Driving into Québec City for the first time is a disorienting experience. Within minutes you pass from nondescript farmland, through generic stripmalls, and into a beautiful French city. The streets narrow quickly and turn to cobblestone. Neoclassical spires punctate the skyline as you ascend from the modern downtown up to the historic district. The final turn cresting the bluff feels more like you are about to pull up to the Sacré-Cœur Basilica than anywhere in North America—though the view is no less spectacular. For the first time, you notice the sun glinting off the broad Saint Lawrence river by which Europeans first arrived in Québec City. Now hugged by the stone and brick of the old world, the downtown hums energetically below, and the once nondescript farmland becomes the perfect backdrop for your French getaway.
You have been transported through space and time over the span of fifteen minutes and a couple of miles–or should I say a few kilometers? As you turn away from this view and onto the grounds of Le Monastère des Augustines you are met with a structure as beautiful, complex, and storied as the city itself.
The First Hospital in North America
Among the first Europeans to arrive in Québec were three Augustinian sisters. On August first, 1639, the three sisters reached Québec and established Le Monastère des Augustines as a cloister and apothecary. The order of the sisters persevered through the incredible hardships of settling the new world, and Le Monastère evolved to become the first hospital in North America. Over the centuries, the sisters oversaw the transition from spiritual to scientific medicine before formally handing off the hospital to the Canadian health system in 1962.
In 2015, Le Monastère evolved again with the completion of a $45 million project to create the haven of culture and wellness that exists today. The facilities seamlessly blend every era of architecture from Le Monastère’s long history, from the original stone to the contemporary glass and steel industrial design of its most recent addition—only compromising their impressive commitment to sustainable architecture in the name of preserving elements of the original buildings.
The property invites its guests to connect with the unique legacy of the Augustinian sisters and experience their vision of holistic health.
Le Monastère des Augustines invites its guests to connect with the unique legacy of the Augustinian sisters and experience their vision of holistic health. They offer guests the opportunity to stay in either the monastic cells once occupied by the sisters, or more contemporary accommodations along with a substantial program of treatments and activities to promote mindfulness and help guests take a moment of respite from the blistering pace of modern, technological life.
A Holistic Vision
Daily guided meditative walks around Old Québec in the mornings serve to ground you in a sense of place and deepen your understanding of the rich history that Le Monastère is an integral part of. In the evenings, yoga and qigong classes bring you into your body with an engaging but not overly strenuous program. During the day you can choose between twelve types of massage, including the “Monastic Signature” that pays homage to the practices of the sisters and is completely unique to Le Monastère. The auditory and vibrational experience of Le Monastère’s neurobeds sent me into a pleasant waking dream that only ended when one of the staff gently roused me with a cup of herbal tea in hand. You can also choose to sign up for a one-on-one global health consultation focused on mindfulness and food as holistic medicine.
In line with its holistic vision of food, Le Monastère serves three meals a day from its restaurant, Le Vivoir, that draws on local, farm-fresh, and seasonal ingredients to craft elegant yet nurturing dishes. You can pick and choose from an ever-changing buffet or a permanent menu that features dishes like warm octopus salad and wild boar chop. Between meals you can grab a bite from the Comptoir Commande, a counter service option that brings the same quality of food to an on-the-go option. Everything I ate during my stay was a delight that left me sated but not encumbered.
Between your meals and treatments, spending some time among the beautiful artifacts in Le Monastère’s museum will enrich your stay. You can also pop into the boutique that offers a variety of wellness products made exclusively by Le Monastère, or listen to the remaining sisters sing in the choral chambers attached to the still-active church on the property.
An Ethic of Care
While Le Monastère is now a secular institution–much like how the structure has evolved while keeping elements of its original design–Le Monastère holds the Augustinian sisters’ original ethic of care close to heart. While caring for all of their guests’ wellbeing, they offer retreats at generously discounted prices to people who care for others, companions of sick persons, nurses, and more, as part of their robust social mission.
I spoke to the mother of a disabled child who has visited Le Monastère twice through this program. She said “When I go there I feel totally relaxed and like I’m in a protective bubble . . . I can rest up and take in all the positive energy in that place. I find it feels so wonderful, and when you’re in there, like everything is going to be alright.”
It is truly wonderful that Le Monastère gives those most deserving of this experience a chance to unwind and reconnect. I felt the same way during my stay.