Last updated August 22, 2022
Québec City is the North American center for Nordic spa experiences.
Nordic-style spas are my emotional and body rescue. First, I subject my body to hot temperatures through dry saunas, steam baths and thermal pools followed by a brief cold plunge.
But it is the third stage I am particularly adept at—relaxing on a comfy lounge chair or swaying on a hammock. Experiencing Nordic-style spas while appreciating Mother Nature’s beauty is a wellness activity I could relate to time and again.
Forms of hydrotherapy have existed for thousands of years. In Roman times, soldiers returning from war would soak their sore and injured bodies in therapeutic baths.
My battles may pale by comparison but daily urban and societal stressors can have a significant impact on the mind and body. Scandinavian countries developed the Nordic spa tradition with the first Swedish bathhouse opening in 1269.
Québec City—Nordic Spa Central
Nordic-style spas offer relief even if only temporarily. My spa antennae often lead me to the province of Québec, which boasts 95 Nordic-style spas according to the Québec Spa Association—making it by far the highest concentration of Nordic spas anywhere in North America.
“Quebec has always had the art of living and well-being at the heart of its actions, maintaining close and privileged contact with nature,” says Caroline Bedard, project manager for the Québec Spa Association. Québec’s first Nordic spa opened in 1964 in the Saint-Sauveur Valley, north of Montréal.
Québec’s vast landscape is the ideal year-round setting for traditional Nordic-style spas with its dense forests, abundant lakes and rivers, and verdant valleys.
Even an urban setting can provide all the necessary elements for a Nordic spa experience. Take the province’s capital, Québec City, home to 10 Nordic spas.
It’s the continent’s only fortified city north of Mexico and Old Québec is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lure of nature is never far away with waterfalls, parks, and the mighty waters of the St. Lawrence River.
I had the pleasure of visiting two distinctly different Nordic spas in the Québec City area to relax and rejuvenate while soaking up French culture.
River Therapy at Strøm
Strøm Nordic Spa is only minutes away from Old Québec’s cobblestone streets and gourmet French restaurants on Nordic spa lines along the banks of the formidable St. Lawrence River.
Leaning on the infinity thermal pool edge, I peer out to the river’s wide expanse and observe a Canadian coast guard ship and seagulls soaring high above the St. Lawrence River.
My mind wanders to what it must have been like when French voyageur Samuel de Champlain charted these waters back in 1604 when the city was founded.
Strøm Nordic Spa Old Québec is one of four branded Strøm spas in the collection. Its award-winning Scandinavian architecture provides expansive areas to navigate the Nordic circuit without feeling crowded despite its ability to handle a few hundred guests daily.
Thermal pools, temperate and frozen baths, Finnish saunas, Nordic waterfalls, fire pits, and numerous indoor and outdoor relaxation areas will satisfy any spa enthusiast.
Men and women of all ages and shapes mingle freely but it’s easy to find a space where you can be in solitude. French is the predominant language spoken though most staff can speak limited English.
For those seeking to curb any hunger pains, a large restaurant serves up a variety of hot and cold dishes with a French flair. Strøm provides robes and towels to all guests and a wristband to order food and beverages.
For me, the views of the river are as therapeutic as the water circuit. River therapy—can’t beat it.
Cold Plunge at Le Nordique Spa Stoneham
A 30-minute drive north of Québec City is an area blessed with deep forests, cool rivers and mountain scenery. Nearby is Stoneham ski resort, one of the province’s most popular ski areas. Le Nordique Stoneham Spa is smaller in scale than other Nordic-style spas with a daily maximum capacity of around 130 guests.
Hugues Lavoie, a frequent visitor to Nordic spas before deciding to open his own, wants people to recharge and relax at their own pace and use the spa to escape from day-to-day stresses. He’s added facilities over the years but takes pride in keeping his Nordic-style spa more personal and smaller scale.
The main building sits high on the hill offering panoramic views of the mountains in the distance and the frozen Jacques-Cartier River. Stairs head down to the hot thermal pools, saunas and relaxation areas.
Nordic Spa Experience Circuit
I warm up my body with a 15-minute session in the hot sauna before taking a cold plunge into a frozen river with a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The ice around the coffin-like shape opening (how convenient!) is more than one foot thick.
I first test the freezing waters with my feet. If my feet could talk they’d say, “What the #$% are you doing?”
I go for it and drop my whole body in the water. I take long deep breaths—this helps but my extremities, especially my feet, have turned from cold to painful numbness. After a minute, I hurriedly reach for the ladder, a human popsicle.
Tempted to go into the hot tub right away, I know the best thing is to gradually return to room temperature on a lounge chair. Slowly my body returns to full function.
On the next Nordic circuit no need for a river plunge—been there, done that. The balmy 45 degree Fahrenheit cold plunge pool will do just fine.
Besides the requisite steam baths, relaxation lounges, massage treatment rooms, salt scrub, saunas, thermal pools and bistro, Le Nordique Stoneham Spa also has cozy chalets to rent on the property.
Each chalet comes equipped with a full kitchen, living/dining area, queen-size bedroom and fireplace. Perfect for those who want to make a day and night of it. The room rate includes access to and use of the spa facilities.
Chillin’ by the river now has new meaning for me.
Reaping the Nordic-Style Spa Benefits
The Nordic spa experience has many adaptations but they all revolve around the tradition of hot, cold and relax. Going from a hot sauna session to a cold plunge gives an exhilarating shock to your system and releases endorphins, restores sore muscles and even possibly gives an immunity boost.
Benefits can include:
Hot (sauna, hot tub, steam bath)
- Releases toxins when you sweat
- Can lower blood pressure
- Stimulates and increases blood flow to skin and muscles
Cold (cold plunge pool, bucket of cold water, river/lake plunge – always have a buddy monitor)
- Improves circulation
- Closes off the pores
- Reduces inflammation and muscle pain
- Creates a feeling of exhilaration while releasing endorphins
Relaxation (indoor/outdoor relaxation lounges, hammocks)
- Brings the heart rate and body temperature back to normal
- Restores a sense of well-being and clarity
- Rebalances the central nervous system
Tips When Visiting a Nordic-Style Spa
Québec City Nordic spas offer a range of natural settings, guest capacity, facilities and price levels. Here are a few tips to maximize your spa experience.
- Inquire if they have reduced pricing (some do) after a certain time in the day.
- Ask if there is a time limit to your stay. Most allow you to stay as long as it is open.
- Find out if you need to bring your water bottle or sandals. All spas provide robes.
- Check on any age restrictions—children under 18 are not normally allowed.
- Most spas frown upon cell phones in the spa area. Leave it in the locker.
- If possible visit during the week (especially Tuesday or Wednesday)—spas are more crowded on the weekend.
- Keep hydrated. Drink lots of water since saunas, baths and pools can dehydrate you.
- Bring a bathing suit. Nudity is forbidden in the spa area.
- Be respectful, keep a low voice level and observe any quiet and no-talking zones.
- To maximize the benefits, go through the cycle at least two or three times or your comfort level.
Besides the therapeutic benefits to your body, your palate will enjoy a spa visit with local craft beers, wine and Quebecois cuisine. Make a full day at the spa (and in some cases night as well) and take the time to relax and reconnect with nature through water and heat therapies.
Take it from artist Leonardo da Vinci who wrote, “Water is the driving force of nature.” The Nordic spa experience embraces the power of water and all of the earth’s elements.
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