By Jim Bamboulis
I was freaking out. The thought of wearing only a swim suit, flip-flops and a bathrobe on one of the coldest days of the year made me a bit…nervous. Scared, more like it.
Early January in Ottawa can be chilly. I happened to be there when it was a ridiculously cold -32 Celsius. The wind makes it feel even colder. I can feel the frostbite creeping in. I’m wearing three sweaters, a winter jacket, three pairs of pants and socks, a toque and gloves and I still can’t feel my body. It’s unbearable and suffocating. You see, there’s cold and then there’s Canadian cold – a cold so cold that even people who are used to this type of cold can’t even handle this level of cold. I’m not one of them.
So naturally, at this time of year, there’s an urgent desire to get away from it all. To get somewhere warm and experience a taste of summer with steaming hot water and a beautiful surrounding. Typically, Canadians book a ticket south. I went north. To Chelsea, Quebec, home to Nordik Spa-Nature. The largest outdoor spa in North America, it’s surrounded by saunas, outdoor baths, snow-capped rocks and icy waterfalls. It’s a must experience piece of heaven.
I wasn’t eager to change out of my semi-warm layers but I couldn’t wait to take them off either. As I stepped outside, I realized that despite wearing summer gear and having the mist from the waterfalls spray my chest hair, making every one of those hairs icy and crispy, I still felt warmer. Sure, I was cold but maybe my mind knew that my body was seconds away from finding relief in the form of a steaming hot pool where the temperature is at least 60 degrees warmer. I hung the bathrobe, took off my flops and stepped into the 36 degree Celsius water. Within seconds, I was in my happy place. Felt right at home, surrounded by the most perfect conditions and experiencing a one-of-a-kind place.
Three unique areas to experience
Nordik Spa-Nature is so big that it has three different areas that give you three different experiences. In the Kaskad area, you’ll find a cold cascade, hot sauna and several relaxation rooms. This area is primarily for sheer relaxation where the conversation is kept to an absolute minimum.
The Borëa area is also loaded with cold and hot baths with the addition of waterfalls, massage rooms and both Finnish and Russian sauna rooms. The idea here is to enjoy total zen with only a whispering conversation.
The last area is the social Panorama area which is located on the south end of the grounds. With an infinity pool, a beer garden, aromatic saunas, relaxation pavilions and of course a heated yurt, this is the area I decided to start my experience.
10 exterior baths to choose from
With baths ranging from 21 to 39 degrees Celsius, Nordik Spa-Nature has you covered no matter what you’re ideal water temperature is. Personally, I like it hotter than hot and I love it with a view. My first stop, the infinity pool.
My freezing toes tingled as I stepped inside the Näkymä infinite pool while my equally frozen body couldn’t wait to be submerged. It didn’t take long to feel as if I entered a different world. The colder the temperature, the better the water felt. Sure, I was surrounded by snow and ice but after a few seconds of feeling the heat, I forgot about the frigid temperatures. Soothing, steaming water with a view of the Ottawa area directly in front of me. Talk about beautiful!
Nine distinct saunas and heated yurts
I had never been in a yurt before, much less a heated one so this too was a must experience. Steps from the infinity bath, a beautifully decorated yurt was the perfect way to both stay warm and sweat out the toxins.
Inspired by traditional nomadic homes in central Asia, the rustic, round yurt is constructed with canvas tent, a hardwood floor and central fire. Essential oil infusions are also refreshed several times a day. Of course, it’s instant relaxation in here and it comes so easy considering how serene and aromatic it is.
Speaking of saunas, there are so many different types to choose from that it’s tough to choose which one to do first. Some are dry, others humid and all range from 65 to 100 degrees Celsius. I knew that I had to try the 50 degree eucalyptus sauna where the steam carries pure eucalyptus and mint essential oil molecules. Breathing deep and through my stomach, I couldn’t inhale enough of the beautiful eucalyptus. So dense that at times, I couldn’t even see two feet in front of me.
Lunch at any of the four restaurants
Who knew that the combination of eucalyptus, a steaming yurt and soothing infinity bath could make you so hungry. Well, they do and of course, Nordik Spa has you covered again. With four restaurants to choose from, I went with Mëzz Café which is located right in the centre of the action with perfect views of the waterfalls and baths. Dressed only in a swimsuit, flip-flops and a bathrobe, I’ve never felt more under-dressed in my life but here, that’s expected and accepted attire. With a range of coffees, wines, apps and delicious entrees, it’s a perfect break.
Specialty treatments unique to Nordik
At Nordik Spa, you can sign up for a personal massage and other specialty treatments, including the traditional, 1000-year old, Russian-inspired ceremonial Banyä sauna and the incredible Källa treatment.
A floating salt-water pool that only accommodates 20 people, it’s unique to the Americas, only the second of its kind in the world and is considered to be better than the Dead Sea. Dug five metres into the rock, the pool contains 10 tons of Epsom salt in 1,200 cubic feet of 37 degree Celsius water. I jumped at the chance to step inside, rest my head on a neck pillow and experience weightlessness at its finest! The idea is to let yourself go, float and rid yourself from the constraints of time and space and feel everything and nothing simultaneously.
As I floated and let my ears go below the water’s surface, I could hear soft music playing that I couldn’t otherwise hear above water. Talk about another level of relaxation to an already uniquely soothing experience. I couldn’t help but doze off for what I thought was only for a few minutes. I was told later that I fell asleep for about an hour. It seems that Källa did the trick!
End the day with exfoliation!
If you have time to enjoy Nordik Spa and the surrounding area for more than a day, consider renting a cottage on the property or combine your spa experience with a hotel in the Ottawa-Gatineau area. However, if you only have one day (and wished you had more), then the Russian sauna with optional exfoliation is one of the most ideal ways to top it all off.
This sauna is unique in that it combines the dry heat from the Finnish sauna tradition and wet heat steam baths from the Mediterranean. Sit in the gorgeous sauna for 10-15 minutes to sweat out the toxins. Step outside the sauna, turn left and enter a shower area that comes complete with both lavender and eucalyptus salts. Scrub either or both all over your body and face then step into the shower and rinse. Talk about total relaxation and cleanse.
What I loved the most about Nordik Spa-Nature was the fact that anyone could enjoy all aspects of the spa comfortably. Whether you’re a couple or traveling solo, with friends or family, a Mom-to-be or an athlete looking for therapeutic treatments, this place is for anyone and everyone! I also loved the amount of activities available in such a compact space. Sure, it might be the largest spa but with such ease of getting around and enjoying the next experience within seconds, it doesn’t feel like it.
It was hard to leave but when the time came, I was freaking out again. At the thought of fighting through the bitter cold on one of the coldest days of the year, wearing only my three sweaters, a winter jacket, three pairs of pants and socks, a toque and gloves. Not being able to feel my body and that suffocating feeling that made me a bit…nervous. Scared, more like it.
After all, it turns out that I was colder with all these layers on than I was with none at all.
Hey y’all. I’m Jim. Cute pic, no? That kid went on to spend 16 years in the broadcast media world before starting up Travel Mammal, a site dedicated to travel, food and cultural experiences.
Travel Mammal isn’t about the selfie or checking things off a list. It’s about experiencing both the journey and the destination. To breathe, learn and really absorb what’s around you, in the moment and experiencing in a way that is both memorable and meaningful.
Happy travels, y’all.
A BIG merci beaucoup to Nordik Spa-Nature for hosting me to a small yet incredibly big, beautiful and uniquely Canadian experience. All opinions are, as always, my very own.