While spas are not the typical Outdoor Ottawa activity, we decided to post about our experience because, well, they are awesome. Not to mention, incredibly therapeutic if you are going to do something like spend 6 straight days skiing. I was really excited to discover that the Eastern Townships of Quebec has no shortage of Nordic style outdoor spas. Since we were going to be in the hood, I needed no other reason to ensure we visit at least a couple of them.
Thermal Spas – What’s the Deal Anyway?
So a quick little blurb about the function of the Nordic style Thermal Spa experience, for those who are new to this. Outdoor Nordic spas are considered Hydrotherapy; Therapy from Water. The spas are set up so that guests go through a cycle of heat, cold, then heat again, followed by a rest period. On site there are a number of different styles of saunas, vapour baths, cold plunge pools or waterfalls, hot tubs, temperate tubs, relaxation areas, and often the natural landscape is used in some way or another. Aside from the hydrotherapy element, these spas are typically in beautiful outdoor settings, allowing visitors the added benefit of being close to nature. A quiet atmosphere is expected at every Nordic spa I have been to, which means if you go with friends you are expected to whisper, or preferably not talk at all. This is an important element, as it decreases added stimuli to our nervous systems, allowing visitors the chance to really decompress, let go of stress, and enjoy the environment in peace. One cycle should take about 45minutes to an hour, and 2-3 cycles is recommended. The average visit is 3-5 hours of Bliss.
Spa Nordic Station
So after Dave and I finished up our tour of Bromont, we headed into Orford Park to set up shop in our EXP cabin. We arrived, dropped our bags, high-fived at how cool the cabin was, then jumped back into the car to head to Spa Nordic Station just outside of Magog. I knew as soon as we arrived and discovered that there is no restaurant at Spa Nordic Station, that this was going to impact our visit. Full body hydrotherapy is not something that I would recommend doing on an empty stomach. The hot-cold cycles really kick your metabolism into high gear, so it is important to stay really hydrated and have access to nourishing, but light fare. Spa Nordic Station does have light snacks for sale, but it was dinner time, and what we needed was real food. However, we were not full-on starving quite yet, and knew we could at least get a nice leisurely cycle in before finding a local restaurant. So off to the change rooms we went!
This spa is really beautiful, and quaint. It feels really comfortable with it’s size, and not like something that may forever be expanding. It was evening, and there were little white lights in the trees, and everything looked gorgeous. Of course, I wanted to try EVERYTHING, so we walked around a bit to get the lay of the land. There were 2 saunas, one overlooking a beautiful snow covered river that was scented with Balsam Fir. One vapour “crypt,” as well as a “Russian Banya,” which is a combination of dry and vapour heat. Two cold tubs, as well as access to the small river where the ice had been cut out for access. There were also two hot tubs, and two indoor rest stations. At different times of the year the outdoor space is more accessible for resting on lounge chairs, or enjoying an outdoor massage treatment that can be booked in advance.
I’m a big fan of the cold plunge, I find it incredibly invigorating. I was also going into this trip with a bit of a bum knee, and I knew the cold would work wonders on the swelling that had built up from of couple of days on the slopes. However, I have never jumped into a river in the winter, and holy moly, that river was FREEZING! I managed to get most of my calves in before I could no longer feel my legs, so out I came. Dave and I watched as one brave soul stepped passed me to emerge her whole body into the frigid waters. We gave her a round of applause (q u i e t l y). After one complete cycle, plus a little exploring, we knew it was time to hit the road to get some food. The staff were really helpful directing us to some nearby restaurants.
And so, we continued on with our ski tour of the area. Doing a beautiful cross country ski in Orford Park the following day, then hitting up the ski hill the day after. And then off to Sutton for 2 days of skiing on what was probably our favourite hill. We basically had spring-like conditions, as the region was hit with unusually high temperatures for late February. Sticky snow and sunburnt faces, can’t complain. On our last evening I was pretty wiped, and my leg was killing me. I was looking forward to hitting up the Balnea Spa for one last evening of relaxation before we returned home to reality and responsibility.
