Wellness retreat Le Monastère des Augustines opens August 1 in beautiful Quebec City, combining a luxury hotel and spa in a former Augustinian monastery—North America's oldest hospital outside of Mexico.

By Chris Abell
July 31, 2015
André-Olivier Lyra/Le Monastère des Augustines

On August 1, 1639, a group of Augustinian sisters from France stepped off a boat into what today is Quebec City, Canada, carrying with them a signed charter from King Louis XIII and a mission to care for the sick. Tomorrow, on August 1—376 years to the day after the sisters first arrived—Le Monastère des Augustines will open in their name at the very hospital they founded hundreds of years ago—where that charter still remains.

Just within the walls of stunning Old Quebec, Le Monastère is bringing the centuries-old Augustinian healing tradition into the new millennium. A combined hotel and wellness spa, it also gives guests the chance to experience the Sisters’ unique heritage through its programs, an on-site museum, and even in the specialized offerings present in the restaurant and boutique.

The center hopes to bring a balance back to the fields of health and wellness. “Originally, medicine and healing were almost purely holistic, with little physical science,” says Isabelle Duchesneau, the facility’s executive director. “Then we went almost completely the other way, pretty much all science and a focus only on the physical. We hope people will use the best approaches from both ends of the spectrum, and create a balanced approach to care.”

André-Olivier Lyra/Le Monastère des Augustines

The wide range of treatments Le Monastère offers range from sleep therapy and posture instruction, holistic health evaluations to aromatherapy and reflexology. Nutrition is a key component, too—the restaurant prepares naturally cooked, locally grown, organic foods, and it can accommodate just about any set of dietary restrictions. Staff includes doctors and psychologists, and masseuses will tailor treatments to each patient. Quiet, restful spaces for meditation and reflection abound throughout.

While the nuns aren’t involved with Le Monastère’s operations, they made it possible through the launch of a nonprofit organization that donated the space and the archives on display. Duchesneau (who began her career at the world-renowned, Fairmont-operated Château Frontenac) has taken the idea into a full-scale luxury wellness retreat, though the property will ultimately operate as a nonprofit. “That’s what’s so unique about Le Monastère,” she says. “All profits go back into the social mission of providing care to those who seek it—including other caregivers.”

André-Olivier Lyra/Le Monastère des Augustines

Packages range from one- to five-night stays. Guests can choose one of the 33 “authentic” rooms (from $54)—simple quarters designed to recreate the full historical experience, with Augustinian furniture and a small bed—or one of the 32 “contemporary” rooms (from $71)—still simple but with a few more amenities.

Despite the no-frills emphasis, rooms sport contemporary design, with whitewashed walls and exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, crisp sheets with pops of color coming from woven blankets and rugs, and thoroughly modern pedestal sinks and bathroom fixtures. There are no televisions, and guests can choose to leave their electronic devices with reception. All the entertainment guests need, says Duchesneau, is a good book and thoughtful conversation.

André-Olivier Lyra/Le Monastère des Augustines

Inside the oldest hospital in North America outside of Mexico, the entire first floor is a museum complete with centuries-old furniture, paintings, writings, ceramics, and gifts from Native Americans that the Augustinian Sisters have preserved. Massive new archives showcase more than a kilometer of authentic manuscripts—including that signed Louis XIII charter. Though renovated and modernized, the building retains much of its original structure, immersing guests in an authentic experience of Quebecois history and culture.

But perhaps it is Le Monastère’s signature product that best sums up its ouevre. The retreat has worked with an herbalist to create a collection of six herbal teas, each with different health benefits. How do they make the blends? With recipes given to the Augustinians by local Native Americans hundreds of years ago, of course.

Chris Abell is a web producer at Travel+Leisure. You can follow him on Instagram at @buildingflavors.