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Courtesy Of Förena Cité Thermale
- An aufgussmeister executing a German towel ritual in a sauna at Förena Cité Thermale
Standing in a sweltering sauna near Montréal on a recent morning, Dominique Evens whirled a towel through the air, snapping the terry cloth to the piped-in sounds of sitar jazz.
Evens, a Montréaler who has a black goatee and an easy smile, was guiding an aufguss session at Förena Cité Thermale, a sprawling spa complex that opened in early 2020 in the city’s suburb of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville. Aufguss is a ritual originating in Germany that enlivens the usual sit-and-sweat sauna experience with an artful combination of music, air movement, lights and scent.
“The aufgussmeister is the master of the sauna, so he will decide how to distract you for 15 minutes in the sauna,” said Evens, who learned the basics by immersing himself in aufguss videos on YouTube. He executes the practice with more flair than the words “German towel ritual” might suggest. Each session is designed to help spa visitors withstand a brief period of extra-hot sauna conditions, he explained, to maximize the potential health benefits.
Förena is the most recent addition to Montréal’s already impressive collection of hydrothermal spas, often called Nordic spas for their links to that region’s bathing traditions. All combine heating and cooling elements, such as saunas, steam rooms and cold plunges, laid out in a prescribed “thermal cycle.” Hot, cold, relax: Research points to resulting benefits for mental health, cardiovascular function and pain management.
A 21st-century Canadian passion for hydrothermal bathing began in Québec and remains most vibrant there, but the past several years have seen the spas proliferate from British Columbia to Newfoundland.
“Canada, as a country, tends to be less resistant to European influences than the United States,” said Don Genders, head of the Hydrothermal Initiative at the Global Wellness Institute, by way of explaining Canada’s comparatively early adoption.
Luckily, Montréal’s spas are only a day trip away. And now, the hydrothermal vogue is finally making its way across the international border. Vermont-based Savu — the name means “smoke” in Finnish — has private saunas available hourly near Smugglers’ Notch and the Burlington waterfront. Genders’ company, Design for Leisure, is consulting with Urban Moonshine founder Jovial King, whose Nordic-inspired Silt Botanica bathhouse is scheduled to open on Burlington’s Pine Street in spring 2025.
Aficionados argue that these traditional bathing establishments are a grounded alternative to the facials and fanciness of American spas. In places such as Finland, Norway and Sweden, regular trips to the sauna are seen as part of routine wellness. Visiting is a chance to relax and catch up on gossip.
“It’s going to take some time for us to kind of shift culturally that much, but I think we have a …….