How do you preserve the past while still managing to change with the times? In Quebec City, a place most famous for its centuries-old fortifications and pretty-as-a-picture downtown core, it’s a tricky question. Accommodating the needs and ideals of a modern population while honouring a place’s rich history isn’t easy. But Le Monastère des Augustines, an almost 400-year-old convent-turned-wellness-focused boutique hotel, is doing just that.
Augustinian nuns have been part of the fabric of Quebec City since 1639, when three sisters journeyed there from France to establish what became North America’s first hospital north of Mexico (L’Hôtel-Dieu de Québec), which the order went on to administer for well over three centuries.
Cloistered behind convent walls and caring for countless patients, the sisters were an integral part of the city’s development. But, in recent years, they had to face the harsh reality of their situation: no new postulants and an aging population of member nuns whose ability to maintain their historic convent, adjacent to the hospital, was decreasing year by year. In response, they were inspired to reinvent their home, creating a space where guests from all cultural and religious backgrounds could get up close and personal with the Augustinians’ healing heritage, while taking care of their own well-being, too.
Opened in 2015 and run by a non-profit with a social mission, the hotel contains 65 rooms divided into two types: “contemporary,” with private bath and a queen, king or two single beds; and “authentic,” which are converted former nuns’ cells with one or two single beds and shared bathrooms down the hall. (The convent’s remaining nuns have taken up residence in a newer wing of the building, closed to hotel guests—though you may run into the sisters in the halls as they go about their business.)
Decor at Le Monastère des Augustines is minimalist, designed to soothe rather than stimulate; simple white interiors are punctuated with wood or stone structural elements and locally crafted accessories like colourful patchwork blankets. Wherever possible, furniture, art and relics from the sisters’ collections are in use and on display, giving guests an immediate connection with the past. Along hallways, for instance, you’ll find religious portraits by famed Quebec artist Antoine Plamondon, while ancient wooden rocking chairs are available for use in function rooms.
Located within the boundaries of Old Quebec, the Monastère is perfectly situated as a jumping-off point to see the rest of the city. But its position behind the convent’s own stone walls makes it a retreat you don’t need to (and might not even want to) leave. A day might begin with an early morning breathing and movement class, followed by a nourishing breakfast taken in silence with other hotel guests, then a morning reflexology treatment or holistic health consultation. After lunch (you’re allowed to talk this time, and you might encounter staff from the adjoining Hôtel-Dieu de Québec hospital who are dropping in for the healthful cuisine), you can take a tour of the on-site museum, where artifacts chronicling nearly 400 years of Canadian health care are displayed across several main-floor rooms and hallways. Then work up an appetite with a qi gong, yoga or Pilates class before dinner, which, bien sûr, can be accompanied by a glass of some of the city’s best craft beer.
[This story appears in the November 2016 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated]