Going on a wellness getaway to kickstart healthy habits? Wondering what to expect? Optimism TravelingMom takes the plunge at Spa Eastman in Quebec Canada, and provides tips so you can relax and enjoy the experience. Tip #1, for example, is to bring a hat. You’ll need it for the outdoor hot tub when the temperature’s way below zero!
“Let’s start with a short run to get our hearts pumping!” My heart was pumping already. Double time. Why? It was -22 degrees and hypothermia was a real concern. Run? I was wearing long underwear, jeans, a fleece, a ski jacket, wool mittens, a hat and hiking boots. The path was covered in snow and ice.
You know what I did?
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My visit to Spa Eastman in Quebec’s Eastern Townships was a chance to kickstart healthy habits. During this wellness getaway, I was determined to say “yes” to trying new foods and activities. I had 48 hours to myself and I was going to use the time wisely.
But I was nervous. I’m not a spa type of gal. I’d had exactly one professional massage in my entire life and my experience in a Munich sauna was not a good one. When I opened the door, I found 7 large, naked German men. Talk about a moment when you wish for a trap door. I’m not as fearless as Globetrotting TravelingMom.
What to Expect on a Wellness Getaway
- Dress Code is Active Casual
- There are Rules. Respect Them
- If You Don’t Ask, You’ll Never Know
- Make Yourself Uncomfortable
- Take Home a New Habit
Dress Code is Active Casual
I was apprehensive as I approached the resort.
Fortunately, my fears evaporated immediately. Chairs ringed a glowing fireplace in the lobby and guests perused copies of self-help books displayed on a table. I was greeted at reception by a young woman who spoke fluent English and didn’t mind my fumbling French.
Spa Eastman is located in Quebec province where French is the primary language. And, although I refer to it as a spa, I was told by the staff that it has the distinction of the title “relais santé,” an attribution given to Quebec destinations that are inspected and certified.
I was given my choice of a standard room key or a Disney-style magic band and a large waterproof tote with two spa towels, a bathrobe and locker key. My room was inside the pavilion which houses the dining room, gym, treatment areas and baths. Other rooms are located in out buildings on the property.
I was glad that I didn’t have to venture outside to go to my room, but it was fun to watch other guests trudge into the spa in full Nordic gear, leaving their boots and coats in large closets near the entry doors.
Spa Tip #1
Next time, I’d travel in a layered active wear ensemble, leave my bathing suit and robe in my locker for bathing changes and keep my outerwear in the spa hall closet for putting on when heading out for a walk or run.
During my first few hours at Spa Eastman, I indulged in 4 costume changes. I arrived in my street clothes and wore them during my spa tour. I changed into a yoga outfit for my first treatment, then into a bathing suit and robe to sample the Nordic baths. Then I changed back into my street clothes for dinner. It was exhausting.
Play by the Rules
My very large room was furnished like a comfortable mini apartment; the only thing missing was a kitchenette.
There was a gas fireplace in one corner, king-size bed, a couch, desk, a big closet and armoire. There were two bath areas: a toilet room and a bath/shower combo. This setup makes the room perfect for a girlfriend getaway. The room also featured a large, private deck with stunning views of Mt. Orford.
The room lacked a TV and telephone. The intent at Spa Eastman is to create a mood of serenity. I decided to play along and stay off electronics as much as possible. I will confess to quick family check-ins at night and photo sessions in the early morning and late evening when the public spaces were deserted.
Spa Tip #2
If the spa posts house rules, follow them.
As a travel writer, detaching from a laptop and cell phone is the exact opposite of what I normally do when traveling. I was fretting about this when I met the founder and owner of Spa Eastman Jocelyna Dubuc. She was filling water glasses during dinner and chatting with the guests. She told me to forget about writing and just be in the moment during my time at the spa.
I cherished the silence at Spa Eastman. There are shushing lips signs posted throughout the Nordic baths and people respected the admonition, perhaps because the clientele is Canadian and they’re rule followers. I tried to imagine a group of Americans keeping quiet. And detaching from their phones.
It was hard. I admit. But it really helped me reach a state of serenity.
If You Don’t Ask, You’ll Never Know
After checking out my room, I scurried downstairs to get a tour of the spa facilities, offered daily at 3 p.m. Richard, one of the spa managers, showed me around the Nordic baths. There’s a traditional sauna, an infrared sauna and a hammam or steam room. Guests are encouraged to spend 15-30 minutes relaxing and sweating in one of the heated treatments and then indulge in a cold plunge. Several options are available. You can do a German Kneipp circuit that involves walking stork-like through ice cold water and then submerging your arms in a freezing trough. Or you can go jump in the lake. Literally.
