The Nordic Way: A Spa Weekend in Quebec City
Hotel SpasI stayed in the lovely old Hotel Manoir Victoria, in the heart of Quebec's old walled city. Its deluxe 10 year-old Boutique & Spa Pevonia is owned and managed by the chic Nathalie Longpre. She also owns the spa at the famous hotel Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City's most photographed landmark.
The spa offers massage, body care, facials, manicure, and pedicure in eight treatment rooms, serving about 15,000 people a year. While 80 percent of the spa's customers are women, some men also venture in. "They think, it's not all pink so I can go," Longpre said. The spa features Pevonia products, a natural line that eschews perfume, alcohol and parabens, making it safe for people with sensitive skin and for chemotherapy patients.
A large orange calla lily adorned each treatment bed, a very pretty touch. I partook of the spa's most popular service, the Lumafirm Lift & Glow facial. Sophie, my esthetician, was from a small French-speaking town and had strived to learn better English once she came to the big city. Being a naturally inquisitive person, for the first few minutes I asked her questions in English about her life and transition to Quebec City. I think she was relieved when I relaxed into the pleasant smells of the products and her gentle touch, and ceased my incessant English. She's also a massage therapist, and gave me a wonderful hand massage as the facial seeped into my pores.
Guests can opt in or out of listening to recorded music. I opted in, with trepidation, fearing annoying New Agey music. To my relief, the music was pretty and simple, featuring classical instruments like piano and woodwinds. Perfect for relaxing. My skin did feel a little firmer and clearer after my facelift. For scientific purposes, I took before and after pictures. But they came out so blurry in the low spa lighting that later I couldn't tell which was which.
Also within the walled city, Auberge Saint-Antoine has a much smaller spa area, but offers massage, facials, manicures and pedicures. This hotel is a good choice for fitness buffs, as it has a beautiful gym, a dedicated yoga room and a Finnish sauna.
Nordic SpasI was a little leery of visiting one of the area's seven Nordic spas. They use hydrotherapy, which means alternating between heat and cold water. The countryside on our visit Station Blu, was snow coated, adding to my skepticism about the cold plunge.
The drive to Station Blu follows the Saint Lawrence River, which was whitely dotted with migrating snow geese. We passed the powerful Montmorency Falls and the Saint Anne de Beaupre Catholic shrine, which receives a million visitors annually. Above us loomed the Laurentian Mountains, popular with skiers and home to an ice climbing school. This long stretch of riverbank is called the Beaupre Coast.
Station BluAbout 45 minutes outside Quebec City, we arrived at Station Blu. The spa's simple lines and natural setting are visually striking. Set in the elbow of the Lombrette River, the spa occupies an isolated 30 acres. Three large, charcoal-colored wooden buildings surround the black whirlpool and two plunge pools. Most of the color comes from the blue sky and green trees, and just a few bright red chairs on a balcony. "My goal was to give nature maximum place," owner Martin Gladu explained. A smoky smell permeates the spa, courtesy of the logs that heat the dry sauna. Ambient music pours evenly from many small speakers which line the heated stone walkways.
Gladu described the optimal way to use a Nordic spa. First you go in the sauna -- the dry one with wood benches, or the steam sauna, tiled in bright orange and so steamy you can barely find your way in -- then you cold plunge. "You must go all the way under," Gladu said sternly when one spa-goer complained about getting her hair wet. After the cold plunge, which Gladu said would seal our pores, you relax. Ideally you complete four to six cycles of sauna/cold plunge/relaxation.
Armed with this information, I geared up mentally for my first cycle. After a few minutes in the sauna, I made my way to the cold pool. But Gladu barred my way.
"Not until your legs are sweaty should you plunge," he told me. I was sent back and checked for sufficient sweat before I finally made it into the cold pool. I can attest that 44 degree water feels very cold.
On the way back to Quebec City, our group had a surprising number of hydrotherapy converts, despite our initial reluctance. I wouldn't have minded another couple of cycles of hot/cold/relaxation myself.
Spa des NeigesWe stopped at Spa des Neiges for a tour on our way back to town. This spa has a log cabin theme and is right on main drag. It felt a bit cramped after the larger spread at Station Blu, but had some nice features, number one being its location on the Saint Lawrence River. "There's four seasons in Quebec and four seasons in the spa," said co-owner Christian Rouleau. Snow geese sprinkle the shoreline in spring. For summer, festive umbrellas come out. The trees change color for fall and small icebergs float down the river in winter. Visitors can watch it all from the whirlpool, or retreat into one of the relaxation teepees.
Reserve ahead for massages and other treatments at all spas. A day-pass is availalbe to Station Blu and Spa des Neiges with different prices on weekdays and weekends. You'll need a car to reach these Nordic spas, as they're more than half an hour from Quebec City.
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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author