The Spas of the Laurentian Mountains Beckon You to Relax and Rejeuvenate

Posted April 18, 2010

By George Medovoy, Editor

SAINTE-ADELE, QUEBEC - Quiet forests of maple and pine under a blanket of snow - it's the perfect setting for a winter spa vacation here in the spectacular Laurentian Mountains, the spa capital of Quebec.

And there's an added plus - you can take in the World Cup Freestyle Skiing Grand Prix, scheduled January 24-25, 2009, when the best freestyle athletes from around the world make their way to Mont Gabriel for aerial and mogul competition.

The Laurentian spas, varied in style and size, are about an hour from very urban Montreal, which makes them very easy to get to via the highway.

(You can relax in a hammock or take a dip in the refreshing waters of the river at Spa Ofuro, pictured at left)

Moreover, they incorporate everything that makes the outdoors here so special, like snow covered trees in the winter, warm summers under clear, blue skies, and the rivers that flow through the Laurentians.

Close to Montreal!

You can fly into Montreal, enjoy this world-class city, and then head for the snowy Laurentian spas and the charming village of Sainte-Adele, a hamlet of a little over 10,000 people.

To get a taste of ski life in Sainte-Adele, you can check out Hotel Mont Gabriel, which sits on the summit of a mountain with rooms and chalets and a spectacular view of the valley below and Highway 15, the road to Montreal.

On a sunny day from the mountaintop, they say that you can see all the way to Olympic Stadium in Montreal!

The hotel has alpine skiing as well as ice skating on site, with dog sledding, snowshoeing, tube sliding and snowmobiling nearby.

Mont Gabriel, which includes night skiing, is also the permanent training site for acrobatic skiing in Canada. The mountain site also offers ski and snowboard instruction for preschoolers to high school-aged children, as well as adult instruction.

The mountain has a base elevation of 656 ft. and is 1,420 ft. at the summit, with a 656-ft. vertical drop and 900 acres of skiable area.
There are six surface lifts (double t-bars), one triple chair, and two quad chairs.

The mountain has 18 trails, and its longest run is 3,600 ft.
Back in the village, Sainte-Adele's main street is filled with boutique shops and wonderful eateries, like Spago, a noisy place with a memorable menu and a great wine cellar.

(The friendly owners of Spago in Sainte-Adele, Angela and Louis Desjardins, welcome visitors to their bistro)

Come evening, everyone in town seems to converge on Spago to enjoy the delicious food and the warm atmosphere created by husband and wife Louis and Angela Desjardins, who opened Spago in 1995 and are both from Sainte-Adele.

After a night in the village, one of the best places to start your spa exploration is at a Spa Ofuro, a Japanese-themed spa under the trees next on the edge of a refreshing river just outside Sainte-Adele in Morin Heights.

(The Spa Ofuro has a Japanese theme)

When we arrived, we followed the recommendations of our friendly host at the front desk by first warming our bodies in a sauna and a steam room.

Then, brave souls that we are, we immersed ourselves in a pool of cold water from the river. And when we say cold, we mean COLD!
But that was not all. Next, we walked down a series of steps to the river, holding onto a rope as we slowly let our bodies slip into the icy river itself.

(A bather slowly lowers herself into the cold pool of water at the Spa Ofuro)

At first it seemed almost too cold to bear, but our bodies adapted, and what a wonderful feeling it was to be immersed in this refreshing river under the trees.

(A view of the river water, refreshingly cold, at the Spa Ofuro)

Later, enjoying deck chairs above the river, we watched others slowly try the waters themselves.

Our time at Ofura ended inside a room on comfortable, reclining chairs, listening to soft Japanese string music headsets.

(The Spa Le Baltique offers Nordic and thermal waterfalls and a variety of massage therapies)

At the Spa Le Baltique, also in Morin Heights, you can indulge yourself in Nordic and thermal watrfalls and take advantage of a variety of massage therapies, including reflexologie, kinesitherapy, lymphatic drainage, or Swedish massage.

The spa has access to la Riviere Simon (River Simon) and has a health bistro with a juice bar, coffees, herbal teas, salads, and sushi and paninis.

Another spa in Morin Heights, Auberge & Spa Le Refuge, is also situated next to the same river with a distinctive Nordic energy and Zen tranquility.

(Le Refuge is a bit of Finland in the Laurentians)

A Finnish sauna and Turkish steam bath tucked under a hill, and there is a complete line of treatments from Swedish to hot stone therapy. For those seeking a longer stay, Le Refuge also offers 26 rooms with meals.

Our last spa stop was Station Sante Bagni in Sainte-Adele, where you can enjoy the Finnish sauna and Turkish team bath, swimming in the adjacent river all year long, eucalyptus inhalotherapy, warmed whirpool baths and outdoor pool, and either solo or couples masotherapy.

