When it’s minus 20 degrees outside, the last thing you might be thinking is “Time to strip down to my bathing suit!” But that’s exactly what Henk and I did at Quebec’s Siberia Station Spa. And believe it or not, after a couple of dips in their pools, minus 20 actually felt warm!
They don’t call them ‘Nordic Spas’ for no reason. Leave it to those hardy Scandinavians to come up with a health regimen that involves heating yourself up in a sauna of one type or another and then jumping into freezing water (or rolling in the snow, if you prefer). But they must be doing something right with this, because Nordic spas are becoming increasingly popular around the world, and the way they do the one at Siberia Station Spa, it’s relaxing, beautiful, and pretty cool, too (pardon the pun).
The Health Benefits of Nordic SpasHôtel de Glace, where I learned that humidity is NOT your friend, at Siberia Station it’s the polar opposite. Here, warm, humid air is a beneficial catalyst that opens up your pores and helps your body sweat away those nasty toxins (read ‘cheap wine’), and can even help you burn calories in the process. Then, by quickly immersing yourself in an ice bath, your skin’s pores close, triggering your body’s heat conservation mode, boosting your circulation and giving your cardiovascular system a healthy workout in the process.
First, get your sweat on
At Siberia Station, there are 3 ways to open up those pores, depending on which method you prefer (or in my case, all three because I wanted to try them all out to compare.)
Some of us may know these as a Finnish-style sauna, a wood-lined room with benches that uses a wood-burning or electric stove to heat up rocks that radiate heat into the room. (I personally love these, having grown up with them in Northern Ontario where we would also create a ‘wet’ sauna by throwing hot water onto the rocks and creating steam for even more heat.)
“Eucalyptus Wet Sauna”
As the name suggests, this sauna uses steam that is heavily scented with eucalyptus oil, and besides helping to relax muscles, the strong scent opens up your nasal pathways and allows for deeper breathing. In this room, the steam is often so thick that you can barely make out who is sitting on the tiled benches, so allow a moment or two for your eyes to adjust, pick your spot and breathe in the aromatic steam. You’ll be sweating in no time flat.
Siberia Station has an infrared sauna, which I had never heard of, but apparently this is the best one if you want to burn off some of those calories. Although this one felt cooler than the other two saunas I tried, I was advised to be patient (yeah, right!) because although the infrared therapy may take a little longer to bring out the sweat, a session here could burn more calories because of an increase in heart rate. (Hmmmm…maybe I should’ve allowed more time for this!)
And now for the c-c-c-cold!
After your hot sauna of choice, the idea is to quickly jump into something cold – very cold, in fact. Siberia Station offers a number of ‘cold pools’ around the property, some with icy waterfalls that can douse you quickly, some that you carefully slide into (so as not to slip on any icy edges).
And if you’re feeling really brave, you can follow the heated pathway down to the river, where a dock built into the river has a ladder where you can dip into the not-quite-frozen river water. (I opted for the nearest pool beside each sauna, since I knew I’d probably chicken out on the walk down to the river – although I did actually dip my foot into the river on my brief visit to check it out!)
Hot, cold, relax, repeat
Here’s the trick that I didn’t realize at my previous experience with a nordic spa in Ontario: after you’ve heated and cooled your body, don’t jump right back into a hot pool to heat yourself up again – relax, instead. The first time I visited a nordic spa, after I did the cold immersion, I immediately jumped into a hot pool to warm up, and my whole body felt like it was being pricked with pins and needles! Now I know that your body needs to settle down, and at Siberia Station there are several unique, really cool places to do this.
One is a a Mongolian yurt with a wood-burning fireplace in the centre and funky individual hammocks hung around the perimeter for you to curl up in. Another is a round, bio-sphere-type structure that has the same hammocks but with windows overlooking the pretty brook below. Or there is a wood cabin with a fireplace and comfy chairs if you prefer something more cottage-y. All of these relaxation rooms are quiet zones designed to relieve any stress you have left, and once you’re feeling suitably ‘zen’, head back out and enjoy some of those hot tubs around the property. Or start the process all over again in one of the saunas.
A spa for all seasons
With its idyllic setting on a sloping piece of forest next to a babbling brook, and tall trees creating a canopy over the intimate pools scattered around the property, it’s easy to see how Siberia Station Spa would be beautiful in every season. And even in the depths of winter, all that hot and cold therapy made the -20C air temperature feel more than tolerable as Henk and I wandered around the grounds in only our bathing suits, flip-flops and robes. Slipping into a steamy hot pool to enjoy a bit of alone time in the ‘Silent Zone’, I couldn’t help but feel like we were being spoiled in a luxurious, decadent retreat.
And then I realized – we kind of were.
TIP: If you’re planning a visit to Siberia Station Spa, allow at least 2-3 hours to really take in the experience, and be sure to bring along flip flops or sandals and your bathing suit. Robes are available to rent, or you can bring along your own if you prefer. Also, be aware that silence reigns supreme here (except of course for the occasional squeal when you hit the cold water for the first time!). For more details on pricing, etc, visit the Siberia Station website – and click ‘English’ in the top right.)
Special thanks to City of Québec Tourism for hosting my stay and providing this indulgent opportunity. And to Siberia Station Spa for an amazing experience and for providing all but the first photo used in this post.