Quebec City’s sky was dropping a steady and chilly drizzle from the clouds, but we stood under the overhang on a porch, protected from the rain and cool air. Our host from Siberia Station Spa pointed out the stations scattered on a hill leading down to a river. I hugged my rain jacket around my shoulders and followed her finger and instructions as she explained we needed to start with time in a “hot” area—a wet or dry sauna, infrared sauna or a hot tub—followed by a dip in cold water (either fed by an artificial waterfall or the river) and then rest time in front of an outdoors fire pit or inside a yurt or hut heated comfortably enough to knock someone into a nap.
From where I stood, even I could tell that this wasn’t a ‘normal’ spa experience. Most spas I’m familiar with are outfitted in shiny title and sterile, hard surfaces. This Nordic spa, with outposts hidden among the trees, was much more rustic and completely open to the elements. Sitting in the hot tub or by the fire pit and walking from station to station would require getting wet in the rain. The concept of the Nordic spa is three-fold: First, you need to spend ten to fifteen minutes in a hot station to warm the body up, open the pores and clear the airways. After the hot experience, a few seconds in a cold station closes the skin’s pores so that the heat stays inside the body. Finally, the relaxation portion of the experience is apparently where all the benefits of this entire process occur.
After our deck side orientation, I peeled off my rain jacket and slid into my swimsuit before wrapping my body up in an over-sized bathrobe. Slipping my feet into a pair of flip-flops, I ventured out into the rain and immediately sunk into a hot tub. Submerged in the steaming heat, I found the raindrops hitting the surface of the water to be quite relaxing. After sufficiently becoming a prune, I pulled myself from the water and hurried to the river. I was tempted to dip a toe before plunging in but I knew that would only discourage me from complete submersion, so instead I jumped in, my abs tightening against the frigid cold. I quickly climbed out of the water and rushed toward the yurt, which was outfitted with hammocks and dim lighting surrounding a wood-burning fire in the center.
I savored my time in the both the hot spots and warm resting abodes. I jumped from hot tub and sauna into the cold plunges before racing off to a place where I could just relax. At one point during one of my resting phases, I actually fell asleep, overstaying the recommended ten to fifteen minutes by about twenty minutes. Oops!
My normal definition of a spa consists of comfortable but clean rooms lit by candles and bathed in new age music. These spas are peaceful places to be sure, and I’ve received more than my fair share of amazing treatments at them, but there was something strangely intimate and fresh about this communal experience. I guess I’m not convinced it actually did anything for my health, though the fact that I fell asleep must at least say something about how relaxed I was.
This was the first time I ever encountered a Nordic spa experience, but I’m told that they are popular in Scandinavia. I do know this much … rain or no rain, actually therapeutic or not, I’ll happily spend an afternoon at the next one I happen upon.
Learn more about Siberia Station Spa here. Photos from Siberia Station Spa.
Disclaimer: My experience at Siberia Station Spa was made possible by Quebec City Tourism, but all opinions are my own.