When we weren't checking out spas, we took very soothing massages at the four-star Manoir Saint-Sauveur in nearby Saint-Sauveur.

The masseuse who gave me the massage worked wonders on my neck area, which needed some therapy from endless hours spent hunched over a computer. She was right on when she said, "Your shoulder is very tight."

The hotel includes a full range of facilities, including a salt water indoor pool, a Finnish sauna, a steam bath and whirlpool bath and a fitness center.

L'Ambiance Restaurant

Its L'Ambiance Restaurant specializes in regional cuisine, and its wine cellar includes 3,000 bottles in reserve. For breakfast, you can also enjoy warm croissants - with the dough sent over directly from Paris!

In winter, the Saint-Sauveur valley attracts downhill ski enthusiasts with night-lit ski trails. You can also do cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, and horseback riding.

Back on the road one afternoon, we stopped to see Le Chantecler, an elegant 4-star hotel nestled on the picturesque shores of Lake Rond in Sainte-Adele.

It's a dramatic setting, as the architecture of the hotel follows the side of the mountain all the way down to the lake.

Built in 1938 as a country club, the hotel offers a ski school with 16 runs and day and night skiing. Winter activities include downhill skiing, snow shoe excursions along traplines, ice fishing, sleigh rides, and snowmobiling.

(The magnificent view of the lake in warmer months at Le Chantecler)

In warmer months, guests can also enjoy the horseback riding school or simply glide on the lake in a canoe.

The crowning jewel of Sainte-Adele is a combination inn, spa and restaurant called L'Eau a la Bouche. The name of the inn's restaurant in English means Mouth Watering - and for good reason.
L'Eau a la Bouche offers a memorable foray into native Quebec cuisine through the inspired creations of Chef Anne Desjardins, who, with her husband Pierre, own the inn.

We visited L'Eau a la Bouche in the middle of summer, when the warm rays of the sun did wonders for Desjardin's cherished herb garden, including edible flowers.

The Montreal native and self-taught chef recalled the day she said to her husband, "Why don't we open a little restaurant in the countryside, and we will live upstairs."

They had both graduated from university with geography degrees and not much promise of finding work. So, they came to Sainte-Adele in 1979, where her father's family had roots, and "fell in love with a little house," where the restaurant is today.

"I loved to cook before we opened the restaurant," Desjardins said. "I wanted to have something genuine and authentic (in our restaurant)…the best food, the freshest, something that will give pleasure to share."

Named the best chef in Canada by the New York Times, Desjardins characterizes her food as "market cuisine," reflecting the important link with local farmers.

Products from Canada and Quebec

"Even in full winter," she noted, "we use products from Canada, from Quebec. It's not so difficult. It's a temperate climate."

In 1993, Desjardins cooked for a lunch in Toronto given in honor of Julia Child, and in 1995 at the James Beard Foundation in New York.

Though self-taught, Desjardins took courses in France in the 1980's and recalls, in her beautifully illustrated book, Anne Desjardins Cooks at L'Eau a la Bouche,"how passionate French chefs are about product quality and how obsessed they are with freshness."

Desjardin's husband, Pierre, manages the restaurant's superb wine cellar, which has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence since 1998.

Son Emmanuel, who grew up amid the pots and pans of the restaurant, has since joined the cooking team as a chef.
Desjardin's creative instincts go beyond the kitchen.

Some years ago, Desjardin's husband bought her a box of paints, and when you dine in the restaurant, her colorful oils of fresh vegetables and fruits adorn its walls.

"Art like food is connected to a place," she said, "we can feel it. That's why, when we travel, what we like most is to "get in touch" with the spirit, the country, or the people."

Getting in Touch with Quebec Cuisine

For Desjardins, of course, the ultimate way to get in touch is through the food of a place. And through the inventive menu of L'Eau a la Bouche, we get in touch with the cruisine of Quebec with such "mouth-watering" dishes as these:

Pan Fried Cod Fillet served on a bed of green and white asparagus with creamy olive oil emulsion,

Smoked Duck Salad with Julienned yellow beets, purslane and wild blackberries,

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with minature escalope of fresh duck foie gras and truffled croutons,

Lamb Prepared Two Ways - roasted loin in almond sage crust and braised shoulder in a potato "Napoeon" with shiitake mushrooms and root vegetables.

For information about travel to the Laurentian area, visit, or call 1-800- 561-6673.

For more information about L'Eau a la Bouche, call (450) 229-2991 or visit

Here is additional contact information:

Spa Ofuro,, 1-877-884-2442

Hotel Mont Gabriel,, 1-800-668-5253

Spa Le Baltique,, 1-877-926-7722

Auberge & Spa Le Refuge,, 1-866-996-1796

Manoir Saint Sauveur,, 1-800-361-0505

Spa Bagni,, 1-866-848-4477

Hotel Le Chantecler,, 1-888-916-1616