We recently spent a bit of a day at Strøm Spa Nordique in Quebec City.
On the plus side they have one sauna, the ‘Hot Dry Sauna’, that even with some significant drawbacks is head and shoulders above most saunas in North America which was a quite pleasant surprise.
On the other hand, this is nothing like what a spa experience in Nordic countries is like so calling this a ‘Nordic spa’ is quite misleading.
There are a number of things critical to Nordic spas that are missing or done poorly here. For example, Scandinavians take hygiene quite seriously so topping the list is the poor hygiene of both customers and the Strøm facility. Other bits like poorly designed saunas are not something you’re likely to see in any Nordic country.
Note: This is a critique, not a review. It’s purpose is to be educational for others building similar facilities so that they don’t make some of the mistakes made here.
The Architecture and layout are overall quite nice inside and on the river side. The ugly brutalist street facing facade the surprising downside.
The Cold Plunge Pools – Props to Strøm for these and having proper temps. The lower pool serves the ‘warm sauna’ and the upper serves the ‘hot sauna’. I hope the waterfall in to the lower pool is clean water and not bacteria laden grey water from the upper plunge pool.
The Hot Dry Sauna + Cold Plunge – Has the potential to provide an acceptable (not good or great, but still enjoyable) experience.
Towels! – Having stacks of clean dry towels available is quite nice. This is typical of nicer spa resorts but somewhat unusual in places like Strøm.
Covered Towel Racks + IR Heaters – There were several of these around the outdoor pools.
The Not So Good
They have a lot of room for improvement if they want to be the Nordic Spa that they call themselves.
Poor Hygiene – Topping the not good list is the poor hygiene and etiquette of many of the clientele which is quite disrespectful of other users.
You should ALWAYS sit on a towel in a sauna. Many people here, about a third, did not. A few, when it was pointed out to them, even once by five different people, refused. Then again, we noticed that many of those who refused couldn’t stay in long enough to sweat anyway so perhaps not as bad as it could have been. 🙂
You should ALWAYS shower or rinse off prior to each time you enter a sauna or Turkish Bath. Numerous people here did not.
Perhaps a quarter of people would wear sandals in to saunas and Turkish baths and track dirt, grim and grit on to the benches. Many also wore gym shorts, t-shirts, hats and other bacteria infested items in to saunas.
Overall this made for a rather gross environment, a funky smell in the saunas and grit and grime on benches – things you’d never experience in any nordic spa. They should make proper sauna etiquette clear to all users and staff should be monitoring things and insuring compliance. This seems a very easy fix that would make a significant positive difference in the experience for everyone.
This is a significant difference in Americans and Europeans in general. Europeans tend to have greater consideration for others and not negatively impacting them while Americans are focused only on themselves.
Check-In was surprisingly slow. Not a big issue but interesting as at spas in Europe it seems always much faster.
Changing/Lockers – The changing/locker rooms were quite tight and much more crowded feeling than any spa or sauna world I’ve been to in Europe. The floors were also gritty and gross. I’m not sure if this latter is better cleaning by other spas or a more contentious clientele that do a better job of wiping their feet. Probably a bit of both.
Locks & Keys – Strøm uses old style hasp locks that require people to keep a metal key on their wrist band. Metal keys are not a good idea in a hot sauna. I think every spa I’ve been to in Europe either uses an RFID wrist band or allow people to set the code on the lock when they close it.
No Home Base – Typically at a Nordic spa the first thing you do is find a lounge chair for each person in your group and plop your stuff down. This is your home for the time you’re there and a place for your extra towels, water bottles, robe, books and other stuff. You do a round in the sauna and cold plunge and then rest in your lounger for a bit. Lather rinse repeat.
Strøm doesn’t have this and I was surprised how much I missed it. There was no good place to go between rounds in a sauna, Turkish bath or hot tub nor a good place for ’stuff’. They have some ‘relax areas’ but you weren’t assured of a spot and they weren’t that comfortable. Having a home base makes for a much more comfortable and enjoyable experience.
