Some 30 years ago, when Jocelyna Dubuc, a Canadian geography teacher, became interested in wellness and naturopathic medicine, she ventured off to India to study yoga, meditation and natural healing. Returning to her native province of Quebec, totally committed to a healthy lifestyle, she opened Spa Eastman – a sanctuary in the picturesque Eastern Townships, an hour by car from downtown Montreal.
Fast forward to the present where Spa Eastman is a multi-award-winning destination spa, the oldest in Canada – one of those places where, by the end of your first day, you are already planning your return visit.
Recently two stretched-to-the-limit, stressed-out friends and I planned a weekend retreat, expecting to do nothing more than just chill. We had heard rumours this was a wonderful retreat. Little did we know just how wonderful it would be.
Heading east from Montreal, we drove by pastoral farmland and through gently rolling terrain to a quiet country road and the beautifully landscaped spa property set amidst 326 secluded acres.
Madame Dubuc welcomed us personally. A petite, radiant dynamo, she speaks perfect English with a captivating French accent. After showing us around, she urged us to settle in slowly. “The best way to unwind before dinner is 10 minutes in the steam room, then 20 minutes in a lounge chair to gaze out at the garden. You may even fall asleep and I may join you.” Here was a woman who follows her own advice, telling us that her goal was to create a spa that she, as a client, would want to visit. “One that is simple, where I feel comfortable,” she added.
The retreat she created includes a main lodge, surrounded by a collection of small, cozy cottages and 15 kilometers of walking trails. The main building accommodates several inviting lounges, the spacious dining room, a heated indoor pool and steam room, treatment and exercise rooms and 16 guest rooms. The ambiance is casually elegant, with an unpretentious, friendly vibe. We quickly discovered a Zen feeling of well-being, dotted with cheerful “bon jour” greetings from the bilingual staff.
My room was tastefully, yet simply appointed with a king bed, writing table and a comfy chair, enticing me to curl up beside the corner fireplace. The spacious bathroom featured a jet bath and a cosy, cream robe with an invitation to “wear me anytime.” The large private balcony overlooking a serene garden pond had an unobstructed view of Mount Orford in the distance. There was no phone, no TV. I didn’t miss either one.
It would be easy to mistake the dining room for an upmarket restaurant but for the number of people – both men and women – wearing those cosy cream robes and matching slippers. And the food? Exquisite – with vegan, vegetarian, raw and carnivore options to satisfy both dieters and gourmands. The wine list contains an interesting selection, including local and organic wines. Dairy products are not available; gluten-free options are. On the premise that food can both create toxicity and eliminate it, sugar and salt are used discriminately. Food has a big impact on your well-being, believes Dubuc.
Chef Kevin Belisle, who was recently honored (and deservedly so) as Chef Santé 2013 by the the Société des Chefs Cuisiniers et Pâtissiers du Québec puts delicious into nutritious eating. He seduces guests with foods that respect the principles of healthy nutrition, featuring organic, local produce and products with little or no processing. “It’s magic how he converts die-hard indulgent eaters into health-conscious gourmands,” says Jocelyna Dubuc.
In 2006, Le Spa Eastman à votre table won a gold medal in Cuisine Canada’s Culinary Book Award gold medal. A second cookbook, .
With 130 employees (70 of them, therapists), wellness services include a full array of body treatments including massage, couple’s massage, facials and foot and hand care. The salon offers both hairstyling and health treatments including in-depth analysis for hair and scalp. And the list goes on.
“Our most popular treatments are the Watsu and our mineral wrap, which includes a liquid paste with heat and massage,” Dubuc says. Watsu, gentle-motion, floating massage that promotes deep relaxation while immersed in warm water was Fiona’s favourite. Mine was the hour-long Japanese Kobido massage using acupressure and bamboos, focusing on the face and upper body that left me feeling totally relaxed and with a radiant complexion. Anne reconnected with her inner strength in long walks in the woods. “They work their magic,” says Dubuc.
From the guided anti-stress walk before the morning yoga class to gentle stretching in warm water to an Essentrics class with visiting instructor Miranda Esmonde-White of American Public Television fame, we took it all in.
In addition to registered therapists and licensed aestheticians, the wellness team includes university-credentialed kinesiologists, a nutritionist and a naturopath who are available to create comprehensive, personalized lifestyle and fitness programs and able to focus on clients with chronic illness.
The fact that almost 60% of their guests are repeaters speaks volumes for the fact that Spa Eastman makes the quest for well-being wholly pleasurable. “I like to think we offer a European atmosphere with a French flavor that appeals to North Americans, says Dubuc.
Dubuc has always been a visionary. Modest about her accomplishments, she has garnered impressive awards in the fields of tourism, spa excellence and business acumen. Her spa was among the first ten in Canada, in 2013, to receive 5-Star Spas accreditation. Her influence has significantly impacted the industry as a whole as the founder of the Quebec Spa Association “Relais Santé,” an organization to advance, educate, and standardize the business. Acknowledging the impact she has made, Dubuc was recently inducted into the Canadian Tourism Hall of Fame.
Jocelyna Dubuc’s dream provided my buddies and me with much more than an opportunity to ‘chill out.’ We headed back to the real world, relaxed, refreshed and revitalized.
If you go:
895 Chemin des Diligences