One day here is like a passport around the world via spa treatments. Stretching out in a wave of heat and steam I am whipped relentlessly with birch branches. There are many wellness rituals and relaxation techniques at the Nordik Spa-Nature, the largest spa in North America. This is one of them.
Nestled in the picturesque village of Old Chelsea in the Outaouais on the outskirts of Gatineau Park, there is an intimacy here. This relaxation and wellness centre is mainly focused on thermotherapy and relaxation techniques from Scandinavian countries. It offers a multisensory experience in a natural setting and is aimed at contributing to the health and wellbeing of its guests. We all come with different desires, and in keeping with the basic Spa elements, the grounds are divided into three areas: Kaskad, the quiet zone, Borea, the whisper zone, Panorama, the social zone.
There are rules. No pictures. No talking. And certainly no cell phones. While mine is incessantly buzzing somewhere in my locker, I am drifting away into a deep calm. Thermotherapy involves alternating between hot and cold temperatures followed by a rest period. We can dip into each of the Japanese, Mongolian, Russian, Scandinavian and Mediterranean saunas and baths at leisure.
Walking outside in frigid temperatures in only a robe and slippers I immerse myself in a warm water pool set in the rocks—in winter—in the snow. There are ten picturesque baths, hot and cold, and one infinity pool along a meandering path surrounded by bucolic and natural environment.
Inside, down a quiet staircase, I enter an ambient dark lit pool of epsom salt in 1,200 cubic feet of water, held at 37 o C. Reminiscent of the Dead Sea, this flotation therapy, called Källa Treatment, expels toxins from the body, relaxes the nervous system, reduces swelling, and soothes muscles. There is no more effective way to relieve pressure than to be totally weightless. I muster up my trust, gingerly step in and lie down, floating slowly and peacefully like a rubber duckie. Disconcerting at first, I gradually let go into a deep sleep. This-is-incredible. I awake sometime later feeling as though all my knots are released.
Taking my time, I browse each sauna as though I’m window-shopping. Vaporo saunas inspired by the Mediterranean steam bath tradition of purification melt my tension. A gentle gong summons me to the Finlandia sauna for the Aufguss Ritual. I find my seat in anticipation of a performance. The Aufgussier welcomes us and proceeds to place giant aromatic snowballs of essential oils onto the hot stones. With each one, he then moves around the room with choreographed towel movements to circulate the hot air. Wow! Wave upon wave of heat washes over me, and I am totally reinvigorated.
Time for lunch. Within the bistro of happy faces, I select from a healthy menu of pastas, salads and sandwiches, all with wine pairing recommendations. I indulge in a succulent bison medallion with blueberry compote and a mellow glass of Tempranillo.
There are numerous resting places here, and napping is encouraged. A calm yoga room and meditation room are also available. Alas, it’s time for my massage. Walking along a snowy trail I reach a warm private cabin in which my deep tissue massage kneads me back to sleep. Have I ever been so physically relaxed in my life? I don’t think so. I’m sure there are 1000 messages on my phone right now, and I could not care less.
I am noticeably breathing more fully, and am actually feeling more balanced and centered. Now, it’s time for my whipping. The Banyä Treatment is a Russian ritual for improving blood circulation, cleansing the skin, eliminating toxins, and boosting the immune system. As the heat rises in intensity, The Aufgussier sweeps it around the room with his towel. We then take a break and step outside for some cool water. Round two. We apply oils and salts for exfoliation.
There are four steps to this treatment, and between each one, we can excuse ourselves for a water break. And now, the climax, so to speak, as I lie down on the wooden step as the attendant raises his birch veniks and begins whipping my backside! It doesn’t hurt as much as it is shocking, and I have to laugh, because I have elected to do this voluntarily. However, when I stand up, my body feels recharged and powerful. I feel fantastic, rejuvenated, revived and refreshed. I am ready to take on the world.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.