It’s a peaceful Sunday evening at Sibéria Spa, on the outskirts of Quebec City, next to the Rivière Jaune. I’m dressed in a bathing suit and terrycloth robe as I explore the series of paved, tree-lined pathways that lead from the main building to the saunas, steam rooms and outdoor pools. Here and there, I spot other spa-goers enjoying some of the facilities: a cozy dry sauna; multiple secluded hot tubs with bubbling jets; an outdoor relaxation area with lounge chairs set around a fireplace. But the other visitors don’t bother me and I don’t disturb them—we’re mutually committed to the completely chilled-out vibe, not to mention the rules that maintain the quiet atmosphere for all.
At Nordic spas like Sibéria, a concept that is hugely popular in Quebec but less so in other parts of Canada, it’s all about relaxation and the thermotherapy experience—a practice that has existed throughout Europe in various forms for thousands of years. The principle of thermotherapy is simple: you get really hot—in a dry or infrared sauna, a steam room or a hot tub—and then quickly cool yourself down in a cold plunge pool or, if you’re feeling rustic and the weather is co-operating, by rolling in the snow. After a rest period of 15 to 20 minutes, you repeat the cycle as many times as you like. The positive effects of this practice include stress reduction and relaxation, and experts claim it can also boost blood circulation, soothe muscles and improve sleep. Many facilities also offer a menu of spa services, so you can pair your visit with a massage or facial.
“Leave your problems at home and don’t think about anything else.”
La belle province has taken the European-inspired thermotherapy experience to another level with its huge variety and sheer number of offerings; it seems there’s a Nordic spa around every corner in Quebec. You can find tiny facilities—just a sauna, hot tub and plunge pool—at rural auberges, or bigger operations closer to urban centres. Visitors to Montreal might while away an afternoon at Bota Bota, a converted ferry boat anchored in the Old Port with saunas offering views of the St. Lawrence and downtown. Skiers spending time in Charlevoix might choose to stay at Le Germain in Baie-Saint-Paul, where its Spa Nordique includes an outdoor soaking pool looking out onto expansive farmland. And travellers to Ottawa should cross the border into Chelsea, Que., to chill out at Nordik Spa-Nature. Here, the facility includes silent, whispering and social sections so everyone can find their own version of relaxation.
Why Quebec is now an epicentre of this type of spa is an open question, but the fact remains they have become an essential part of many people’s leisure time.
“It’s a good way to take care of ourselves,” says Amélie Gagnon, director of operations at Sibéria Spa. “Leave your problems at home and don’t think about anything else.”
As I walk toward the river at Sibéria, I discover a dock with a hole cut out of it—a natural plunge pool that I’m not quite brave enough to try out. But I do cycle through a few of the other options: a wood-scented sauna; a cave-like relaxation chamber; and a pool—with a waterfall pouring into it—so cold that I only manage to go in up to my waist.
My mind is calm yet alert, and I can see why so many locals have memberships here. “Everybody lives a stressful life,” Gagnon says. “When you go to the spa, you can sit back, relax, and have a moment for yourself.”