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MONT TREMBLANT - Looking onto the glasslike sheen of an infinity pool after having been pampered with massages, facial masks, and various fancy treatments, I suddenly felt like I had a clear idea of what it must be like to live a life of true glamour.
But my mission to the spas of Canada's Laurentian mountains was about something a little different. While I set out on a journey to experience luxurious spas in order to tiptoe into the good life, it did have the inadvertent result of undoing some of the tension that I had acquired during a long and painful year living with a severely herniated disc. More than pampering, this became a journey of healing.
The Laurentians are one-hour north of the city of Montreal and are akin to the Catskill Mountains in size. The setting is wilder than it is bucolic, and the mountains envelop the space creating a sense of being hidden away amidst the dense northern forests. In my week here, I discovered a series of independent spas, each striving to their own brand of rest and relaxation.
The Laurentians boast some 32 spas, 21 of them resort spas, most of which have been developed in the past fifteen years. While on this trip, I visited The Ofuro Spa, Quintessence Spa and Resort, the Hotel du Lac, and Spa Scandinave, while other notable area properties include the Le Westin Resort & Spa, the Fairmont Tremblant, L'Oasis de l' Île, and the Polar Bear's Club.
THE OFURO SPA
Ofuro Spa is located in the town of Morin Heights and has a distinctly east Asian theme. The feel here is Rococo Zen; when entering the long driveway, I was greeted by gigantic Buddha sculptures that offer an immediate sense of calm. For those wanting to spend the night, there are five rooms, each decorated with modern boutique décor, flat screen TVs, bamboo flooring, and mountain views.
The fire behind the Ofuro Spa is owner Jacques Aubry, a former restaurateur who had the vision to build this sanctuary 10 years ago. His plans quickly changed when, while working on the roof of the main building he fell some 25 feet onto hard rock. He would go on to spend much of a year in a hospital and was even told he might never walk again.
But like a Phoenix rising, Aubry was determined to build his vision of the spa and Nordic baths, which he says healed him. Now he has no shame at showing off the scars of his injuries, and he even flaunts them like war trophies.
“If it hadn't been for the spa, the treatments, the Nordic baths,” said Aubry, “I would never have walked again.”
Aubry takes me through his creation - a main building is the welcoming area and a plethora of catwalks and pagoda buildings contain saunas, steam rooms, and relaxation areas. Aubry personally picks out the antiques, remnants of fallen churches, and locally-commissioned artwork. The exterior is beautifully landscaped with large pools, small pools - hot and cold, leading to the optional dip in the river, after which the relaxation areas offer heat from antique cauldron fireplaces. Here, all is silent and peaceful. There is no talking, and cell phones are not permitted.
Visitors enjoy the Nordic baths early, loosening up the body before their treatments. The masseuse Ginette, who has studied in Italy under a shiatsu master, reminds me that the Laurentians were once as tall as the Himalayas, and it is that old mystical energy that contributes to the feeling of being elsewhere. After an outstanding Swedish-Shiatsu massage combination and facial, I am left feeling as special as the spa itself.
QUINTESSENCE SPA AND RESORT
Quintessence Spa and Resort is my next stop. It's easy to miss, carefully remote from the masses yet right across from all the action of Station Tremblant. The Tremblant area even has its own private airport and is a secret haven for stars – both local and international.
Quintessence is the brainchild of Tom and Nancy Clagett, who fell in love with the region after visiting Mont Tremblant Lodge from their native Ireland. They would buy the land here from a woman who apparently went shoeless in her house while entertaining. Hence the spa name, Sans Sabots (without shoes).
Quintessence is a boutique hotel with 30 loft-like rooms that each includes a fireplace, a voluminous jet tub, a wall of windows, and a balcony overlooking the resort's infinity pool and, in the distance, Lake Tremblant. This resort was the first in the area to have in-room massages, and with suites like this, it is a most welcome treat. The space is intimate and warm for what could otherwise be a swank and unapproachable grandeur.
This beautifully-situated lakefront spa has French doors leading onto a Jacuzzi and an infinity pool. Here I opted for the Revitalizing Body Rénovateur, a sound treatment that included a scrub, a body mask, and a rinse, followed by cold rocks on the face and hot stone therapy on the body.
While the staff was attentive, the treatment itself was too busy, demanding too much interaction on my part to actually relax. Just as I finally started to unwind, I would be coaxed to flip over to receive another part of the treatment. Again disrupting the mood, I then had to traipse across the waiting room area, covered in mud – rather than shower in the treatment room itself. That said the new general manager, I was told, plans to revamp the treatments.
THE HOTEL DU LAC
Across the lake is Hotel du Lac, another hidden gem. From the exterior the hotel looks a bit like a Swiss compound from the 1970s, painted white with fable-like brown trimmings.
The staff at Hotel du Lac are delightful, and the atmosphere is that of European congeniality. Using select products, this spa goes to great lengths to have the crème de la crème of treatments with precious re-mineralizing ingredients, and they even offer a kid's spa line.
The hotel is owned by the jet-setting octogenarian aristocrat, the Belgian Marquis Alain De Rosanbo, who visits twice a year to test out the treatments himself. I opted for a Sea Treasures, which is hydrotherapy plus a massage, followed by a body wrap and then a dip into a 144-jet tub; apparently this is the Marquis's treatment of choice.
As I floated in the sea-salts of the massive tub, I, too, felt like aristocracy, and came to understand that I could easily get used to this kind of a life.
This spa prides itself on service, attentiveness, and the level of relaxation is magnificent as a result. Once done at the spa, juice and fruit are served as part of the relaxation process and guests can sit contemplatively on the porch overlooking the lake. What a perfect way to unwind.
The last stop was the now lingering pioneer in this area, a Nordic spa appropriately called Spa Scandinave. An oasis just off of the highway, it is surprisingly silent behind the busy adjacent roads. The difference in attentiveness between the boutique hotels and this stand-alone spa was evident from the beginning. The staff here has little to do with the hospitality of the more intimate boutique resorts.
Fortunately the curt front desk service that I experienced was compensated by an outstanding hot rock massage that worked hard to undo months of tension with its combination of saunas and baths and an array of relaxation rooms. The setting was supplemented with all the necessary yoga, meditation, and spiritual magazines that even allow you to almost pleasantly fall asleep.
An attendant, however, was constantly prodding guest here to maintain silence, as clients were apt to chitchat. Nonetheless, for a spa-lover like myself, there is no better way to spend a rainy day hopping from sauna, to cold bath, to hot tub, to relaxation lounge.
Each spa in the province of Quebec's Laurentians offer a very different experience in terms of their staff, the atmosphere, and treatments. It's all a part of the rainbow of spas that have dotted this landscape here in recent years. Through my journey, I discovered that while I was neither a countess, nor a contender for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," a good pampering is tantamount to healing no matter who you are.Source: ontheglobe.com