A Wellness Haven in Old Québec City
Le Monastère des Augustines’ former cloister is a hotel, restaurant, retreat and museum that soothes your body and soul.
In 1639, three Augustinian Sisters from Dieppe, France, made the daring Atlantic Ocean crossing to establish a hospital in Quebéc City. It was the first hospital north of Mexico.
The Catholic religious order grew, and for centuries the Augustinian Sisters devoted themselves to the caring of the city’s bodies and souls. Ultimately, they founded and served 12 monasteries, each designed with a hospital, chapel, cloister, common rooms and cells–or sleeping rooms–for the nuns. At their peak population in 1950, the sisters numbered 225, but then the decline began. Today, there are fewer than 10, and the average age is in the mid-80s.
The Augustinians’ approach to wellness is holistic, which means it addresses health on four levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. During the 1990s, they realized they needed a plan that would carry their mission and heritage into the future. The solution was to transform their premises, in historic Old Québec, into a 65-room hotel, restaurant, museum and boutique. The hospitals were integrated within Canada’s public health system.
Three years of construction and restoration merged historic and new architecture for new uses and a modern-day audience. In 2015, Le Monastère des Augustines opened in 2015 to people of all nationalities, genders and religions.
(Disclosure: I did not overnight at Le Monastère des Augustines or dine at the restaurant; however, several of my companions did. I participated in a tour and yoga class as part of a morning excursion offered by Quebéc City Tourism. The environment is so welcoming and peaceful, I would love to book a stay the next time I’m in town. And the salad bar looked delish!) Let’s take a closer look:
Overnight guests can choose between two room types, each available for single or double occupancy. All are appointed with antique furniture and comfy natural fiber bedding and towels. You’ll have wi-fi and central air conditioning but no telephone or television.
The 33 authentic, sometimes called “monastic,” rooms are restored former rooms or “cells” occupied by Augustinian Sisters. You’ll have a wash basin and mirror; baths are located in the hallway and shared with other guests.
The 32 contemporary rooms are in a newer building. They are larger and have full private bathrooms.
Breakfast is included, although it is a silent meal. The morning ritual is in keeping with the historic vocation of the monastery and inspires you to contemplate your day ahead.
Restaurant and Boutique
The Monastery Restaurant offers healthy fare and a varied menu based on principles of mindful eating as well as locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. For lunch, diners help themselves to a soup-and-salad bar, then choose from three dishes of the day–fish, meat or vegetarian/vegan. Salad and herbal tea are included. The staff will work with guests who have specific dietary needs.
On the day I was there, the lunch menu included cabbage stuffed with quinoa, sweet potatoes and tumeric; and salmon with green pea coulis and bok choy.
The restaurant is open to all visitors, whether staying overnight or not. Reservations for dinner are required.
The boutique, located near the main entrance, sells signature body care products and literature related to wellness and local history. It also has a lunch counter offering healthy sandwiches, salads, beverages and snacks.
Museum and Archives
Most fascinating to me was the museum, which traces the development of medical thought and the lives of the Augustinian Sisters through the ages. Throughout the galleries are selected objects from the 40,000 artifacts collected from the 12 monastery hospitals plus a linear kilometer of documents and rare books. Among them are vintage medical and pharmaceutical instruments, furniture, works of art, and liturgical objects and garments.
We entered the museum through the same wooden door young women passed through to begin their new lives as Augustinian Sisters. Prominently displayed is the wooden trunk the first three Augustinian Sisters brought with them, filled with medicine and instruments, from France. It is believed to have served as a religious altar during their long overseas voyage.
Other exhibits show all 21 layers of clothing that made up the habit and veil of an Augustinian Sister after she took her final vows, and the heavy grilled gate she had to stay behind when family came to visit. Augustinian Sisters were cloistered, except for their hospital work, until 1965 after Vatican II.
The galleries also feature a hospital bed, surgical table and a replica apothecary.
Programs and Activities
The monastery calendar lists a wide range of secular and nondenominational workshops, lectures, classes and concerts designed to nourish the soul and promote wellness. Topics include yoga, tai chi, meditation, travel and herbal healing. You also can sign up for a massage and nutritional counseling. Personal programming is available, and special consideration is given to caregivers in need of respite.
My yoga class took place in the vault, or lower level, of the original 17th Century building, where the original foundation stones were in view!
If you stop by the chapel for the daily 5 p.m. vespers service, you will hear the melodious sounds of the Augustinian Sisters singing!
(Thanks to Le Monastère des Augustines for use of the feature photo. The rest are mine.)