8 great Nordic spas to visit across Canada
Hot, cold, rest, repeat...the thermal bath circuit is the winter routine we can really get behind
If you're craving a midwinter pick-me-up but travelling to a warm destination isn't in the cards (or the budget), consider a weekend getaway or day trip to one of Canada's many Nordic spas. Until recently, these types of spas were few and far between in Canada, but with their rise in popularity, we're seeing crop up across the country.
These types of spas offer guests hydrotherapy at different temperatures; the practice of combining hydrotherapy with thermotherapy is hailed with relieving joint stiffness, muscle spasms and to help reduce inflammation caused by injuries. Perhaps a side benefit, it's also the perfect escape from life's daily stressors, including your smartphone. Many of these spas have a strict no-phone policy — also an equally strict no kiddos policy.
Although no two Nordic spas are the same, they do follow the same circuit: guests are encouraged to follow a cycle that consists of hot and cold immersions, followed by rest, and then repeat. Grounds are scattered with several saunas and pools of various temperatures, the idea is to start hot, either in a hot tub, steam room or sauna then moved to 'cold, achieved by a quick plunge in a cold pool or standing under an equally chilly fountain. Next, it's time to get cozy and relax, picture yourself cocooning in a plush robe and curling up next to a crackling fire or swaying in a hammock in a light-drenched solarium. Finally, repeat.
It makes sense that Canada seems to be becoming the newest hotbed of thermotherapy spas, with winters similar to the climate found in Nordic countries. Though we can thank Quebec for leading the way and opening outdoor thermal spas decades ago (the province is home to over a dozen Nordic spas set in rural scenery), the rest of Canada is catching up. Here are eight Nordic spas that offer a reprieve from winter — or just life's busyness.
Helpful notes to know before your first visit:
- In case you're wondering, yes, you must bring a bathing suit.
- Many spas will charge rental fees for robes, so if you'd like to save on that expense, bring your own — and don't forget your flip flops.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. The high heat of the hot pools and saunas can dehydrate you, so fill up and drink often.
- Bring a book. The relaxation rooms are the perfect spaces to settle in, sip on some tea and get lost in a good read.
- Most of these spas have a few important rules they expect spa-goers to follow, and rule number one is often: unplug and unwind. Many have a strict no electronics policy.
Scandinave Spa Whistler, Whistler, B.C.
A short drive from Whistler Village, this expansive spa is nestled on the edge of Lost Lake Park, offering guests all-encompassing views of pine trees and breathtaking mountains while they lounge and soak. The property is well equipped with several hot and cold elements such as eucalyptus steam baths, wood-burning Finnish saunas, hot tubs (varying in temperature), cold plunge baths and Nordic (a.k.a. cold) showers. Silence is golden here: guests are encouraged to keep talking to a minimum.
Hot tip: If you're looking to create the ultimate date, book the signature duo massage. You and your partner will be treated to a private room with sweeping views of the mountains.
Cost: $75-$100 for bath access, $185 to $245 for a massage.
Kananaskis Nordic Spa, Kananaskis, Alta.
Just over an hour's drive from Calgary, situated on the grounds of the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge, you'll find the first Nordic spa in Alberta. Opened in 2018, the grounds boast views of snow-encrusted forests and jagged mountainous peaks for bathers sitting in baths that billow with steam. The natural beauty is only emphasized when you're soaking in an azure-hued pool while heavenly woodsmoke cedar clouds drift by you.
Hot tip: After you've finished all your circuits (it's recommended that you do at least three) it's time to get squeaky clean. Don't miss the exfoliation room, where spa-goers can scrub off dead skin cells with an invigorating salt-infused scrub followed up with relaxing oils.
Cost: $85 for bath access, $189 to $199 for a massage.
Thermëa, Winnipeg, Man.
Located a few minutes from downtown Winnipeg, near Crescent Drive Golf Course, this building itself looks unlike anything else in the city. It evokes a European après ski aesthetic, especially in winter when surrounded by snow-capped trees. The air permeates with a blended aroma of birch, which burns in the outdoor fireplaces, and invigorating eucalyptus that's utilized in the steam sauna. The property also has a steam room that uses the natural orange scent — a must if your sinuses need clearing.
