Wellness Vacations: 5 Nordic Spa Experiences in Canada
With the gradual return of travel, wellness vacations are on the rise. Photo: NORDIK Spa/Christian Lalonde
Anyone suffering from pandemic fatigue (and who isn’t?) is now feeling the weight of other global stressors, from armed conflict to economic disruption. And, with a new COVID variant on the scene, the pandemic fatigue we’re feeling isn’t likely to go away anytime soon.
That could be why, as we see the return of travel, wellness vacations are on the rise. In a global survey by American Express last fall, 88 per cent of consumers agreed that travel helps improve their mental health and 68 per cent are likely to base their next vacation around improving their mental well-being.
In Scandinavian culture, the way to do that is through thermotherapy — moving through a circuit of hot and cold immersions, followed by rest — to boost immunity, reduce inflammation and enhance overall well-being.
In its annual wellness trends report for 2022, the Global Wellness Summit (GWS) predicts an urban bathhouse renaissance, featuring urban saunas, hydrothermal bathing and large-scale wellness-focused water resorts.
This tracks with what we’re already seeing in Canada, with a wave of interest in the Scandinavian wellness experience and new Nordic spas opening across the country — with more on the way. Since most have a no-phone (and no-kid) policy, you’ll start to feel the stress melt away with each immersion.
And with many offering outdoor experiences, it’s a pandemic-friendly path to wellness. We highlight some options if you’re looking to elevate your next ‘spa-cation.’
During one of my first ventures back into the world after pandemic lockdowns, I came here, to one of the largest day spas in North America. On the outskirts of Gatineau Park (about a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa), this thermal circuit features 10 outdoor baths (hot and cold), nine distinctly different saunas, an infinity pool, a yoga and meditation room, several outdoor relaxation areas and four restaurants. Don’t miss the Källa saltwater flotation pool inspired by the Dead Sea, where I felt the weight of the pandemic melt off my shoulders as I floated on 10 tons of Epsom salt in 1,200 cubic feet of water.
This brand-new urban retreat — Vancouver Island’s first Nordic spa — is a contemporary take on the age-old sauna tradition of Finland. Located in Victoria’s Harris Green neighbourhood, this urban oasis features four saunas (including traditional Finnish and infrared saunas), a steam room, a warm Himalayan salt lounge, a cold plunge pool, Nordic bucket showers and outdoor patios with aprés-spa snacks — including rotating beverages on tap from local craft breweries, kombucha producers and Vancouver Island vineyards.
In the Horseshoe Valley — a vacation destination in its own right — this newly opened Finnish-inspired Nordic spa is a wellness playground spread out over 26 acres, surrounded by nature. The outdoor day spa operates year-round — rain or shine (or snow) — with warm, waterfall-style Finnish pools, cold-plunge pools, salt rubs, a hot-stone room and massage rooms. The Finnish spa tradition is a social one, so there are plenty of areas for socializing (like the restaurant or outdoor wood-burning fire pits), as well as quiet zones. Make a weekend of it by staying at Horseshoe Resort, just a four-minute drive away.
This alpine sanctuary is a 45-minute drive from Calgary, featuring five outdoor pools, banyan and barrel saunas, a Finnish sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, an alchemist steam room and an exfoliation cabin. While the Nordic spa opened prior to the pandemic, it has since completed a redesign that includes a reflection pool — a medium-temperature salt-water pool that creates a sense of buoyancy and lightness (plus, it’s full of magnesium, so it’s great for soothing sore muscles). There’s also a bistro lounge and relaxation deck, as well as winterized hammocks and outdoor fire pits for year-round enjoyment. You can extend the Zen with a mountain getaway at the Pomeroy Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, steps from the spa.
Hot baths, a Finnish dry-heat sauna, an infrared sauna and a eucalyptus steam bath are spread out over the forested grounds of Siberia Spa, near Quebec City. But what sets this Nordic spa apart is its cold immersion options: There are three cold baths with waterfalls — or, in fall and winter, you can opt for an invigorating plunge in la rivière Jaune. This natural setting offers several areas to rest and relax, including the riverside Üpé Pavilion, with Adirondack chairs around a fireplace, or a Siberian yurt, with hammocks for singles or couples. While some Nordic spas offer alcohol, this one doesn’t, and there’s a silent zone and whisper zone — ideal for anyone who wants to completely chill out.