When was the last time you heard exuberant applause in a sauna?
While in Ottawa last Family Day, Angela and I felt no guilt whatsoever in ditching our daughters and driving 15 minutes north to Nordik Spa-Nature in the snowy Gatineau Hills.
We were keen to check out the many features that have been added to the 100,000-square-foot spa complex since our last visit in 2014. And we weren’t disappointed: I covered several of them in a recent Globe and Mail story about Canada's best spa patios. Hot stone massages and craft beer, together at last...
The one new experience I saved for my blog -- the Aufguss Ritual -- was unlike anything I’ve ever done, in a spa or otherwise.
After one glorious circuit of Le Nordik’s various hot and cold pools, saunas and steam rooms, we made our way to the spacious Finlandia sauna 10 minutes before the 1pm Aufguss. (The 15-minute ritual takes place on the hour every other hour.)
Sitting on the topmost of the three wooden tiers surrounding the sauna’s table-sized stove, we had worked up quite a sweat by the time the sounding of a gong signalled the start of the ritual. Within minutes, the place was packed.
While setting down several buckets of water, snow and perfectly formed snowballs, the Aufguss Master explained how the ritual would unfold and encouraged us to “listen to our bodies” and move to lower seating, or leave the sauna altogether, should the heat become uncomfortable.
Dramatic music filled the space as our young guide scooped out three of the snowballs, each infused with essential oils, and dropped them one by one onto the enormous stove’s super-heated rocks. Juniper-scented steam immediately rose into the air, and was enthusiastically dispersed by the Aufguss Master as she skillfully whirled a folded towel around the sauna, her tattooed arms glistening with sweat.
This exhilarating process was repeated two more times with different oils, raising the temperature and humidity to a point where a few members of the audience took their leave. Then, just before the ritual ended with effusive and well-deserved applause, those who remained were cooled off in thrilling fashion when the Aufguss Master used her wooden scoop to douse us repeatedly with icy meltwater. Did I scream? You bet I did. Was it with pleasure or with pain? I’m not entirely sure -- and, as with many aspects of Le Nordik, that was the magic of the experience.