Looking for a hotel in Quebec City for a weekend getaway? Traditional options abound but if you want a unique experience, consider a stay at Le Monastere des Augustines, a renovated historical monastery with a wellness mission. I embraced its quiet elegance, artfully designed to soothe the mind and ignite the soul.
Fear of the Unknown
I didn’t know what to expect when I checked into a monastery for a weekend getaway in Quebec City. Would a gaggle of nuns circle me in the lobby and start singing, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Cathy?” as in the Sound of Music. Or, worse, would I be stripped naked and escorted to my room in a shameful walk of atonement like Cersei in Game of Thrones?
Au contraire, my friends. Le Monastere des Augustines is a unique boutique destination in Quebec City. Yes, there are nuns. Ten of them to be exact. You may catch a glimpse of one passing through the halls or perhaps you’ll exchange a word or two while waiting for the elevator. If you do, thank them. Gifting their home and the accumulated history of their 375 years of service is a blessing that hotel guests carry with them long after their stay has ended.
A Rich History
The Augustinian Sisters of the Mercy of Jesus (try to say THAT 3 times fast) arrived in New France in 1639 with a mission to provide healthcare to the settlers and the native population. They opened and operated provincial hospitals and served as nurses and pharmacists. At one point, 225 sisters lived in the monastery; today there are 10 and they are all over 80 years old.
In an effort to preserve their legacy, the sisters made a gift of the monastery and their archive of over 40,000 culturally significant artifacts to the people of Quebec. A $40 million renovation produced the hotel, museum, and archive; the facility opened to the public in 2015. Proceeds from the hotel operation are used to subsidize retreat stays for caregivers and healthcare providers so “they can find meaning and balance in their service, which is rooted in the sisters’ history,” according to Marie-Eve Perron, the hotel’s manager of tourism development.
Ms. Perron led my tour of the museum. It’s a not to be missed feature of a stay at Le Monastere. Features include the trunk that traveled with the first 3 sisters to New France. Also on display are beautiful apothecary jars, an antique operating table, and quaint relics of monastery life including the sisters’ bathing schedule. Everything is in mint condition; the sisters cared for their belongings with the same devotion they lavished on the patients in their care.
Something Old, Something New
There are 65 guest rooms in the hotel and they’re classified as contemporary or authentic. Contemporary rooms have several bedding configurations, sleek built-in cabinetry, and modern en suite bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and showers. The authentic rooms are the original nun’s cells.
They feature a single twin bed, a replica of the originals, with a handmade coverlet. Bathroom facilities are shared and located in the hallway. I stayed in a contemporary room, but, when I return, I’ll certainly give the authentic rooms a try.
The hallways and common rooms feature dark wood floors, pine furniture, and whitewashed walls. The thudding of your shoes on the treads of the circa 1759 staircase is jarring and you’ll feel more comfortable switching to slippers. Luckily, such attire change is encouraged.
Body and Soul
Part of the experience at Le Monastere are wellness classes including meditation, movement, and creativity workshops. These classes are included in several different rate packages. Additional wellness options, including massage and nutritional counseling, are also available. Feel free to wander the grounds in fitness clothing but leave your electronics in your room. There’s an intentional mood set in the hotel; play along – your cell phone can wait.
I woke early for a 7 a.m. meditation class conducted in the vault of the monastery which was originally used for food storage and featured a barrel ceiling, stone walls, and a door that may be the oldest in Canada. We closed the practice by chanting “om”; the echo created in this space was haunting, in a good way. It helped put me in the mood for breakfast, which, in keeping with the sisters’ traditions, is served in silence. Frankly, I would always have silent breakfast, if my family would let me, so it was a huge treat. But you could sense the apprehension on guests’ faces as they entered the dining room.
Breakfast is included in the per night room rate; there are also additional package configurations that include lunch and dinner. Fall 2016 rates begin at $84 CAD. The restaurant has the feel of a crisp cafeteria, sort of like the restaurant in an Ikea. The French-speaking servers will happily relay the three entrée offerings in English. They are adorable, even when they keep trying to get you to understand that kid is baby goat and it’s delicious. The horrified look on your face is lost in translation.
In addition to a meat, fish, or vegetarian entrée, meals also include a soup and salad bar, dessert, water, and herbal tea. Beer, wine, and coffee (it’s included with breakfast) are available for purchase. The salads were all very tasty; my only complaint would be that they didn’t change during my 2-day stay.
I don’t make resolutions in January. My season for reflection is the fall; I think it has something to do with back to school and the promise inherent in a fresh marble notebook. So the timing of my late September visit to Le Monastere des Augustines was perfect. While inside the hotel, I gave myself permission to tune out and turn over all of the dreams and goals I’d like to realize in the coming year.
But stepping outside the monastery walls into Quebec City was jarring. In a good way. It’s a fantastic city, bursting with energy, tourists, street performers, and every cafe you pass advertises its version of poutine – french fries smothered in gravy and tossed with cheese balls. It’s the polar opposite of an ascetic monastery experience. When I return, I’ll laugh with the sinners and immerse myself in worldly Quebec City before I hang with the saints at Le Monastere des Augustines. I get into much less trouble when I keep my inner devil and angel in their respective corners.