CHELSEA, Que. — There is a retreat in western Quebec that could possibly transform the way curmudgeons feel about the winter months.
Le Nordik, an outdoor spa that claims to be the largest in North America, is tucked into the village of Old Chelsea, Que.
The hideaway, about 20 minutes from Parliament Hill, has become a year-round escape that even has high-power politicos jumping into bathing suits and bathrobes.
“It’s surrounded by nature … it is a great place to relax,” said spokesperson Marianne Trotier. “It feels as if you were on a trip when you come here.”
Le Nordik also has become a huge money-maker due to its popularity, drawing in around 160,000 people every year.
Trotier would not disclose the spa’s annual revenue figures, but she said the business has invested $22 million on its development projects since it opened a decade ago.
“Since the first day we opened, the spa was a real success,” she said.
The site includes several baths — hot, cold and temperate pools — as well as saunas, indoor and outdoor relaxation spaces and two restaurants.
Its main attraction, called the thermal experience, is based on the idea of alternating between hot and cold temperatures.
The concept has garnered the attention of the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, which has a partnership with Le Nordik to allow hockey players access to services for mental and physical recovery.
The spa is located near Gatineau Park, which also offers its own dynamic landscape for active winter activities, including cross-country skiing, camping and snowshoeing.
The park is considered one of the jewels of the National Capital Region and draws more than 700,000 visitors annually, according to senior program co-ordinator Louis-Rene Senechal.
Many patrons come more than once a year, meaning the park is visited about 2.7 million times, he added.
“If I were to paint a picture of the winter offering in Gatineau Park, I would start off by saying that it is a destination of choice for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and all levels of abilities,” Senechal said.
“It is one of the widest networks of cross-country skiing trails in North America … we pride ourselves with having this in the nation’s capital with good reason.”
It is uncommon for a conservation park to be located so close to an urban centre, Senechal noted.
“Most often in North America, when you see a conservation park, it will be in a remote area or it will be in a destination that you need to travel to go to,” he said.
“(Gatineau Park) offers an outdoor experience in a natural wonderland a few minutes from the downtown core.”
The park is an important part of Canada’s identity, Senechal added.
It features the former summer residence of Canada’s longest serving prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King.
King spent most of his summers at the estate for more than four decades, according to the National Capital Commission, noting he gradually expanded and beautified the grounds.
“Even though that site is mostly a summertime destination, you can still visit the grounds and snowshoe around those cottages in the wintertime,” Senechal said.
Skiers and snowshoers can also spend a night in Gatineau Park in cabins, yurts and four-season tents available to rent.
Winter mountain biking, also known as fat biking, is permitted on four trails inside the park this year as part of a pilot project.
The NCC said it decided to respond to the growing demand among snow biking enthusiasts.