Last updated January 8, 2024
Find rejuvenation at Le Monastère des Augustines, Québec City’s monastery-turned-retreat.
I ascend the steps to the gleaming glass and steel lobby. Upon opening the door, the first thing that strikes me is the sound.
Or otherwise the lack thereof.
Staff at the front desk greet guests in gentle voices. No one is chattering away on their mobile phone. Probably because you are encouraged to leave them at the reception desk. A staff member explains to me that this is done so that the guests fully experience the benefits of disconnection.
I am in heaven.
History of Le Monastère des Augustines
The history of Le Monastère des Augustines dates back to 1639. It began in 1636 when the Duchess of Aiguillon asked the Augustines of Dieppe, France, to send sisters over to New France. New France is what we know today as Canada.
The Augustinian sisters were to help the duchess manage a new hospital.
King Louis XIII approved the request. In May 1639, Sister Marie Guenet of Saint Ignatius, Sister Anne le Cointre of Saint Bernard and Reverend Mother Superior Marie Forestier of Saint Bonaventure departed from Dieppe and set sail for New France. Their legacy survives today as Le Monastère des Augustines, located in Old Québec City, Canada.
Present-Day Le Monastère des Augustines
In contrast to boisterous streets just outside in Vieux-Québec (the oldest part of Québec City), the inside of what was once a cloistered monastery feels contemplative and respectful. It is an almost unimaginable blending of old and new, and it works beautifully.
A History of Healing
I soon discover that the story of Le Monastère des Augustines is as remarkable as the place itself. In 1639, three sisters from the Augustinian order were sent by King Louis XIII to “New France” to establish North America’s first hospital north of Mexico.
“Neither hunger, nor cold, nor isolation would prevent them from establishing a haven here to heal the bodies of an entire people,” reads the mission statement etched in the lobby’s glass.
Twenty years ago, confronted with declining numbers, the aging Sisters chose to pass on their heritage of healing by giving the monastery to the public in the form of a trust. Financial contributions by three levels of government made the transformation to a sustainable wellness retreat possible.
The Sisters also made a substantial financial contribution, along with donating the building. They also donated more than 40,000 fascinating artifacts (housed in the on-site museum) as well as one of the most well-preserved written archives in North America.
Le Monastère is a non-profit organization designed to financially uphold its social mission and the legacy of these pioneering women—to give support and respite to those who care for others.
It is a National Historic site and has won many architectural awards for blending modern, airy, glass and white walls with centuries-old wooden beams and floors, rough stone and religious artifacts.
The property has been awarded 5 Green Keys, recognizing hotels that strive toward living green and reducing their carbon footprint through sustainable solutions.
After admiring the creaking wooden staircase dating back to 1757, I peek into one of the quaint “authentic rooms” (one of 33 on the floor, 28 being singles for solo wellness seekers) inspired by the nuns’ original cells, right down to the low doorways, replica beds, handmade quilts, and shared bathroom down the hall.
A simple presence, much like the nuns themselves, the last of whom still reside in an adjoining wing.
On the “contemporary” fourth floor, my room is also designed with peace and contemplation in mind. There are no televisions or telephones but there are modern desks, sliding wardrobe doors and ensuite bathrooms.
The bedding and towels are comfortable, natural fibers, and I fall in love with the soft-as-butter bathrobe.
Quiet corridors lined with photographs and artifacts lead to rooms where yoga, meditation, creativity and wellness classes occur as part of the daily program. Other activities include guided walks, qi gong, and discussions promoting balance and inner peace.
Workshops and conferences on different topics, ranging from indoor gardening to healing, take place all year long as well. Combining modern-day holistic healing with age-old traditions that span religions, cultures and beliefs is just another example of the wonderful magic that exists here.
I peruse the list and decide to join the Awakening Series my first morning. Gentle stretching that includes breathing movement and meditation both wake me up and ground my spirit.
As I look up from my mat, I spot three sisters strolling in the front garden just outside the window. I find this both spiritual and surprisingly touching.
That same emotion comes over me when I listen to the Sisters (with an average age of 84) sing the vespers in the adjoining church. They thank us for praying with them, and I am only sorry that my French is too lacking to respond appropriately.
Later, I join a Relaxation Series session for therapeutic yoga in the deep stone vault, an intense experience. During postures, the teacher advises we deepen into gratitude for being here, for our life paths, for being in the energy of 400 years of women dedicated to healing.
It’s impossible not to just FEEL here.
Wellness Is Always on the Menu
The on-site restaurant specializes in whole-food ingredients and plenty of local and organic produce, always with vegan and vegetarian choices. Like everything here, there are options, and nothing is dogmatic.
Intense use of herbs and oils makes salt and pepper unnecessary, and no sugar is used in cooking. They offer a selection of organic, biodynamic and local wines and beers at dinnertime with a menu built around the regional harvest.
Breakfast features a buffet of breads, nuts, honey and fruits plus proteins and main dishes like omelets, smoothie bowls or waffles.
It is also taken in silence.
Silence Is Golden
Like giving up your mobile device (the front desk will relay phone messages and provides alarm clocks), staff tell me that guests are most apprehensive about the silent breakfast.
“It is a tool we like to give our guests. We propose practices and experiences, and people can decide if it works for their life.”
The Sisters’ vision of a best-lived life is a combination of moments of action and moments of contemplation, so they take all meals in silence. (Similarly, after much debate prior to opening, it was decided that complimentary Wi-Fi would be available throughout Le Monastère. But, they request that device use is limited in public areas).
I immensely enjoyed the silent breakfasts, feeling much more connected to my body and grateful for the food. Rather than rushing through the experience, I took time to really savor it and tried to bring that practice home with me (though I admit, it’s usually limited to my morning coffee).
In addition to the daily programs and holistic treatments like massage, Signature programs deliver lectures and workshops with experts, either with accommodations or as part of a package.
Rooted in Healing
I thoroughly enjoyed a session with wellness specialist Krystine St-Laurent, founder of an Ayurvedic line of herbal oils on medicinal herbs, self-massage, and aromatherapy.
To illustrate that what goes on the skin goes IN the skin, Krystine noted that if you put your feet in a bath of garlic water, after 20 minutes, your breath will smell like garlic. I was convinced.
She reviewed many of the virtues of the medicinal herbs used by the Augustinian Sisters and the ways they are beneficial for the body and spirit. We also tasted apothecary herbal teas inspired by the Sisters’ own recipes.
One such recipe led to the development of Le Monastère’s signature “1639” essential oil, a blend of cedar, cardamom, and citrus that was used to help patients breathe (as well as cover up hospital smells).
This commitment to heritage, where decisions are still made in concert with the Sisters’ values of compassion and respect, combined with the commitment to sustainability, is commendable and inspiring.
In 2016, Le Monastère des Augustines was named the world’s number one travel experience for a physical and mental reboot by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
I could not agree more.
On my last morning, I booked a one-hour deep tissue massage which enhanced my already blissed-out state. I absolutely felt I was radiating love and energy.
The simplicity, serenity and silence are so profound you cannot help but feel rejuvenated by your experience. You have never been anywhere quite like this.
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