QUEBEC - Zonespa, near Mont Sainte-Anne and about a 20-minute drive east of Quebec City, is no ordinary day spa. Sure, it pampers guests with massages, facials, and body treatments, and yes, it has a steam room, sauna, relaxation room, and hot tubs, but as a Nordic-style spa, it's built on the therapeutic premise of alternating warm and cold treatments with rest. That's easy in summer, but in winter, when temperatures are in the single digits and snow is falling, embracing this ritual requires a good dose of fortitude.
It begins with 15 to 20 minutes of wet or dry heat, perhaps in the Finnish sauna, steam bath, or outdoor hot pool or whirlpool. This warms the body and stimulates sweating. That's followed by a gasp-inducing 30- to 60-second cold immersion to increase heartbeat and blood pressure and to close the pores. You do this by taking a bracing shower, plunging into a cold-water pool, or taking an invigorating roll in the snow.
It's all worth it for the deep relaxation that occurs during the final stage of the cycle: a 15-minute rest in the solarium, a yurt, or by an outdoor fireplace during which your body returns to its normal rhythms. You then repeat for a second and then a third time over a three-hour period. Add a one-hour massage for the ultimate meltdown.
After you're completely relaxed, pay a visit to the spa's Le Tivoli Café, which serves pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and pastries. There's also smoothies, beer, wine, and espresso - just in case the cold wasn't stimulating enough.
Zonespa, 186 rang St-Julien, St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Quebec. 418-826-1772 or 866-353-1772, zonespa.com. A three-hour session is $36, including two towels, one bottle of water, and locker key. Massages, facials, and body treatments are additional.