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Chase away the winter blues with a weekend getaway at the Nordic baths at Le Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain north of Toronto
Spa Experience at Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain
Fist-fighting, log jousting and snowball throwing, it’s puzzling why so many northern winter traditions seem to involve pain. So, it should come as no surprise that painfully cold water is an important part of an authentic Nordic spa experience.
“Increasing your heart rate is invigorating,” explained Lee-Anne Thomsen, the spa’s guest services supervisor, as we stood overlooking the 20-hectares of ice-laden forest, outdoor baths and countryside.
Location of Le Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain
Although it would be easy to imagine this was Finland or Russia, we were actually at Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain, located 2 hours north of Toronto on the outskirts of Collingwood, a growing hub for winter recreation.
Located on the southern shore of Georgian Bay and the foothills of Blue Mountain, Ontario’s highest ski hill, the town is ideally situated for outdoor adventure.
Alpine skiing, snowboarding and tubing are popular options at nearby Village at Blue Mountain, an upscale Intrawest resort community also offering a range of cosmopolitan dining and entertainment for the après ski crowd.
Outdoor enthusiasts also enjoy snowshoeing through the area’s wilderness trails or hiking across southern Ontario’s longest suspension footbridge at the Scenic Caves, a spectacular natural cave and cliff formation atop the Niagara Escarpment.
Le Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain has been designed to capitalize on the area’s natural beauty. Set amid a quiet forest, it is Canada’s second Le Scandinave Spa. Despite the word “spa” in the name, don’t expect pampering or coddling.
“This is a serious detoxification experience,” explained Thomsen.
Theory of Hydrotherapy and Nordic Baths
What exactly is a a Scandinavian bath? At the heart of the spa’s philosophy is the belief that a sequence of hot, cold and relaxation periods provides health benefits unavailable by simply floating in a hot tub or steaming in a sauna.
Unlike Korean spas (and many thermal spas in Germany) where you bathe naked, in Canada swimsuits are mandatory. Hair ties are often required as well.
“We recommend spending 12-15 minutes in a hot bath, steam or sauna room to open the pores and rid the body of toxins,” explained Henderson “That should be followed by a cold plunge or icy shower to rinse away impurities and improve circulation. Finally, there should be 15 minutes in a relaxation solarium.”
To deter guests who might be tempted to skip a step, a laminated map of the spa facility and outline of the suggested bathing sequence are provided at check-in.
It offers over 25,000 sq. ft. of spa activity and boasts three hot baths (including a waterfall), a Norwegian-style indoor steam room, a Finnish sauna and three cold plunge pools (including an icy Nordic waterfall). Yoga and pilates classes are also available on a drop-in basis for an additional fee.
It’s not for those in a hurry. The sequence, which should be repeated five times for optimal benefit, takes about 2.5 hours to complete.
Swaddled in the plush white towel supplied upon check-in, I scurried across the heated stone walkway to the closest hot outdoor pool, the Mountain View Bath, to begin.
As steam rose from the 102 F sapphire blue waters, it cooled in the frigid air and misted my face like a refreshing Evian spray. Although my ears felt like popsicles, the warm water was so relaxing I was tempted to remain submerged for the rest of the day gazing at the snow-clad Blue Mountains.
A squeal from a guest jumping into a plunge pool reminded me this was supposed to be therapeutic. Deciding to ease into the full-body cold water experience, I headed to the hot waterfall. After all, at 99F it was a full 3 degrees colder than where I’d been. Sliding behind a steaming waterfall, I was soon out of sight and basking in my own secluded alcove.
“Don’t forget to plunge,” shouted a nearby spa technician as he adjusted the cold baths.
Obligingly, I made an effort, admittedly more sparrow-in-a-puddle than a true plunge. Although a 41F temperature may feel balmy when you’re out walking the dog, it feels positively polar when you’re clad in only a bathing suit and flip-flops.
Massage Treatments at Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain
Fortunately, it was time for my massage appointment so I headed to the massage pavilion. Much like the Russian banya or Finnish communal bath where bathers beat each other with birch branches for exfoliation, the emphasis at Le Scandinave is on the therapeutic. You won’t find rose petals or aromatherapy treatments here.
“We are focused on what we do best,’ spa co-owner Mylisa Henderson explained. This meant a no-nonsense Swedish massage for me. Before long, I was in a room fragrant with cedar, being pummelled, kneaded and manipulated by the capable hands of Andrea, one of the spa’s 28 registered massage therapists.
Afterward, it felt as though I’d been working out at the gym – minus the effort. I headed to the secluded Forest Hot Bath to unwind. Billowing waves of steam rolled across the 106F water’s surface and disappeared into a forest of towering birch trees. With the aroma of woodsmoke from a nearby fire pit, I could almost imagine a troika, the Russian horse-drawn sled, gliding by.
When the winter sun emerged from behind the clouds I decided it was time to take the cold water plunge. The shock was surprisingly invigorating and I had to admit that the complete Nordic bath experience did chase away the wintertime blahs. Although a shot of vodka and a fur hat would have been nice.
Where to Stay:
Blue Mountain Log Cabin: For a memorable place to stay near Blue Mountain, try staying in a private log cabin. Set overlooking a pond and the mountains, it’s one of the most unique glamping spots in Ontario.
Le Scandinave Spa is located at 152 Grey Rd. 21, Collingwood. All-day access to baths is ($65 CAD) and bathrobe rental is $12 extra. Services such as a 60 minute Swedish or Hot Stone massage include bath access and must be booked in advance. Guests must be 19 years or older.
Budget Hotels at Blue Mountain Collingwood: Economical all-suite accommodation is available nearby at the Days Inn & Suites Collingwood in Collingwood. It’s a short drive from the spa but rather short on atmosphere as it isn’t located within Blue Mountain village.
But Days Inn Collingwood (15 Cambridge Street) Toll free 1-800-DAYS-INN boasts 76 rooms and suites and offers a host of features and amenities to provide you with all the comfort and convenience you’ll require during your visit.
Guest rooms include high-speed Internet, clock radio, coffee maker, hair dryer, and 27 inch television.
Suites are equipped with fireplace, Jacuzzi, flat panel TV, mini-fridge, microwave and pull-out couch, accommodating up to 6 guests. Secure high-speed Internet and desks are available in all rooms.
Check prices and availability at the Days Inn & Suites Wyndham Collingwood on Booking.com.
Luxury Hotels at Blue Mountain Collingwood: The best luxury hotel in Blue Mountains is the Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain located right in the heart of the village of Blue Mountain.
Check prices and availability at the Westin Trillium House Blue Mountain on Booking.com.
Insider Tip: Follow Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain on Twitter. Arrive at the spa as early as possible. Scandinave Spa Blue Mountain gets incredibly busy and lets spa guests know via Twitter as soon as there is a wait list. These waiting lists are nothing to scoff at. They can reach a whopping five hours during peak periods such as weekends and holidays.
Guests can arrive at 8:00 am when the parking lot is open and wait for the spa itself to open at 9:00 am so that’s one strategy to beat the wait. Or, you can arrive, put your name on the wait list and go have breakfast in Blue Mountain village.
Or, book a massage treatment for a specified time slot in advance and avoid the queues completely!
Get maps, directions and other travel information at Ontario Tourism.
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Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
Read more about Michele Peterson.