Spa Scandinave Les Bains Vieux Montréal

When you enter Spa Scandinave Les Bains Vieux Montréal, it is a very different Scandinave experience. Though the circuit is familiar, the setting is not. It feels like you are in a cave – in a good way. The sound from the waterfall in the warm pool rumbles throughout the dimly lit space. The noise of the city, even the time of day and the seasons melt away and you are in an intimate chamber that invites you to escape into silence and rest.

The two defining features of the space were the sauna and the rest areas.

The sauna has a large bed or rocks in the middle of the space which provides even heating and a nice focal point to the room. The backlit benches and sloped ceiling made for a really memorable space.

The rest areas were cozy spaces with two levels of rest. One for lounging and the other for napping. Both of these spaces were lovely, but the napping room was one of the best I’ve encountered. The dark helped me to drift off for a while and nearly forget that I had to be on my way. As usual, I could have stayed for days.

Spa Scandinave Les Bains Vieux Montréal is a quiet meditative urban spa experience. It’s a great place to go to focus your senses and to just be a body in a space.

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Unwise or Unwind?

Imagine setting yourself on fire, throwing yourself in a pit of snakes, covering your body with leeches, and rubbing excrement on your face. These aren’t just medieval forms of torture anymore; they are spa treatments! Lemondrop’s Top 10 most Bizarre Spa Treatments sound more like something you would watch on Jackass than actually do for personal benefit. However,  it appears every one of these is legit and their proponents swear by them. For 7 out of 10, I would just be swearing.

Body Blitz

Body Blitz: Photo by N.Irvine

Nestled on a side street in downtown Toronto, Body Blitz is an urban day spa with the tag line “Health by water.” It is Canada’s first, women-only water spa and is a funky place to hang-out for hip Torontonians seeking to refresh and detox. As I caught my first glimpse of the water, I saw that I was about to enter a modern day Roman Bath dedicated to urban goddesses. Naked and barely dressed women were lounging in deep pools or on oversized and overstuffed chairs, while attendants circulated among them carrying trays of pre-ordered herbal infusions and health smoothies. The mood-lighting played up the facility’s brick walls, wood tones, and chunky metal fixtures creating a stylish and chic environment.

There is a recommended circuit for taking the waters at Body Blitz. It starts off with a shower before entering. This is a good thing to do at any facility for sanitary reasons, but at Body Blitz, it is part of the experience. The showers here are the most luxurious public showers that I have ever experienced. They completely drench you with thick heavy drops that massage you, falling with their natural weight. The frosted glass cubicles are well stocked with Body Blitz’s own brand of natural bath products that are light and fresh. They use lime and mint to energize your skin and scalp while you suds-up.

Water Circuit: Photo by N. Irvine

The first stop on the “official” water circuit is the sea-salt pool. The description says that it’s purpose is to warm and relax your body to prepare you for the steam room. After my steam I rinsed the accumulated toxins off my body and marched into the cold plunge. This is one of the best steps, but it takes some courage to get used to. You need to stay in a heat source long enough to actually feel the benefit of a sudden cooling down and you also need to stay in the pool, up to your neck, for one minute. Doing this actually closes and refines your pores while stimulating your thyroid and regulating your heart rate. I find it exhilarating, but this time I was glad to know that I was on my way to the infrared sauna immediately afterwards. Though I am a sauna veteran, this was my first experience with the infrared variety. An infrared sauna uses radiant heat, instead of conductive heat, to warm the body creating an arguably greater effect than a traditional sauna. It was a good experience, though I did not find it to be drastically different in any way. After this, I was off for a rinse and cold plunge before heading over to the immune boosting, green tea pool. I got there just in time for my energizing smoothie to arrive. It was so heavenly I did it all again. Twice.

My Fingers When I Was Finished: N. Irvine

Body Blitz is conveniently located in downtown Toronto: on 471 Adelaide street, between appropriately named Spadina and Bathhurst streets. The various spa treatments available should be booked in advance but are not necessary to enjoy the facilities. Check out the treatment menu and before you go to maximize your spa experience and go on a Tuesday for an extra good deal on your soak.

Spa Trivia

Photo by Natasha Irvine

The word spa has different meanings for different people. For some, a spa is a place for a massage and a pedicure, a place to get pampered for an hour or even for a week. Others use spas as a way of improving or maintaining their overall health and may undergo intensive balneotherapy and hydrotherapy sessions. Originally word spa comes from the town of Spa in Belgium where people would go to heal by drinking the hot spring water as early as the 16th century. The word for the town may have come from the Walloon word espa meaning fountain. The widely circulated rumor that the word is an acronym for the Latin phrase “Salus Per Aquam” or “Sanitas Per Aquam” meaning “health through water” sounds romantic, but it is false. Acronyms were not often used until the 19th century; spa may not be an acronym but is a backronym.

Ritual Bathing

Around the world, throughout history and in almost every culture there are rituals around bathing. For many the act of washing is not only external purification, but internal or spiritual as well. Even today, all the major religions in the world have a ceremony in which water is used as a symbol for spiritual purification; consider the various uses of baptism, bathing in the Ganges and the Islamic absolution ritual wudu.

In most of pre-Christian Europe and the rest of the world hot springs were sacred places. They often had temples built on or near them and became places of worship. A well-known example is Bath, England, where nearly two thousand years ago, a temple was built to Minerva near the hot springs. In the 3rd century, the Romans constructed the baths as we see them today.

St. Augustine

There is a traditional Finish saying, “Saunassa ollaan kuin kirkossa,” – you should be in the sauna as in a church. However, throughout history the Church has intermittently condemned bathing. Plato and Augustine’s separation of the physical and spiritual spheres vilified the body, condemned public bathing, and severed the connection between physical and spiritual well-being. Consequently, even in the 21st century many people incorrectly associate bathhouses only with prostitution and sexual activity.

Though bathing is becoming less associated with formal religious ritual in the west, practices such as yoga, meditation, and even pastoral care are associated with the growing spa industry worldwide. Even the decor at many spas references sacred spaces. There is usually an atmosphere and etiquette that encourages a quiet, meditative environment much like the Finnish recommend. People are encouraged to speak in soft voices, leave all distractions behind, close their eyes and breathe deeply. The atmosphere is, by nature, spiritual. Whatever your views, going to a spa will undoubtedly create a deeper harmony between your mind and your body; which were the original intentions of ritual bathing.

Banya5

Banya5 and Venik Lounge: Photo by Natasha Irvine

Banya5 is Seattle’s premier Russian sauna experience. It is self-described as an “extreme environment,” and with the sauna, or prilka, at 200 degrees they are not joking around. After initialing in at least five spaces and signing the waiver in the reception area I was able to watch a short video detailing spa specifics. I learned that, like their Scandinavian neighbours, the Russians also alternate between hot and cold temperatures to heat and cool the body and regulate the heart rate. The difference is that Russian hot is HOT! I was there for the real Russian experience, so after I changed into my bathing suit I walked passed the other tempting facilities (salt pool, hot tub, cold plunge and steam room) right into the sauna. After only 7 minutes I was cooked to the point where I felt like combustion was imminent. I walked the few paces to the cold pool and plunged in. Time to do it again? Absolutely!

Banya5 Layout: Photo by Natasha Irvine

Personalize your experience at Banya5 by booking a massage or a scrub. You can also enjoy a cup of tea or lemon water in the upstairs lounges perfect for napping, chatting, or reading. Just don’t expect a perfectly solitary retreat. With its modern industrial design this place is quite hip and social. It gets packed on weekends and in the evenings. Bring friends or join the regulars after your soak for a bit more of Russia at the vodka bar next door: Venik Lounge.