I have been going non-stop since I had Maxwell. I took two short weeks off but after that it was pretty much back to my regularly scheduled programming. Truthfully, I haven’t been feeling my best and my body has slowly been giving me signs that it’s time to slow down a bit. I’ve been craving some breathing room and a reset to figure out what my next steps were going to be to help find balance during this time of transition as a working new mom. The idea for my mindfulness getaway to Quebec City’s actually came while driving Max inside my new car. I had made the decision to upgrade to the 2018 Buick Enclave Avenir in January. The extra space and safety features were definitely a catalyst for the change but I also loved the fact it has it’s own ionizing clean air filter that eliminates dust, bacteria and pollen in a car I spend a lot of time driving my daughter around in. It is a genius idea. Then I started thinking, as blessed as I am to be able to have things like this to help enhance the quality of my family’s life, nothing will trump how my energy and well-being will affect them at the end of the day. After my short stay at Le Monastère des Augustines, I implemented five small but important things that have made significant changes in my daily life. More on this later, but first let me share with you what this magical place is all about.
So with that realization, I was on the hunt for a truly unique wellness experience and discovered a real gem about eight hours drive from Toronto. Le Monastère des Augustines is a little wellness haven found in the heart of Old Quebec (Quebec City). Occupying the restored wings of the former Hôtel-Dieu de Queébec monastery, one of Quebec’s most significant historic sites, the hotel is for those who are on or looking for a true path to holistic health. The property opened it’s doors back in 2015 after three years of rehabilitation and renovations that had to meet extremely strict historical guidelines and a carefully curated team of historians and architects spent an enormous amount of time researching every square inch of the the property; to ensure it was restored respectfully to the way it was 400 years ago. Inside you’ll find:
- A boutique with teas, wellness products, books, healthy grab & go food options and meditation accessories.
- A museum and archives with 1 linear km of documents and rare ancient books. It houses a permanent exhibition illustrating the social and spiritual involvement in the first hospital on the continent north of Mexico and the development of Quebec’s health system as we know it today. It also has the original pharmaceutical and medical objects, works of arts and artefacts that the sisters held on to for years and donated to the monastery. There are guided tours that recreate the experience of a 17th century cloister
- The vault, located basically underground, is where many of the movement classes take place. It’s where I did my morning sessions and it has such great energy in there. Fun fact, this room was only a quarter of the height it is now. The original floor was removed and the ground was dug out to create this large space. The hallway leading toward the vault (found below) gives you an indication of how low the ceilings are in the original building.
- A church where the nuns still congregate daily at 5pm for mass and to sing with the choir. Guests are welcome to meditate or practice yoga on there own outside of mass hours.
- The spa where guests can receive personalized holistic and nutrition consultation services or indulge in facials, lymphatic drainage or their preferred choice of massage therapy in 30, 60 or 90 minute durations
Le Monastère des Augustines is also a non-profit organization. When you think of a wellness retreat, dollars signs is usually the first thing that pop into your head because let’s be honest, most are grossly overpriced. All funds and donations to the monastery are actually used to protect and enhance the heritage of the Augustinian Sisters, to help with Le Monastère’s mission to promote the wellbeing of individuals and society and to make it’s services affordable and accessible to as many people as possible.
I feel somewhat inclined to clarify just in case it was not clear during my stay. If you’re for a luxurious getaway with Michelin star dining with a couple of cute yoga classes sprinkled in throughout your stay, this is not the place for you. Taking inspiration from the Augustinian Sisters, who founded the monastery nearly four centuries ago, Le Monastère des Augustines, main goal is to take care of their guests mind, body and soul through meditation, food and a specific movement series. The design, programming, and food is all about simplicity and created with distinct purpose. The rooms are without clocks, TV or docking stations for iPhone/iPods to ensure that you have zero distractions in a space that should be reserved solely for sleep. However, they do have wifi throughout the property but they encourage guests to decompress and take a tech detox during their stay. The programming for the movement series, oddly not described in much detail on their website, are all scheduled before each meal and trust me there is good reasoning behind it. I promise, more on this later. As for the food; the restaurant’s approach is based on the principles of conscious nutrition using mostly organic, local and seasonal products.
Guys, the room’s at the monastery are probably one of the coolest aspects of the hotel and are the perfect design juxtaposition between old and new. There’s a total of 65 rooms split almost evenly between authentic rooms restored in the spirit of monasticism and contemporary rooms with modern design and amenities. After my hotel tour on IG stories, people seemed to be fascinated by the character and charm of the authentic rooms. The teeny tiny doorways are an indication of just how small the sisters of Augustine were back then and it’s just so cool to be able to see exact replica’s of what their rooms were like dating back to 1639. For reference check out Marie-Eve standing in front of an authentic suite and she is only 5’2″. The majority of the furniture in these rooms are original, historic pieces with the exception of the beds, mattresses and sink – and have all been manufactured right in Quebec, which is really cool. However, these rooms do not have their own bathrooms so guests must use communal washrooms and shower rooms during their stay.
After a quick poll on my stories, most said they loved the idea of the authentic rooms but were not thrilled about the shared washroom facilities. To be honest, the communal facilities are actually quite nice but there’s nothing like having your own with a bathroom with a deep tub for pre bedtime soaks. My contemporary room came with the just bare necessities but really well appointed. There were lavender beads in my closet giving my clothes the most beautiful scent during my stay. The wool Hudson’s Bay blankets at the bottom of the beds in this wing is a sweet added touch. And even though Le Monastère claims that luxury is not what they are about, their plush white bathrobes say otherwise.
