Quebec’s Eastman Spa Puts Accent on Healthy Living

The first shock is the bucket of ice water in my room with a note telling me to splash the chilly contents all over myself then quickly hop into bed. That, the note says, will guarantee a good night’s sleep.

The second shock is that it works!

The icy ritual is part of the thermotherapy program at Sap Eastman, an idyllic oasis in the lush forests and rolling mountains of Quebec’s Eastern Townships.

It’s all based on the theory promoted by Bavarian naturopath Sebastian Kneipp, who discovered that extremes of cold and hot improve circulation, boost the immune system, reduce stress and regularize sleep patterns.

But Spa Eastman is much more than just cold comfort. It’s an accredited 5-star facility that for 35 years has won many awards for its cutting-edge approach to health and wellness. I’ve come here with my friends Anne and Fiona to decompress, relax for a few days and get back on track to a healthier lifestyle. And there couldn’t be a better place to start.

Spa Eastman, which is just an hour’s drive from downtown Montreal, is a beautifully landscaped property set on 326 acres of secluded pastoral land. Cozy cottages surround the elegant chalet-style main lodge and a Zen-like feeling of calm prevails, helped along by the freshness of the country air and the cheerful “bon jour” greetings from the attentive bilingual staff.

The main building has several inviting lounges, a spacious dining room, a heated indoor pool and a steam room as well as treatment and exercise rooms. My luxuriously simple bedroom on the second floor has a jet bath, a king-size bed, a writing table and a comfy chair to curl up in beside a corner fireplace. A large private balcony, overlooking the garden pond, has an unobstructed view of Mount Orford in the distance. A large fluffy robe comes with an invitation to “wear me, anytime.”

Blissfully missing? A phone and TV.

“There’s no rushing here,” says owner Jocelyna Dubuc. “The best way to unwind before dinner is10 minutes in the steam room, then 20 minutes in a lounge chair to gaze out at the garden.

But she warns, “You may even fall asleep.”

That’s tempting although there is no shortage of things to do while you are awake. We go on anti-stress walks before our yoga sessions; stretch in warm water and take an Essentrics class with PBS-TV fitness instructor Miranda Esmonde-White. A naturopath and a kinesiology pro are also on the staff for personal consultation and there is a full array of body and beauty treatments.

Meals are a gourmand’s delight with vegan, vegetarian, raw and carnivore options focusing on local organic foods.

“It is simply healthy cuisine with little or no processing,” says Chef Kévin Bélisle, who was awarded Chef Santé 2013 by the Société des Chefs Cuisiniers et Pâtissiers du Québec.

Simple and healthy. That pretty much sums up the experience. Fiona marvels that she hasn’t slept this well in months; Anne remarks after a walk in the woods that she’s had a life-altering experience that will help her cope with an enormous challenge that once seemed insurmountable and I realize midway through a Japanese Kobido massage that my intrusive thinking voice has shut down and I’m living in the present moment, something I had almost forgotten how to do.

That’s a shock too. But a welcome one.

Travelife July 2013