Several years ago I was in Finland investigating a story about saunas. The Finns take this ritual very seriously, so much so that they invented the word. The sauna is a place to relax, to reconnect, to cleanse, and to meditate. The heat itself is a spirit, called the löyly, which is to be admired and respected, discussed and adjusted. I entered a traditional smoke sauna outside of Rovaniemi, just shy of the Arctic Circle, and I melted inside a public sauna in Helsinki, where old naked men sat high on benches, enduring heat intense enough to burn the tongue of Beezelbub. Finns use another word, sisu, to describe the inner strength and courage one possesses, presumably in order to survive a public sauna. I expected this would be my most intense sauna experience, and then I visited Thermëa Nordik Spa, a spa complex recently open for business in Winnipeg. It is owned by the same company as Nordik-Spa in Gatineau Quebec, the largest Nordic-inspired spa in North America. These are people dedicated to the art of relaxing, and their complex is gorgeous.
Bring forth the eucalyptus and orange Steam rooms, pools of varying temperatures, relaxation rooms with headphones and ergonomic heated benches, an on-site restaurant and host of massage treatments. Nordic spas want you to heat up and cool off in succession, recharging your senses, delivering a range of benefits. Let us remove our robe and take the top bench in the Finlandia sauna, authentic enough to bring a tear of sweat to any Finn’s eye. Although it was pushing -30C outside, my spells in the steam rooms and pools made the cold inconsequential. Sure, if I had long hair, I might have been able to pull of a frozen hair pic, but this is a place to relax, not win the internet. The towelled sauna master invited everyone to take a seat on the wooden benches. He advised us to simply walk out the room if it got too intense. Hey pal, I got flogged with birth branches in a Siberian sauna and stared down the scrotum of Finnish grandpa in Helsinki. I can take it! “Today, we are going to use Crystal Menthol,” he explains. I wasn’t sure what that was, but damn fine name nonetheless.
Placing perfectly round balls of snow on the rocks, he added a spoon of the tincture on the balls, and flattened them with a wooden spoon. Next he ceremonially waved a towel, distributing the heat around the room, and when it hit me, combined with the intense menthol rush of the essence, it gripped my lungs in a chokehold. Eyes burning, I had to go deep with myself and find my sisu, and when I did, it was being massaged by the löyly. It was intense, it was a rush, and it was incredible. The Bucket List is all about chasing unique moments of magic, moments that stay with you for the rest of your life. How wild would a sauna have to be to make it one of those moments? Thermëa wild. Bearing in mind, of course, that once the sauna was over, relaxing in the hot pools outside, I was overcome with a sense of relaxation, of cleanliness, of sound mind and body. Hot damn, that sauna took me places, and I’ve been thinking about the hot rush of cool crystal menthol to the head ever since. When the CBC asked me about some of the highlights of my recent Winnipeg trip, there were plenty to choose from: A pop-up restaurant on the ice, the polar bears swimming above my head in Assiniboine Park, the candle-light march to kick off the Festival du Voyageur, not to mention the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. But the first thing that popped into my head was the spa.
Thermëa is open 7 days a week from 9am to 10pm, located at 775 Crescent Drive. From downtown Winnipeg: Take Main St. South to route 52 South. Main St. becomes St Mary’s. Turn right on Bishop Grandin Boulevard (MB-165W). Take Pembina Highway. Follow Pembina Highway (42N). Turn right on Crescent Dr. The destination will be on the left. Click here to visit the website. The cost is $49 per person, stay as long as you like, and it includes all the thermal experiences.