The Daily Movement Program
Le Monastère is designed in a way to ensure that all ages and fitness levels are able to participate and benefit from what’s being offered. There are no high intensity workouts in sight and the programming is based on the practice of yoga, pilates and Qing Gong. You won’t find any difficult yoga flows or reformer machines. Each of the movement classes are primarily meditation based where breathing is the main focus with gentle movements from each practice incorporated into the 45 or 90 minute classes. Personally, not exactly what I am used to as I prefer something more challenging, however it forced me to slow down and focus on opening my body through my breathe. Turns out, I actually loved it and my body responded to it really well. I followed my midday practice one day with a massage and I was surprised my legs allowed me to walk back to my room. I was complete mush and so relaxed. The series is works well for those who are just getting into meditation, amazing for older guests who require more low-key activity and I even met one woman from the east coast that was there as part of her injury rehab program prescribed and suggested by her physician.
The classes are strategically scheduled at the exact same times each day before meals are served in the restaurant at 7am, noon and 5:30pm. Reason being, having food in the digestive system can interrupt with the rhythm of the body while going through these movements. While practicing yoga, pilates or Qing Gong (Tai Chi), the goal should be to have your energy be centralized towards the movement and poses, instead of going towards managing the process of digestion. Practicing on an empty stomach provides the chance to efficiently harvest the energy from the energy reserves of our body such as muscles, liver and body fat – encouraging the body to efficiently burn extra calories Not to mention, twists and turns with food in your stomach can also cause issues in the digestive tract.
“Le Restaurant” as it’s simply called is where I dined during my stay with the exception of one dinner I had off site at Chez Boulay because I was told by just about everyone I met there that I had to go. Chef Christophe Perny approach to creating the menu each day is fully aligned with Le Monastère’s holistic health principles. All meals are done buffet style with the exception of lunch and there are options for everything offering vegetarian, fish and meat dishes.
Done in complete silence, post yoga breakfast consists of homemade yogurts, chia seed pudding, fresh fruits, artisan breads, jams, tea and coffee. Fresh juices and smoothies are also available. The sisters ate all of their meals in silence . Doing things with a mindful intention was very important to them, even when it came to nourishing their bodies. Not talking also meant that they took their time while eating, chewed more and had better digestion. The hotel thought observing silence for all three seatings would be a bit too severe for guests so it is only mandatory for the first meal of the day. It sounds a bit dramatic but I must say, starting the day off with the awakening series followed by a quiet and nourishing breakfast, can be just the thing you need to change the trajectory of your entire day.
Lunch is hands down the best meal served in their resto and also the largest. It is a three course meal beginning with an elaborate salad bar with two soups to also choose from. Your choice of main (vegetarian, fish or meat option), ending with a guilt free dessert. The kitchen actually doesn’t contain any processed or refined sugars whatsoever. As I ploughed through my second course of lunch, our tour guide/Monastery PR Manager, Marie-Eve, shared with us the reasoning behind this decision. Eating a larger lunch, gives way to a lighter dinner that has been proven to help with digestion. This has also been linked to better sleep.
Dinner did not blow me away as much as the lunch but it met it’s purpose. Similar to the breakfast, it was buffet style with a full salad bar, soup options and mains to choose from for vegetarian, fish and meat eaters. This too was followed by dessert. The items were all of easily digestible foods and I must say, I slept so much better the first night we dined in the monastery restaurant than the following when I devoured a steak at Chez Boulay.
My Le Monastère de Augustines Take-Aways
I think a lot of people leave wellness retreats with grandiose ideas of making huge life changes when they return home and within a day they get swept right back into their old routine. While their intentions may be there, sometimes the changes are so dramatic, it’s just not feasible to see it through in the real world when you have work commitments, kids, family and friends pulling you in a million directions. So here’s what I’ve implemented since I have returned home:
Meditation. 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. I had to be honest with myself, anything longer than that with Maxwell around, just won’t get done. I make it even easier for myself and do it right in the comfort of my bed. While 15 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time, believe it is torture for those who are used to going non-stop. This is my starting point but I am hoping to make it up to an hour by summer.
A Mindfull Approach. Slowly down. Taking my time. Being more mindful with everything I do. Taking the time to enjoy every bite of food I put into my mouth and concentrating while I chew. Taking in my surroundings during my runs and walks with Maxwell. Giving my daughter my undivided attention and not being distracted by the television, cell or laptop. I mean, there will always be times where I have to check my email, answer calls or respond to a text while Maxie is around but I am doing my best to keep some special time for just me and my girl.
Silence. As much as possible. When you live with a partner and a baby it is challenging to do this but I am no longer driving with music playing while I’m alone. I’ve chosen quiet over the radio unless I have a guest riding with me. On our way back from the monastery, Jess and I listened to the spa channel on my XM satellite radio
Large(er) Lunches & Lighter Dinners. Not really a hard one to implement if I’m honest but I have trimmed down my dinner portions and now opt for heavier meats for lunch sticking with fish and veggies for dinner.
More Baths Before Bed. This requires no further elaboration. One of the reason we got our place is because of the bathtub in what is now Maxie’s bathroom. Bath time done right with low lighting and lavender scented epsom salts, always leads to a great night sleep.
For more information on Le Monastère des Augustines or to book your very own unique wellness experience in the heart of Quebec City, head to www.monastere.ca.
This post was sponsored and in partnership with Buick Canada, however all views and opinions are my own!