From Gatineau to Tremblant, Quebec’s outdoor spas offer a variety of wet experiences – even in winter.
By Anne Dimon
It’s Friday noon at Le Nordik Nature Spa and people are already lined-up to enjoy a day of social bathing – Nordic style.
This outdoor spa, where the waters run hot, cold and tepid, is a hot spot for the people of Parliament Hill, Ottawa who, we’re told, make the 12-minute drive to take-the-waters on a fairly regular basis.
Sitting pretty on a rocky piece of property at the front door of Gatineau Park, Le Nordik is one of several ‘nature spas’ I discovered on the route between Gatineau and Tremblant. The taking-of-the waters for health and wellbeing is a European practice dating, at least, as far back as Romans times and it tends to be more of a health and wellness activity than a ‘spa experience.’
In Canada, Quebec offers the largest collection of “Nordik spas” where the focus is on taking-the-waters.
But unlike Europe, where seeing guests walking from sauna, to steam room, to shower in birthday suits is quite common – there will be no flashing of bare bottoms at these spas. There are separate change rooms for men and women, and robes (some spas ask that you bring your own), towels or bathing suits are a must.
Along with four outdoor pools, plus hot tubs, Finnish sauna, steam bath, a Nordic (read ice-cold) waterfall, and various lounge areas spread around a terraced lot, Le Nordik also holds the distinction of being one of the few “nature spas” with a licensed, all-day, pool-side restaurant. It serves a varied selection of dishes including healthier choices such as fresh fish and vegetable wraps, plus a signature platter of local artisan cheeses paired with wines. There are also more than a dozen treatment rooms for a variety of massages – no other treatments are offered, just massages and this is fairly typical of these Nordic-style spas. An onsite lodge can accommodate a group of up to 12 people.
Several hour’s drive north, near the town of Morin-Heights in the Laurentians, Ofuro Spa is a nature spa that is, as the brochure says is “a truly zen experience.” Drenched in a Japanese-theme – pagoda-style architecture, Japanese art, furnishings and sculptures are everywhere – Ofuro is certainly one of Canada’s most uniquely-decorated and exotic spas. .
To the sounds of a mountain stream cascading over boulders, guests breathe in the fresh air and soak up the benefits of nature from one of several pools, from lounge chairs set out on various decks, or while snuggling in a swaying hammock. Unlike many such spas that offer only massages, Ofuro’s menu of spa services includes pedicures, facials, body wraps and scrubs. We stayed the night in one of five relatively new guest rooms each nicely decorated and with en-suites and spread around a community lounge where continental breakfast is served.
Not far from Ofuro and just a few minutes drive from the Village of Tremblant is Le Scandinave. Considered the grand dame of Quebec’s Nordic-style spas, it is not only the oldest, but the largest. Perched on the banks of the Diable River (good for devilishly cold dips), the spa offers rooms for massages, a collection of pools, saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs spread around a multi-terraced lot, plus various relaxation areas both indoors and out. I especially liked the Zero Gravity Room where lounge chairs fold down flat for easy napping in a serene environment. Taking the waters can be exhausting to the system. There’s a small bistro serving sandwiches, soups and juices and while there are no accommodations at Le Scandinave, Chateau Beauvallon, a lovely inn located just a few kilometers away, offers a free year-round shuttle.
Day passes are available to all three of these outdoor spas.
You might also like to read our story on Spa Eastman in Quebec’s Eastern Townships