Hot tip: Plan to have a meal at Restö; the menu is a mix of comfort dishes and healthy options, with a lengthy cocktail and wine menu. The best part? You can eat in your robe.
Cost: $59 to $55 for bath access, $118 to $153 for a body treatment, $128 to $183 for a massage.
Chance Harbour Nature Spa, Chance Harbour, N.B.
A 30-minute drive from Saint John will land you at Chance Harbour, which sits at the edge of the Bay of Fundy. The natural thermal spa has a vapour steam room, Finnish wood-fired sauna and a hot pool, and the latter two have guests looking out on postcard-worthy views of the sea. Rather than building a cold plunge pool, the spa utilizes the nature around them, and encourages guests to use the Chance Harbour waterfall and spring which stays at a constant cold temperature, or an even more impressive asset, the Atlantic Ocean — spa-goers can experience the intense cold blast of the Atlantic for their cold-water dip.
Hot tip: This is one of the rare thermal baths that allow guests to bring their own food and drink. Plan on staying for the day and pack a lunch.
Cost: $46 dollars for a day pass (no massages offered).
Balnea Spa, Bromont-Sur-Le-Lac, Que.
In the heart of Quebec's Eastern Townships you'll find the Balnea Spa which is a short drive from several popular ski hills in the Bromont area. The state-of-the-art spa sits on 22 km of property which includes a private natural reserve, hiking and snowshoe trails, and a small lake. In addition to all the Nordic spa fixtures, expect house treatment rooms, relaxation rooms, a lounge and a restaurant.
Hot tip: Balnea has an impressive massage treatment menu. Try the Kobido, which is a hybrid of an energetic massage and rejuvenating facial.
Cost: $50 to $70 for day access, $40 to $50 for evening access, $50 for access with a treatment, $25-$225 for treatments.
Nordik Spa-Nature, Chelsea, Que.
Nestled in the picturesque village of Old Chelsea, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Ottawa and on the breathtaking outskirts of Gatineau Park, this is the largest day spa in North America. It offers an impressive thermal circuit that consists of 10 exterior baths (hot and cold), nine distinct saunas, an infinity pool, a saltwater floating pool, yoga and meditation room, four restaurants, several relaxation areas and numerous treatment rooms for massage. One of their newest treatments is the 60-minute Banyä treatment; this ancient Russian treatment is said to improve blood circulation, deep-clean the skin and boost the immune system.
Hot tip: You've heard of floating tanks, right? Think of the Källa Treatment like the Rolls-Royce of float tanks. The unique pool is dug five metres deep into the rock and contains 10 tons of Epsom salt in 1,200 cubic feet of water. This otherworldly treatment claims to encourage restorative sleep, accelerates wound healing, reduces stress and inflammation and releases tension.
Cost: $71 for thermal bath access, Banyä Treatment, $148, Källa Treatment $128 and massage $178-$228.
Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain, The Blue Mountains, Ont.
Located two hours from downtown Toronto and a short drive from the Blue Mountain village you'll find the perfect spa oasis. This year-round Nordic bath experience offers the usual circuit of hot baths, saltwater cold plunges, lush waterfalls, a eucalyptus steam bath and a wood-burning Finnish sauna.
Hot tip: Since this is the Nordic spa closest to Canada's most populous city, it's always busy. Bath access is first come first serve; reservations are not accepted. However, guests who book a massage are grated free (and guaranteed) access to the hydrotherapy baths.
Cost: $65 for bath access, $165 to $250 for a massage.
Siberia Station Spa, Quebec City, Que.
The Siberia Station Spa offers guests a series of hot baths, steam baths, dry saunas, cold baths — or a quick dip in the Rivière Jaune. The spa has several unique and intimate areas for guests to end their cycle and rest, making it the perfect spa for couples to visit. There's the Üpé Pavilion alongside the river, Siberian yurt where hammocks accommodate singles or two, and the lodge that radiates with hygge vibes.
Hot tip: Alcohol is not permitted, including at the cafe. Those looking for the most peaceful of getaways should seek out the "silent zone", even quieter than the zone in which soft whispering is allowed.
Cost: $47 for day access, $32 for evening access, $89 to $125 for a massage.
Julia McEwen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @juliapjmcewen.