Taking the Heat Off With 'Thermotherapy' Near Ottawa
The first thing you might notice is the breeze grazing your toes as you pad out of the change room onto the pavement of the Nordik Spa-Nature in Chelsea, Que. Towel in hand, in your bathing suit and a fluffy white robe, you're about to be initiated into the Nordic tradition of thermotherapy, the main principle of which is something called the thermal cycle, an alternation between hot and cold.
At its simplest, this might involve getting your sweat on in a sauna, followed by rolling in the snow or jumping into a chilly lake. At many of Quebec's hugely popular Nordic spas, though, the process is a lot more refined. Either way, the purported benefits of thermotherapy include instant relaxation, better sleep, more supple muscles and a boost to the immune system.
Ten minutes from downtown Ottawa, the Nordik (www.lenordik.com) offers a full spectrum of thermal experiences across close to 100,000 square feet of outdoor and 50,000 square feet of indoor space. Seven outdoor baths run the range from hot to cold. There's a flotation pool, eight different kinds of sauna and an infinity pool. A restaurant and relaxation lounges round out the picture. Each area falls into one of three zones when it comes to permitted levels of conversation: There's the silent, the social, and the in-between, where whispering is permitted. (To avoid death glares and chastisement from staff and other patrons, it's best to stick to the rules when it comes to making noise.)
A thermotherapy itinerary typically starts with 10 to 15 minutes in a sauna or steam room. You might begin, for instance, in the Barik dry sauna (each facility component has a name inspired by its country of origin, which makes for a bit of an Ikea vibe). Shaped like a barrel on its side and made entirely of red cedar, the silent space is extremely cozy – not just in size, but because its rounded sides make the heat seem stronger than it is. It's also windowless, helping busy minds shift into chillout mode. Place your towel on the wooden bench, sit or lie down, and let the heat penetrate until you're covered in sweat.
Other hot options include the Aromi sauna, where a new scent is diffused every 20 minutes and big windows overlook the forest; and the Vaporo eucalyptus sauna, whose damp heat is inspired by Turkish and Roman traditions and whose steam can be felt deep in the lungs. One favourite is the Finlandia sauna, a spacious room with three tiered levels – higher is hotter – and a wood stove that heats stones until they radiate dry heat and create steam when ladles of water are poured overtop.
Several times a day, this sauna is home to the Aufguss ritual, during which a staff member uses water infused with essential oils such as spearmint to create scented steam, then fans it with a towel so that it reaches everyone in the space.
Next you head outside to drink some water – you'll be radiating heat – and to bring things back to reality with a cold dip under a waterfall or in a plunge pool. Depending on the season, cooler pools range in temperature from a shock-inducing 10C (50F) to a more tepid 21C (70F). A quick dip is all you need, whether you go fully underwater or just up to the thighs.
Then, after a brief rest, you do the cycle again, ideally at least three times in a row. With each round you'll find yourself calmer, less rushed, and less apt to get bored. You can punctuate your experience with time in the additional facilities, too. Perhaps a volcanic stone massage? A selection of local cheeses in the restaurant (pay with the same electronic bracelet that is the key to your locker)? How about 30 minutes to an hour in the Källa bath, a five-metre deep pool filled with Epsom salt-saturated water? As in the Dead Sea, the salt lets you float effortlessly, an experience many find soothing, even meditative. It can take practice to learn how to truly relax, but it's time well spent.
16 Chemin Nordik, Chelsea, Que.,
819-827-1111 or 1-866-575-3700
This article was originally published on August 24, 2015