SEEKING OUT PLACES embraced by natural surroundings is a crucial component to a healing journey for many travelers. I’ve always been a big advocate of nature’s healing powers and the verity of the ancient Chinese proverb that credits nature, time and patience as being the greatest of all physicians. Western Québec’s Outaouais region proves one of those corners of the planet that seem to be perfectly in balance, whether covered in layers of sparkling snow, adorned in blazing shades of autumn, garlanded in spring blooms or wrapped in sunshine and a rush of summer birdsong — making it ideal for a spa-based getaway.
At Nordik Spa-Nature in the small town of Chelsea, I dash beneath a cascading waterfall that delivers icy water into a small, cold tarn, then sink gratefully into a rock-rimmed soaking pool fed by a hot thermal spring. This corner of the property is one of several that offer an opportunity for Scandinavian-style bathing, alternating heat, cold and periods of rest. A destination unto itself, the vast spa complex is divided into three sections: Kaskad, where the observance of silence creates a tranquil experience; Borëa, where whispering is allowed; and the Panorama Area, where socializing is absolutely fine (except for the silent sauna areas).
The spa features seven dry saunas and two steam baths that include a traditional Russian banya, where a blend of hot and cold treatments embraces the tradition of being struck repeatedly by a venik brush composed of bound birch branches and fragrant eucalyptus. The practice is said to quicken circulation and facilitate cleansing, pore-purifying perspiration.
After a full day of sampling the wet and steamy options and relaxing in several windowed cabins fitted with crackling wood fires, I meet my therapist for a Lumëa anti-aging facial. During the hourlong treatment, my face is gently exfoliated with a vitamin C-rich masque. My therapist, Crystel, delivers a soothing scalp massage while time allows an application of a toning cream to penetrate my skin. My face glows after the relaxing session, and I’m inspired to make one last circuit in the hot Vapora sauna before taking a dip in Rivër, the coldest of the pools at the base of the waterfall. After an additional 20 minutes in a suspended, heated, cocoon-like hammock, it’s time to head to Parc Omega.
I arrive at my small, private log cabin in the nature preserve well after dark and fall almost immediately asleep. The rising morning sun wakes me, pouring in through the wall of glass at the foot of my bed. The window wall faces an enormous enclosure housing a pack of gray timber wolves, rescued and made at home within the safety of the park. A lone wolf stands just on the other side of the glass, staring in at me, his curiosity perhaps piqued by the movements of the bedcovers when I sat up. I’m startled and enchanted all at once and sit on the floor facing the glass for several hours. Other majestic members of the pack approach the glass, clearly intrigued by the new exhibit in pajamas just on the other side.
An overwhelming sensory balm flows from the spaces where we intersect with the natural world. It was naturalist and writer John Burroughs who said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” His words resonate as I drive away to find the Hôtel Fairmont Le Château Montebello, an enormous cedar log cabin estate not far from Parc Omega.
I’m here to soak in a little more of Québec’s nature, and I begin with a few early laps in the hotel’s heated pool. The 75-foot stretch of water sparkles beneath an elevated ceiling in a separate log structure accessed from the main hotel via an underground passageway. The massive, beautifully painted ceiling above the water’s surface is supported by a series of artfully decorated totem poles.
Later, settled by the fire in the spa’s Salon La Clairière (which translates to “forest clearing”), there’s time to contemplate the wooded surroundings before a maple sugar body scrub. The treatment is delivered with a decadent helping of Bio-Maple compound, an antioxidant powerhouse drawn from maple tree resin.
The last stop on my wild wellness tour is The Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa in the tiny riverside town of Wakefield. The old mill-turned-lodge features a pounding river coursing through a forest next to the stone hotel building, with outdoor hot tubs constructed with unobstructed views of the cascading water of McLaren Falls. It’s completely mesmerizing.
As darkness descends, I leave the small Spa Eau Vive to warm myself in the red cedar sauna by the river and to soak in the water of the jetted hot pool beneath a silvery waning moon. Before leaving for the drive back to Ottawa and my flight back to the real world, there’s time for a yoga class on the riverside terrace and a Dream Weaver massage next to the waterfall, presented within the spa forest in a canopy tent. The water is the only necessary soundtrack, punctuated by the calls of birds going about their business in the tall trees: nature’s healing powers beautifully in attendance.
Hôtel Fairmont Le Château Montebello
392 Rue Notre Dame
Montebello, QC J0V 1L0
tel 1 819 423 6341
16 Chemin Nordik Chelsea, QC J9B 2P7
tel 1 819 827 1111
The Wakefield Mill Hotel & Spa
60 Chemin Mill Wakefield, QC J0X 3G0
tel 1 819 459 1838
Since Cheval Blanc, an extraordinary, newly designed and refurbished 72-room hotel owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey, launched in September 2021, it has been the talk of the town. Le Tout-Paris remarks about its WOW factor … and the hard-to-get reservations for the 30 seats at Plenitude, the intimate, first-floor gastronomic outlet headed by chef Arnaud Donckele, who earned three Michelin stars at Cheval Blanc Saint Tropez. Reservations are also recommended for Limbar, the ground-floor bakery/café/tea shop/bar where we watched Pastry Chef Maxime Frédéric preparing desserts and an absolute must-have for dinner at Le Tout-Paris, the 7th-floor, all-day brasserie. This brightly colored space, with its raised seating and Fauve-like floor tiles and the adjacent Milanese restaurant, Langosteria, both have access to terraces facing the Seine River, with amazing views encompassing Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower.
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