By Diana Ballon
The steam is rising, like little puffs of clouds, leaving the confines of this curvaceous hot tub to escape into the cool March air. It’s a sunny blue day here at the stunning natural oasis of Le Nordik in Old Chelsea, a quaint town bordering the Gatineau Park. Like my fellow spa goers, we come here to relax and find stillness. An improved immune system, an opportunity to purify myself, both spiritually and physically, and the possibility of easing the muscle pain in my back are all other more elusive personal goals, but I’ll start with simply relaxing.
“Nature en spa” is an apt tagline for this place. The subtle pinks and grey of Canadian Shield rock blend with the white snow, the cedar cabins and gazebos that house the various relaxation areas, steam rooms and sauna. Only the coloured bathing suits of the patrons break this natural camouflage.
Le Nordik is located only 10 minutes from downtown Ottawa, so it’s an easy trip for urban dwellers. And I would add, well worth the journey. (Norway is a lot farther.) The concept of the Nordic baths comes from Scandinavian countries, where people use hot and cold water—hydrotherapy—as a way to relax and feel better physically and mentally. The activity is purported to eliminate toxins in the body, relax muscles, improve sleep quality, stimulate the immune system and improve overall oxygenation.
The Nordic spa experience is largely self-guided, so you move from sauna to pool to waterfall to chair or other location at your own pace. When you arrive, you first warm up your body in a sauna or steam bath for 10 to 15 minutes to open the pores and release toxins through sweat. Then you cool off under the Nordic waterfall or one of the pools to rinse off the toxins and tighten your pores, and follow with 10 to 15 minutes in one of their relaxation areas. You repeat this whole process three or four times, finishing with a dip in the hot tub or by having a massage or other treatments.
It’s all about relaxing. And relax I eventually do. But first, there are some stressful decisions. Do I start in the hot tub, the steam room or in the 98 or 70 degree hot tub? Then, I really must immerse myself in cold water, but will that be in the cold plunge pool, or by way of a quick drenching under the freezing cold waterfall? (I go for the latter, letting out a little cry from the shock: think someone suddenly dropping a bucket of ice cubes down your shirt.) Then there are several “relaxation options”: you can lie on a red mat and read a book or put on their ear phones and listen to preselected music. Or you can recline in a chair overlooking the pools or sit in front of a fire.
Generally speaking, my default path is not to be relaxed, or to make quick decisions. So after the immersion in cold water, I begin flitting from one option to next, like someone grazing various food stations at a large gastronomic event. I eventually settle into my final resting spot. It’s perfect. Chairs are arranged in a circle around a firepit in a gazebo. No one’s speaking. A few people read. One gazes out the window, as though mesmerized. The woman next to me has fallen asleep, her mouth slightly ajar, a small regular snore. I’m in my white bath robe. The sky is blue. I breathe deeply. The heat has saturated my skin, and yes, I have begun to relax…
If you go
You’ll need a car to get here. (Or you can bike in warm weather.) There is no bus service from downtown. Weekends are the busiest, so plan to get here before noon. Capacity is 274 people. The spa is open from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 pm daily, all-year round.
Baths and Spa Treatments
Admission is $44 (before taxes)—and includes two towels and a padlock: it’s a deal, particularly considering you can stay all. Bring your bathing suit, beach sandals and a bathrobe, or rent a robe for $10. Spa treatments are reasonably priced. For instance, a one-hour massage is $85—$115 if you want to combine it with access to the baths. Treatments include a Swedish, Californian, hot stone or Thai massage, and face, body, and foot and leg care.
For now, the only accommodations on the property is a charming five-bedroom cottage that you can rent with family, friends or for corporate functions. The cost is $595 per night based on six people (though it can accommodate 12), or $425 per eight-hour day for corporate groups. Plans are in the works to build a 100-room hotel on the property by 2013 or 2014. (Or if you live near Toronto: stay tuned. They plan to open another facility in Whitby, Ontario this summer.)
There are several options at their restaurant: choose from a three-course table d’hôte, a sandwich and salad lunch, tapas, wine and cheese, or port and chocolate fondue. Or sample some of each.