A beautiful wall mural in the Nordic baths describes the health benefits of alternating hot with cold. I was skeptical but, 48 hours later, I was a true believer because my neck and back were no longer creaky.
Richard reviewed the treatments I’d booked the week before my arrival. I was looking forward to my Neurospa experience which I’d sampled at the NY Times Travel Show. It’s a massage chair with a nature soundtrack that is both relaxing and energizing. I’d also reserved a massage appointment.
Spa Tip #3
Book your treatments in advance to make sure you get what you want, when you want it. And, if you’re unsure about a treatment, ask for details.
I mentioned to Richard that I was a spa novice and that I have some issues with strangers touching me. Everyone’s got phobias. That’s one of mine. He didn’t think I’d enjoy the treatment I’d booked and switched my massage to a relatively new one at Spa Eastman called Lomi-Atsu, a combination of a Hawaiian technique and traditional shiatsu. My masseuse was wonderful; she paid attention to my critical areas (neck and lower back). I’m so glad I spoke up and that Richard was proactive.
Make Yourself Uncomfortable
Spa Eastman offers a daily complement of classes and activities, in addition to the Nordic baths, as part of your room rate. During my visit, they included an introduction to working out with Swiss exercise balls, a numerology session and a daily fitness walk. The resort has over 15 kilometers of trails for guests to explore.
I was excited to sample these classes. The stumbling block is that they’re offered in French. Jocelyna told me the resort offers bilingual instruction if they know they have 3 or 4 English speakers. Although my language teacher considers me an advanced beginner, she’s very generous. However, I’m not one to be deterred.
And that’s how I ended up ice running.
I thought the morning fitness walk was a brisk walk along the resort trails. I didn’t translate the part about running while boxing.
On the plus side, it was invigorating. One negative? I thought I was going to break a hip.
Since I didn’t end up in the ER, I figured I might as well try one of the lectures too. They’re held in salon rooms located off the lobby that are outfitted with comfy lecture chairs. Edson, the leader of my fitness walk, was conducting this class which I though was about sensible cardiac activities. Instead, it was about breathing techniques to improve cardiac health. Surprisingly, I could follow along easily. Edson’s delivery was very animated and he demonstrated the use of an app, RespiRelax, to learn the technique.
Spa Tip #4
Take a chance and try something new, even though you might feel embarrassed or foolish.
Although I don’t think I’ll go ice running again any time soon, I will be adding brief intervals of running to my walks, since it wasn’t too horrible and I know it’s supposed to be good for me. I’m using the breathing technique every day; I have a flittery mind and meditation has always been difficult for me. Using the app, I’m able to ground myself 3x a day. That’s a very good thing.
Take Home a New Habit
Meals at Spa Eastman are served in a beautiful dining room with walls of windows that flood it with light. By night, it feels cozy and warm. An extensive buffet is offered at all 3 meals (included in the room price) and breakfast and lunch also have additional entree selections, including vegetarian options.
The spa cuisine is dairy- and gluten-free.
A French meal without baguettes and cheese?
I spoke with Jocelyna about the food and she said it’s part of the evolution of Spa Eastman. She began offering yoga classes and juice cleanses back in the ’70’s. In the ’90’s, Jocelyna found a bank willing to take a chance on a female entrepreneur who had a vision about expanding into a resort-style wellness destination. The Nordic baths were added during a subsequent renovation.
Jocelyna is excited to celebrate Spa Eastman’s 40th anniversary this year and is focusing on food; she refers to it as tonic cuisine. She changed her own diet to combat fibromyalgia and continues to refine the spa menu. For example, her chefs have recently adopted a low temperature cooking method for meats. I told her that I was surprised by how rich and bright the food tasted.
And that wine is still on the “good for you” list. Hurrah for me!
Spa Tip #5
It’s unrealistic to think that a weekend wellness getaway will cure all of what ails you. But bringing home one new habit is completely doable.
I’m continuing with a gluten-free diet as an experiment. It’s not easy for a pasta-loving cheesehead. But if a French woman can do it, why not me? The benefits to date are a couple of pounds dropped, a new reservoir of energy and a diminished belly pooch.
It’s not easy though.
Jocelyna understands it. Since she believes in the healing power of her tonic cuisine, she has plans to publish a cookbook and is working on a meal delivery service to help her spa patrons continue their healthy habits at home.
I left Spa Eastman wondering how I could work in return visits every 3 months or so. I felt grounded and recharged and a few pounds lighter. And the price was right. Mid-week package rates in the spring of 2017, including a room with a fireplace, 3 meals, and access to the Nordic baths and all programming, are $430 for 2.
There must be a way to work this into my budget. If I stay off the gluten, all of those unordered pizzas will add up!