On a 26-acre parcel of land outside the Nova Scotia coastal village of Chester is a spa unlike any other in the province. Instead of minimalistic white rooms with high ceilings, scented candles and in-ground hot tubs, you'll find ice-cold waterfalls, Turkish hammams and cozy fireplaces.
"Offering a pause, a break in your busy life, that's really our intent," says Christophe Debeaumont, owner of SENSEA Nordic Spa.
Originally from France, Debeaumont and his wife, Laetitia Gomthier, moved to Canada five years ago. Avid spa-goers in Europe, the couple wanted to provide Canadians with a unique experience, drawing inspiration from spa cultures across Europe to create something original.
To that end, explains Debeaumont, the couple have embellished the basic Nordic spa concept with ideas from their travels to spas in Luxembourg, Germany, Finland and across Scandinavia. Key to the experience, he says, is being immersed in nature.
"We wanted to create a new, different concept of spa where everything is embedded inside deep nature," he explains. "It sounds crazy, but we offer for you to be literally in your swimsuit in the cold outside in the wintertime."
The Nordic spa experience has three steps, Debeaumont explains. First, spa-goers warm up in a sauna, hammam (steam room) or hot bath. Second, they cool down as quickly as possible.
"The brutal way to do it is to pour a bucket of water on you," says Debeaumont, though there are gentler options, including an onsite waterfall.
Debeaumont says the shock of the cold releases adrenaline and endorphins in the body, inducing a deeply relaxed state afterwards.
The final step, of course, is relaxation, and Debeaumont recommends doing the hot-cold-relax cycle three times to "sleep like a baby" at night.
To induce even deeper tranquility, SENSEA has a lounge with a fireplace, light reading and classic vinyl records, as well as snacks and wine to purchase.
A typical day at the spa costs $50 for basic access. Add-ons like therapeutic massage, and traditional Russian banya—a treatment that involves being whipped with eucalyptus branches—cost extra.
By this summer, Debeaumont also plans to offer outdoor massages and a chance for people to take the experience even further by sleeping in "dream cocoons" (a sort of treehouse) overnight.
SENSEA opened on January 1, with about 100 guests taking in the experience. Located about 45 minutes from downtown Halifax, Debeaumont says the drive to Chester is a great chance to get into nature.
"We just want to offer you a way to escape the city," he says, "and give a pause on your life."