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.
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!
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.
For centuries saunas were the cornerstone of Finnish health and healing. Today, it is said that there are two saunas in Finland for every five people and they are not considered a luxury, but necessary for health and well-being. The traditional procedure for taking a sauna is to use extreme temperatures to rid your body of toxins and refine your pores. This means: profuse sweating in a scorching, aromatic sauna while hitting yourself with bundles of birch switches to open your pores, followed buy jumping into a hole in the frozen lake or rolling in the snow to cool your body temperature and close your pores.
The Scandinave Spas are a Canadian spa group that brings the Finnish sauna traditions to Canadians and the hot/cold therapy to an accessible spa environment. There are three Scandinave spas in alpine locations: Mont-Tremblant, Blue Mountain, and Whistler, as well as one urban spa in Montreal.
This winter I experienced two of the spas, Scandinave Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario and the newly opened Scandinave Whistler in Whistler, British Columbia. Both prize their natural settings by creating views from the facilities to groves of trees and the surrounding mountains. The architecture is modern, but inspired by rustic Scandinavian tradition; the décor is warm, uncomplicated, and takes its cues from nature.
The main attraction of the spas is the thermal hydrotherapy treatment. Which uses the traditional Finnish hot and cold procedure to stimulate healing in your body, smooth your skin and relieve stress. The facilities for these include a Finish sauna, a eucalyptus steam room, hot baths and cold pools. Spa staff will suggest partaking in one of the heat sources for ten to fifteen minutes then plunging into the cold water for a few seconds followed by a rest for ten or fifteen minutes. Ideally, you want to repeat this process three or four times for maximum health, healing and relaxation benefits. I recommend trying the three heat sources and then going back to your favorite. As a grand finale, or perhaps as an intermission, there is a massage pavilion on site offering various types of massage from registered massage therapists. The combination of thermal hydrotherapy and massage is not only relaxing, but also restorative.
Though I found the spas to be very similar, there were a few notable differences.
Blue Mountain: bigger “resting rooms” and more patio space with hammocks outside in the summertime. Outdoor fireplaces with chairs clustered around them to rest and warm yourself and a lovely campfire smell. The baths are on a comparatively flat surface, with far fewer stairs to climb and a very open view of the other baths. The shape of the spa complex is circular, so it focuses in on itself. There is easier access from the parking lot to the spa.
Whistler: deeper cold plunges—gravity pulls you down into the water instead of you persuading yourself to crouch down into the water. The cold pools seem to be more conveniently located with quicker access from the heat source to the cold. The baths have more private nooks. The shape of the spa facility is a rectangle so the focus is away from itself towards the mountains. The drive there is along the Sea to Sky Highway and with its mountains, ocean, and shifting light, it is spectacular.
My experiences at Scandinave Spas left my skin feeling soft, my body cared for, and my mind refreshed. The staff encourages a quiet environment and a leisurely pace. Bathing suits are mandatory and nothing else is necessary, though you may want to bring a pair of flip-flops, your own robe, and a friend to share the experience.