Since I had had time to plan for this visit to Spa Balnea, I decided to make the most of it. I booked us each a 60min massage, and I made dinner reservations at their restaurant. After our last run down Sutton, Dave and I headed back to the BNB, just as it started to rain, perfect timing. After having a coffee, we headed back up towards Bromont for about 25minutes, until we hit the turn off.
Balnea is much bigger and much more remote than Spa Nordic Station. It looks like the large chunk of land surrounding the spa is still being developed into a bit of a resort/spa/ski destination. The landscape is beautiful, and you feel very much ‘away from it all.’ And you are, and you may not have made it to the spa if you did not have all wheel drive! Like I said, it’s remote. But once you get there, you enter a land where modern meets nature. The main building is cubist and everything is quite angular, and it totally works. The two hot tubs and one of the cold plunge pools, looks out onto a lake and you can see the hills miles away. Really beautiful.
The property is expansive and even offers 22km of trails for hiking or snowshoeing. In the summer, the large grassy area between the spa buildings and the lake are used for relaxing, yoga classes, and outdoor spa treatments. And in the woods there are these neat wooded cones that serve as outdoor beds, so you can drift off under the forest canopy. I have a feeling the average stay at Balnea is closer to 6-8 hours, because of all the added features.
Our massage treatments were booked for 4pm, so when we arrived, we changed into our bathing suits and big cozy robes, and went for a small bite at the lounge. The food was delicious and very healthy. This was a big plus for me. I had spent the entire week missing my Kombucha’s and fresh juices, as these crazes have not quite taken off in small town Quebec. But finally, I had arrived at the motherland of fresh, light, delicious and nourishing fare! Hurray! When we were perfectly satisfied, our massage therapists came and got us.
Now I have to admit, my massage expectations at spas are generally low. In the past I’ve had really “fluffy” massages at spas. But i tell you, my preconceived assumptions were squashed. That was one of the best massages I’ve ever had, and as a Massage Therapist myself, I have had hundreds of massages. It was immediately clear to me that this guy had done a ton of extra training. He must have had some background knowledge in Thai, Shiatsu, and Lomi Lomi massage, not to mention a deep understanding of the meridians. I was a total puddle afterwards, and I know Dave really liked his first non-girlfriend massage too 🙂
So we then proceeded to float around and enjoy the Thermal experience. We did one cycle, starting in this really neat partially underground sauna, a quick plunge in the cold bath, then a good soak in the hot tub, catching the last views of the landscape before the darkness enveloped us. We then moseyed on upstairs to have an incredibly delicious meal at the restaurant, in our bathrobes.
After super we explored the rest of the facilities. We located the Turkish Bath, and the Moroccan rest area. Took another plunge in the cold pool, then the hot tub, and finished our stay in a faux igloo decked out with fur covered beds surrounding a wood stove. I was almost asleep when a staff member came to inform us the facilities were closing for the evening. After a nice hot shower, Dave and I drove back to Sutton to sip on some locally crafted beer and watch an illegally downloaded movie 🙂 Perfection.
I would have to say that I enjoyed both spas pretty equally. Balnea seems like a place to really spoil yourself. It really pushes the luxury, and considering the long list of specialized spa treatments you can get, and the restaurant, it would be very easy to spend a small fortune in one amazing day. Personally I really liked Spa Nordic Station because of its small size and unpretentious vibe. And its a place I could see being used by locals a lot as a regular drop in for self-care, something I think we need more and more of in this fast paced existence we insist on leading.
If you have not yet had a Thermal experience at a Nordic Spa, and are not heading to the Eastern Townships anytime soon, I highly recommend Le Spa Nordic in Chelsea. A mere 15minutes outside of Ottawa, Le Nordic has the best facilities I’ve seen yet. While I feel that their food could be healthier, they offer a really amazing variety of spa experiences, including a large salt water float pool and a clay bath set to open later this year.