A trip to Gatineau Park feels like a trip down memory lane for me. I grew up in Ottawa so I spent a lot of my youth skiing at Camp Fortune and swimming in the park’s lakes. But it had been over three decades since I’d been back. And what a treat to find most of what I remember unchanged.

Our base for exploring Gatineau Park was the Moulin Wakefield Inn, just 15 minutes away in Wakefield. From there we planned to cross-country ski in Gatineau Park for a few days but we’d built in some time to explore the pretty little town of Chelsea.

Chelsea serves as one of the gateways to Gatineau Park; it seems to have grown up since I was last there. Whether the residents are in favour of the changes, I don’t know, but as a visitor I loved the place. It’s only about a 20 minute drive from downtown Ottawa but it feels like a world away.

Here is a sampling of things to do in Chelsea, Quebec.

  • Shop at one of the locally owned stores. La Savonnerie Old Chelsea produces 140 handcrafted products made with olive oil. And don’t miss sticking your nose in Arthena – where local artists use recycled materials to great effect. Home decor and personal accessories are some of the products you’ll find in here.
  • Eat. For a small town there’s a lot of choice. I had a phenomenal four course tasting lunch at the popular Chelsea Pub. It’s got a great ambiance and friendly service. If I lived in Chelsea I wouldn’t have much motivation to cook.
"Goat cheese rolled in nuts served with a roasted pear salad"

Goat cheese rolled in nuts served with a roasted pear salad

"beautiful presentation of food at the Chelsea Pub in Chelsea, Quebec"

Fantastic presentation was the hallmark of all the courses

"I swooned over the green tea macaroon at the Chelsea Pub"

I swooned over the green tea macaroon

Other places to eat in Chelsea include Les Fougères, a restaurant surrounded by gardens featuring lots of home-grown and local food since 1993. And Mama Theresa Restaurant, an institution in Ottawa is set to open within the month and the reason – over a million visitors a year who are drawn to the quaint town of Chelsea. As for coffee, sandwiches and treats, check out Biscotti & Cie.

Visit the Nordik Spa

The Nordik Spa in Chelsea, the largest in North America, is a unique and very relaxing way to spend some time. John and I had both been invited to visit but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

It turns out that they offer a huge selection of Nordic baths and waterfalls, saunas with varying temperatures, steam baths, cold plunge pools, a panoramic pool, hot tubs, quiet rooms, lounging rooms where wine and food is served – really the list goes on and on. In summer outdoor massage is also an option.

Here’s what we did at Spa Nordik.

After changing into a bathing suit and donning a large terry robe, we padded in scandals (footwear is a necessity on very cold days) from a medium hot sauna to a room where we lay in the dark on hot rocks; then it was down to the salt water floating pool – akin to what the Dead Sea might feel like. We spent close to 30 minutes listening to bells, which is only possible by laying your head back in the water (neck cushions are also provided); next was a swim and some lounging in an outdoor pool with a gorgeous view of downtown Ottawa. Then we debated whether to buck up and plunge into a cold water pool but both of us wimped out with that. We ended with another sauna and a soak in the hot tub.

We were at the spa for easily two hours and really I know I could have done more. I understand that in the summer, when lounge chairs are scattered around the property, couples will quite literally spend the whole day here. It was a total treat and it felt like a very luxurious and indulgent way to spend a good part of a weekday afternoon.

"The salt water floating pool at Nordik Spa in Chelsea, Quebec"

The salt water floating pool – Photo credit: Nordik Spa

"One of the outdoor hot tubs"

One of the outdoor hot tubs – Photo credit: Nordik Spa

"The Nordik Spa lit up at night"

The Nordik Spa lit up at night – Photo credit: Nordik Spa

"The view from the pool "

The view from the panorama pool – Photo credit: Nordik Spa

Considering that Chelsea’s population is only about 7,000, it’s got a phenomenal amount to offer; great food, local colour, shops supporting the community, a wonderful spa and the beauty of Gatineau Park with its abundance of ski trails in the winter and hiking and lakes to enjoy in the summer.

Have you had the pleasure of visiting Chelsea, Quebec?

Disclosure: Thank you to Tourism Outaouais for help with part of my trip to the region. And as always all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Leigh McAdam

Author of Discover Canada: 100 Inspiring Outdoor Adventures
Co-author of 125 Nature Hot Spots in Alberta
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