Warm Dry Sauna – The benches in this sauna were much too low resulting in cold feet. There was no wood on the walls which made for a quite harsh feeling heat. It didn’t seem to have good or even any ventilation as the air was quite stale. Also, a cooler sauna like this usually has a higher base humidity so that it functions as a Bio-Sauna, this one did not.
Hot Dry Sauna – This sauna (above) had proper higher benches, fairly even heat and there was no direct radiant from the stoves which are all good.
However, the heat was still quite harsh and almost burning compared to the much more comfortable heat of a real sauna. I think there were three things causing this harshness. Like the Warm Dry Sauna it lacks sufficient wood on the walls. Typically at least 80% of the wall surface and all of the ceiling and benches should be soft wood, primarily for its hygroscopic properties but also to help control noise. This is particularly important with a large window like this. Second, the ceiling slopes in the wrong direction which I think resulted in a more stagnant air mass rather than a good flowing convective loop that is so critical to having lóyly. Finally, it’s possible or likely that there was noticeable radiant heat coming off the front window.
The benches appear to have been lacquered as you could see where the lacquer was chipping off along the edges. This is problematic in several ways. First is that it can be quite dangerous from a health standpoint as lacquer can off-gas toxic chemicals when heated to sauna temps. It also plugs up the pores of the wood which eliminates the hygroscopic properties that are so important for wood in a sauna. This likely contributed to the harshness.
The CO2 did not seem extremely high so I assume it had somewhat adequate ventilation. It did however have a quite funky smell (bacteria from swimsuits, shorts, t-shirts, not showering and not sitting on a towel) that I’d think would have been removed if ventilation was adequate but obviously the production of bacterial funk was greater than the ventilation. Note: it’s possible that CO2 was higher than I suspected with the symptoms masked by the harshness of the heat.
No Finnish Sauna – Both of the saunas at Strøm are Bio-Saunas (or pseudo bio-saunas as real bio-saunas typically have higher humidity and less harsh heat). These are sort of OK and somewhat enjoyable but it would have been nice to have had at least one Finnish Sauna with contrasting dry/steam as well.
Steam Bath – The overall design seemed good but there were a couple of problems. The first is a hygiene issue as there are no hoses to wash the seats down before and after you’ve sat there. Who knows what the person before you left behind on the seat nor what you left for the person after you.
A second problem is very strange stratification. There should have been very little stratification here, especially sitting on the upper bench as we were. However, there was a surprising amount and it alternated between cold feet and a cold steamless head. I wonder if perhaps the steam generator is over or undersized and so not able to run constantly and evenly?
Cold Plunge – These are both quite good (upper plunge above) though both could have been larger. There were a couple of times we had to get out rather quickly so others could get in.
Chlorine! – All of the pools and plunges seemed heavily chlorinated. It would be better if they used natural chlorination from salt. Chlorinated pools aren’t good for anyone’s skin and for some such as my mate can cause serious skin reactions. It’s also quite unwelcome for people to carry in to saunas when they don’t shower well.
Note: I’ve since learned that textile spas (swimsuits required) tend to have much higher bacterial loads in pools than textile-free spas and this necessitates high amounts of chlorine. This is believed due to people doing sauna and then not washing their genitals (which is difficult with a swimsuit on). With a much lower bacterial load, textile-free spas can use salt electrolysis systems rather than harsh chlorine.
Swim Suits – This one’s tougher in North America and I know that some tourist spas in Scandinavia do allow or even require swimsuits. However, it makes for a much better experience for everyone if everyone is nude as is the custom throughout Europe. There are good reasons why the majority of spas require bathers to be textile-free in all saunas and Turkish baths. More: Saunas, Nudity & Victoria.
I believe all photos, and quite excellent BTW, by Adrien Williams.