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.

Skin Under The Overpass

Under the freeway in north Seattle may seem like an unlikely place for a spa, but then again, Little Red Day Spa is not your ordinary establishment. Artist Jeff Hengst shares his personal studio with the community by opening the space as a spa for private, reservation session and—a handful of times a month—for public drop-ins. His oil paintings of human forms and other organic shapes line the walls of this creative cave, and telltale signs of inspiration can be seen on the hardwood floor. Though the room is large and with high ceilings the space still feels intimate and it was only during my orientation tour that the spaness of the space became evident.

The woman who gave me the tour was hosting the evening. She was friendly and helpful, yet she warned me repeatedly and in no uncertain terms that sexual behavior, or even “sexual energy”, were completely unacceptable at the spa. After the third direct statement I was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable, especially as I had brought my longest and most loyal spa-going companion—my mother—with whom I was beginning to exchange dubious looks. We were hoping for a relaxing evening of chatting and pampering, unfortunately for us, on this evening, it was not to be.

We went for one of the Ladies Night drop-in evenings, which, like all drop in sessions male or female, is clothing optional. There was a free-spirited, bohemian vibe to the event that intensified as more people showed up. Everyone enjoyed taking the time to choose a unique bathrobe from the large wardrobe. Then with the wine and other refreshments they had brought, draped themselves across couches or chairs and soaked in the hot tub.

My mother and I were both fully aware that “clothing optional” actually means, “clothing frowned upon.”  We have gone to many spas together and some of those have been “skin only”. But the fact that a “please sit on your towel” policy did not seem to apply to the furnishings, here, and the fact that hostess felt the need to make numerous and pointed reminders about not being sexually active in the spa, made us a tad uncomfortable. We made a snap decision to cover up and became the proverbial lepers of the evening. We also obviously flustered our hostess, who came over to say that she supported our decision to wear bathing suits, but we would probably be more comfortable if we took them off. I know she was trying to be kind, but it ended up making the whole thing turn slightly nightmarish, especially as the place was filling up with naked women who were gawking at our covered bodies.

Determined to get our money’s worth without dropping our vestments, we soaked for a few minutes in the disappointingly tepid tub before moving on to the redeeming part of the evening: a self-administered, clay body-mask and “salt glow”. A large blanket was spread on the floor, in the centre of which was a copper bowl filled with locally-sourced clay. We applied the clay sitting on the blanket under the warmth of a heater. The extremely fine grain of the clay gently exfoliated my skin as I applied it and the light application dried quickly under the heat. After I showered and buffed my body with the salt glow, my skin was honestly as soft as it’s ever been.

At this point we would have loved to luxuriate a little longer and perhaps get a mini massage on offer for a small fee; however, we were feeling too out of place. We exited as gracefully as we could and resolved to see if the nearby Banya5 or Hothouse were still open.

I can certainly imagine that Little Red Day Spa drop-in times are a great way to relax, and at $15 dollars for the softest skin you are ever likely to get, it is worth every penny. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that next time I go I will rent the space out for myself.

Visit Little Red Day Spa’s homepage for more information on drop-ins, rates and reservations.


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.

Urban Scandinave Awarded

Scandinave Les Bains Vieux-Montreal is part of the Scandinave Spa Group and the only urban spa of the four Finish style delights. It has been given the honour of the Governor General’s Award for Architecture 2010. The spa was designed by  Saucier + Perrotte Architectes. Watch their slideshow that shows the graceful light and lines of the spa and you will see why it deserves the distinction.

Hothouse

Photo by Natasha Irvine

On Capitol Hill in Seattle, Washington there is a steep staircase going down behind the shops of an old building on Pike Street. If you ring the bell by the door at the bottom of the stairs you will be pleasantly surprised by what you find when the door is opened for you.

A tightly knit knot of small compartments make up a women’s only, clothing uncommon, public bathing facility called Hothouse Spa and Sauna. In the dimly lit rooms there is a serene atmosphere where the people are friendly, whispers are mandatory, and the simple pleasures of being hot and clean are enjoyed.

Lavender by the Hothouse Entrance: Photo by Natasha Irvine

After taking off your shoes and signing in, the rather cluttered reception area gives way to sleek bathing facilities. The locker room is open onto a quiet area for resting where you can fill a glass with filtered water and lime slices between soaking and sweating. A quick shower is mandatory before moving on to the sauna, the hot tub or the luxurious lavender steam room. Massages are a good thing to book in advance, but I just happened to be lucky and got one only minutes after signing in. The rate for entry is only $12 and massages are more than reasonable as well. Though affordable, the massage was excellent and the facilities were modern and spotlessly clean. The experience I had at Hothouse rivals many which charged triple the price.

The only complaint I have about Hothouse Spa and Sauna is the bathroom. It is in a rather awkward location between the change rooms and the shower with two doors, neither of which lock, and only one very exposed seat. Unfortunately, this is also the only area where a blow drier is available. However, it seems that a simple folding screen or “L” shaped privacy curtain would be a simple way to remedy this problem. I hope they consider it, because despite this inconvenience I will go back to Hothouse Spa and Sauna whenever I am in the area. The lavender steam room alone is worth the trip.

JJ Family Spa

JJ Family Spa: Photo by Natasha Irvine

In the back parking lot of an athletics store surrounded by bigger big box stores, JJ Family Spa is an authentic jjimjilbang in greater Vancouver. A jjimjilbang is a Korean spa and is quite similar to a Japanese onsen or sento. It is a family atmosphere where people can relax in spacious heated rooms, bathe, socialize and get a variety of spa treatments.

Salt Room: Photo by Natasha Irvine

JJ Family Spa is a great place to relax, refresh, and enjoy a bit of Korea on this side of the Pacific. There are communal rooms for eating, chatting, and relaxing as well as a host of massage options. The male and female spa areas each have showers, a hot tub, a cold plunge, a steam room, and a sauna. However, the most unique feature is the Salt Room. A dimly lit room with a floor that looks like a giant sand box filled with salt and covered with white cotton sheets. Lying down I felt as if I was lying on a hot beach. The warm salt is said to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, treat acne, help allergies, purify the blood, and relax the muscles. Whatever the benefits it feels great and you can stay as long as you like.

JJ Family Spa Sign: Photo by Natasha IrvineThe website has been down for sometime now, so here are the details:

JJ Family Spa

(Sometimes called JG Spaplus Family Spa)

3000 Christmas Way

Coquitlam, BC V3C 2M2

(604) 552-1048

www.jjspa.ca

Extra Info:

  • Hours of operation: 9am until midnight daily. From May-August it is closed on Wednesdays.
  • $15 adult entry with discounted prices for children and seniors.
  • No bathing suits, sandals, food, dye, oils or lotions are allowed in the spa areas.
  • Pajamas for the Salt Room and two small towels (decency towels) are provided.
  • Your own shampoo, soap etc. is probably nicer than what they have on hand.
  • It is only a 5 minute walk from Coquitlam Central Station.

Scandinave

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.

Scandinave Spa Whistler: Photo by Natasha Irvine

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.