In 1639, three Augustinian nuns came to Quebec City with a charter from King Louis XIII, to care for the sick and to open the continent’s first hospital north of Mexico. Some three and a half centuries later, facing rapidly dwindling numbers and the eventual extinction of their monastery, the sisters have turned their monastery into a wellness hotel, operated under the umbrella of a non-profit, to perpetuate their mission of healing.
Guests can book an “authentic” room inspired by the original (and cozy) nuns’ cells, right down to the replica single beds and shared bathroom down the hall. Or choose a contemporary fourth-floor room, which is roomier and includes an ensuite. In the spirit of peace and contemplation, there are no televisions or telephones; in the spirit of modern travel, the hotel is equipped with WiFi.
The beauty of the concept is its versatility: Centrally located, the hotel can serve simply as a jumping-off point to explore the city, but should you choose, the serene atmosphere and full-service amenities make it an ideal retreat. Daily activities include yoga, qi gong, guided walks and creativity workshops (think scrapbooking or colouring), while wellness-oriented packages include massage, reflexology and even a postural consultation.
When the sisters showed up in the 17th century, they scored some prime real estate.
Step out the main gate and you’re on Rue des Remparts (Ramparts Street), with cannons poised across the way and the shops and galleries of Rue Saint-Paul just down the hill.
In the other direction, a pedestrian exit leads into the heart of the Upper Town and its shopping and sights – Notre-Dame de Québec, le Château Frontenac and the top of the funicular, which you can ride down to Lower Town, are within a 15-minute walk.
Eat in or eat out?
The onsite restaurant specializes in whole-food ingredients and plenty of produce, always with vegan and vegetarian options – a much-appreciated offering in this meat-lovers’ city. (Anyone who likes chia seeds on their yogurt and a giant salad with every meal will be more than content here.)
Breakfast is included in your stay and taken in silence, but lunch and dinner are not.
Pair your meal with a green juice or a glass of wine or local beer, then end with one of the custom herbal tisanes inspired by original healing recipes from the archives – and also available for purchase in the boutique.
Whom you’ll meet
Say “Bonjour!” should you run across one of the six to eight remaining nuns going about her business; they still reside in an adjoining wing and sing morning praises and vespers in the choir.
The monastery holds some 40,000 artifacts – everything from household goods and medical devices to books and religious paraphernalia – and extensive written archives, many of which are displayed in the onsite museum (accessible to any visitor but free to guests), which chronicles the sisters’ centuries of work in the community and offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Western health care.
(One highlight: the original outer wall, now an indoor space, holds a rotating wooden case that was used to send gifts to the cloistered sisters, or to leave unwanted babies – some 1,300 all told – for whom the nuns would find homes in the community.)
Artworks both historic and modern are scattered throughout the property, too; where else can you gaze at a 19th-century portrait by famed Quebec artist Antoine Plamondon before ducking into your cell and cozying up in a bed topped by a handmade quilt?
If I could change one thing
I felt a little set adrift without a detailed activity calendar at my fingertips, and had to ask front-desk staff a couple of times about what was happening that day.
A resort-style daily schedule distributed to rooms the evening before – perhaps with a few suggested to-dos elsewhere in the city – would go a long way to helping guests map out their visit.
Le Monastère des Augustines, 77, rue des Remparts, monastere.ca; 65 rooms from $168, double occupancy, includes breakfast.
The writer was a guest of the hotel.
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