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Quebec spa treats and feeds your body for less

At Spa Eastman in Quebec. southeast of Montreal and north of the Vermont border, a wood fire burns in the lobby.
At Spa Eastman in Quebec. southeast of Montreal and north of the Vermont border, a wood fire burns in the lobby. (Kathy Shorr for the Boston Globe)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kathy Shorr
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2008

EASTMAN, Quebec - My friend Judy and I decided to celebrate our birthdays with a weekend of pampering at Spa Eastman, about 30 miles over the Vermont border.

Why Spa Eastman? It is one of a group of 25 spas, mostly in the United States and Canada, including Canyon Ranch in Lenox and the Copperhood Inn & Spa in the Catskills, designated as "destination spas."

That's an industry label for spas that, in addition to offering traditional services like massages and pedicures, focus on health, fitness, renewal, and education. They offer private consultations with naturopaths and physical trainers, and classes in everything from Nordic walking to tai chi and aerobic salsa.

I liked that Spa Eastman has been around for 30 years. And it was a bargain, even with the diminishing value of the dollar. It recently won a Reader's Choice Award from Spa Finder as one of the top 10 affordable spas in the world.

Affordable, that is, by destination spa standards. Each spa constructs its package in a slightly different way, so it's hard to compare prices. Still, each offers a per person rate (treatments extra) that covers accommodations, meals, and use of the facilities, including classes, guided walks, and swimming. Based on double occupancy, Canyon Ranch runs about $500 a day, Copperhood $325, and Spa Eastman $200. And if you stay in one of the more basic accommodations, away from the main building, Spa Eastman drops to $140.

We booked one of the less expensive rooms, but we blew our budget even before we hit the border. Judy was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right foot the week before we left so we upgraded to the more expensive room to be in the main building. So much for hiking some of the property's 300-plus acres. Then, on the drive up, my muffler went, followed by several hundred dollars for the repair.

I had read that the spa's food was good, in part because it uses local and organic ingredients. But I wasn't prepared for how good, varied, and plentiful it was. We arrived in time for lunch: curried chicken, rice pilaf, ratatouille, and grilled asparagus. There was also a fresh salad, two kinds of bread from a local bakery - one gluten-free - and a big bowl of fruit with seedless red grapes and fresh figs. Dinner offered many choices: carrot and ginger soup, turbot with roasted sweet pepper salsa, seitan with sweet and sour sauce, roast quail, vegetarian enchiladas, and venison in cranberry sauce. A wide and unusual selection of wines was available, including several organic ones. And while the desserts contain less sugar than you find most places, there were no complaints from those of us taking a second helping of the flourless chocolate cake.

I might have mistaken Spa Eastman for a nice restaurant but for the number of people wearing blue robes and matching slippers.

French predominates here, whether it's the signs offering the day's schedule or the greetings from staff. My first afternoon I sat downstairs in the treatment area near five 30-something women conversing in animated French. Each was getting a different treatment. I asked how much the getaway was costing them. "We don't know," said Isabelle Moreau and her friend Annie Bourret with a laugh. "We'll find out when we get the bill at the end."

Judy's biggest raves came after a "baby boomer" facial and a full-body exfoliation, in which she was scrubbed and massaged with sea salt and body cream. My favorite, the Watsu, submerged me in a shallow pool of 95-degree water while the practitioner stretched my limbs and performed shiatsu. I arranged my schedule to take early morning classes in Pilates and kick-boxing but slept through both. "That is good for you," said Manon Drapeau, operations manager, when I admitted my slothful ways. "First you are repairing the car, now the body."

But unwinding was only part of my mission. I received a naturopathic consultation, complete with urinalysis, blood typing, and a test that measures the energy going through the body's meridians. I came home with several pages of notes, herbal and homeopathic remedies, and a new diet.

It's been two months, and I'm thinking about going back in spring. Already there is one change: My lifelong sugar cravings have disappeared. When I first told friends about the trip, most pronounced it lavish and outrageous. Now they want to come.

Kathy Shorr can be reached at kshorr@mail2.gis.net.

If You Go

Spa Eastman
895 Chemin des Diligences
Eastman, Quebec
800-665-5272, 450-297-3009
spa-eastman.com
Spa Eastman is roughly 250 miles, or about 4 1/2 hours, from Boston. In addition to the Eastman location, there are two Spa Eastman day spas, in Montreal and outside the city in Île-des-Soeurs. Overnight stays from $140 a day per person, based on double occupancy, include meals, classes, and access to pool, hammam, and other facilities. Individual treatments run from $20 to $270. A day-only visit, including lunch, one-hour massage or beauty treatment, classes, and access to all facilities, is $99.
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