hours per spa visit, if not more, especially if you plan to have lunch at the spa.
- Print out directions before going if you’re headed to remote regions. Sometimes the GPS did not know the way.
- Looking for a hotel? If you see the word ‘Auberge’, you’re headed in the right direction. It’s the French word for inn.
- If someone asks you if you care for a “care,” say YES! Care is the term used in Canada for beauty treatments like facials or body scrubs.
Good Reads on Nordic Spas in Quebec
Fall Colors in Quebec by Julia Pelish, Vacay.ca
It’s Back to Nature at Rustic Spas in Quebec, New York Times