One minute we were in the hustle and bustle that is Old Quebec on a Monday morning, amongst tourists and locals scurrying about, and the next It was like we had been whisked away into a secret hideaway. Peaceful, spotless, with minimalist-decor set within European architecture - it felt like we were miles away from all distractions, yet we had only walked 10 minutes from Le Château Frontenac, old Quebec's centre-point. No wonder it's described as "a haven of peace in the heart of the city."
Monastery or hotel?
This haven I write of is in essence a monastery turned hotel nestled within Quebec's old town walls - Le Monastère des Augustines. But of course, it's so much more than that. And the key to understanding this is to know the history behind it. The Augustine Sisters were the first to take up residence here, back in the 17th century, when they came over from France. They set up a hospital on the grounds of the monastery, the first hospital north of Mexico, acting as its caregivers, managers, pharmacists and so on. In addition to a hospital in the heart of old Quebec, the Sisters founded 12 hospitals in Quebec, laying the foundation for the province's healthcare system. Fast forward several centuries of pioneering healthcare work, the realities of ageing and declining numbers prompted the Sisters to make a forward-thinking change.
The perfect blend of heritage and holistic health
The Augustine Sisters recently passed on their founding monastery to the government of Quebec. Still located on its original grounds, it's now a part of Hôtel-Dieu de Quebec monastery, integrating a museum, archives, and accommodation. Far from an ordinary hotel, it's more accurate to describe it as a wellness-focused heritage hotel. The Sisters' compassion for the sick, determination to providing the highest quality of care, and understanding of the interplay between all aspects of our health, continue to act as the foundation for this innovative space.
Respite for caregivers
In addition to being a hotel open to all, Le Monastère des Augustines is also a non-profit organization. In an effort to maintain the Augustine Sisters' healing legacy, the monastery offers special respite programs for caregivers and companions of the sick. For a minimal fee, space and time to re-charge is provided for anyone occupying these roles. Professional caregivers, such as nurses or social workers, can also participate in lodging programs here, as well as activities to regain their energy and commitment to helping others.
Your room at the monastery
You can choose to stay in a room preserved with the authentic character of a nun's cell, or a contemporary yet minimally decorated space. Both are designed to keep distractions at minimum and help you direct your focus inward. As part of your "adventure-within" during your stay at Le Monastère, you can choose to participate in different activities, incorporating movement, breathing practices, meditation, and mental well-being. For an additional cost, you can also access massage therapy, private movement and relaxation sessions, as well as holistic health and nutritional consultations. Everyone's journey towards a more holistic lifestyle is unique, and having different services to choose from, while not experiencing pressure to choose any of them, is key.
Yoga at the monastery
As part of a behind-the-scenes look, our group participated in a yoga class at the monastery. Though the yoga experience very much depends on what you bring to the mat, I have to admit that the setting makes a difference as well. I've written about the many ways that yoga can be done outside, but I will rank the monastery high on the list of best indoor spaces to do yoga. The surrounding architecture, acoustics, and historical context made for a very calming and introspective experience.
Meals at the monastery
Though I forget the importance of the interplay between food and health from time to time (I blame it on my inherited sweet-tooth!), I strongly believe that what and how we eat is crucial to our overall health. I'm convinced that Le Monastère believes this too. Not only do they use organic, local and sustainably-sourced ingredients, breakfast, for instance, is offered in silence. It's the perfect place to put no-phone meals in place for good.
After a weekend of attending back to back travel-focused talks, absorbing new information and reflecting on current practices, and mingling amongst 400 or so others, there really wasn't a better way to unwind than to participate in a tour of Quebec's Le Monastère des Augustines. Having experienced the calm within the walls of this monastery just within the couple hours I spent there, I can only imagine the level of calm I would leave with after spending a few nights here.
Have you ever stayed at a monastery?