Wellness for Body, Mind Spirit in Quebec
By Miranda Plunkett
In 1639 a wooden chest with three locks which could only be opened with all keys being turned together was loaded on to a tall ship in northern France. It contained the personal and religious possessions of three nuns who had been commissioned by their Augustine order to set up the first hospital in the growing center of La Nouvelle France, now Quebec City. These brave women landed in a cold and barren land where they had to retreat further south their first winter as the conditions were too harsh. Over the ensuing years their work led to the founding of 15 hospitals, the acceptance of over 1,400 unwanted babies, the nursing of English and French soldiers without discrimination and the start of the provincial healthcare system. The center of their activities was Le Monastere des Augustines built on the ramparts of the old city overlooking the Saint Lawrence river where the first nuns had landed.
Two years ago a privately and publicly funded multi-million dollar project completed the conversion of the monastery into a modern day wellness center. A stunning glass and steel membrane now surrounds the church which remains the heart of the new complex and where the ten surviving nuns, who live in an adjoining building, continue to visit for daily prayer. Their legacy can be felt throughout the new venture in its design and practice; guests are asked to take breakfast in silence, yoga classes imbue a sense of calmness, their former bedrooms have been updated and a stunning museum archives their history and lifestyle. And all profits now benefit professional caregivers.
Guests can choose from a range of different packages or select their meals and activities as they go. Days usually start with a meditation led walk in the neighborhood. A variety of yoga classes are offered which can be interspersed with private spa treatments or a guided museum visit. The monastery is right in the center of the Old City and walking distance to all the main sites. The restaurant focuses on organic and healthy meals, and Quebec’s reputation for gourmet food has definitely infiltrated the walls. Dinners include a meat, fish and vegetarian option which changes daily and are both innovative and beautifully executed. The nuns’ former bedrooms are available as singles, twins or doubles and come with wash basins and an adequate number of sleek shared bathrooms, or there are more contemporary rooms with en suite bathrooms.
For a three to four day break or part of a longer trip to include Montreal, Le Monastere is a reasonably priced and a very attractive destination. It is not a health spa in the traditional sense but offers much more through its thoughtfully executed transformation to an excellent example for sustainable health awareness; the original nuns’ wooden chest stands firmly in the museum as testament to their endurance. Driving from New York takes approximately nine hours and there are direct flights to Quebec City on United and Air Canada from Newark International.
Miranda runs a travel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com, and advises clients on all areas of travel from whom to travel with to preparing outline itineraries.