“Let’s explore Chelsea,” I told my husband. It was late March, time to put some spring back into our step. We’d already gone hiking many times in Gatineau Park and to visit the Mackenzie King Estate, so we wanted to see what else this quiet Quebec town, a few minutes from Ottawa, had to offer. We would soon discover that Chelsea is also the perfect place for relaxation and rejuvenation.
Feasting on Culture at O’Brien House
The sun was just setting when we arrived at O’Brien House on Saturday afternoon. Built in 1930, this exquisitely renovated boutique hotel was originally owned by Montreal Canadiens Founder Ambrose O’Brien. My husband and I were smitten as soon as we walked through the stately red front door.
We were greeted like long-lost friends before being shown to our elegant yet unpretentious room. Even though the trees outside our windows were still bare, the view overlooking Meech Lake was nothing short of spectacular. The only other building in sight was Wilson House, the historic property where the Meech Lake Accord was signed. “I just want to curl up by the fire and gaze out the window,” I mused.
In the end, we decided to bring our books downstairs and settle on comfy sofas in the grand old living room, sipping wine and listening to jazz. We were surrounded by art from The Crown Collection of the National Capital Commission—iconic pieces such as a Sakkiassie Anaija whalebone sculpture, and a painting of the Canadian flag by contemporary Canadian artist Charles Pachter. Tucked away in the corner of a smaller lounge of the hotel: a grandfather clock that had belonged to our fifth prime minister, Sir John Sparrow David Thompson.
Later that evening, we ate in the romantic dining room, candles flickering on every table. The food is accurately billed as “obsessively local, intelligently composed, and shockingly beautiful.” I chose the heavenly, silky lobster bisque which was indeed—I can attest—both “shockingly beautiful” and “intelligently composed”, with ruby red fish roe adorning delicate morsels of lobster and scallops.
Chilling at Nordik Spa
Another excellent reason to visit Chelsea is the famous Nordik Spa—pure bliss in an enchanted storybook setting. For several hours, we alternated between soaking in the heat and awakening our senses in frigid pools, feeling the stress draining from our bodies and our happy endorphins kicking in.
Snowflakes caressed our cheeks as we submerged in a hot thermal pool. “This is magical,” my husband said as we inhaled the aroma from the nearby firepits. We were pampered indoors, too. In the Kalla treatment, we floated peacefully in a warm tranquil pool of salinated water. A mini-version of the Dead Sea.
My favourite treatment had to be the Aufguss Ritual, an ancient German practice. I sat on the bottom tier of a huge sauna, while a duo trained in the Aufguss Ritual swirled towels in rhythmic gymnastics-like movements to infuse us with a succession of essential oils—sweet orange, tea tree, and scotch pine.
All this relaxation made us hungry. As we bit into thick, juicy burgers in one of the restaurants, I noticed how radiant my husband looked. As if reading my mind, he said, “You’re glowing.”
Over the weekend, we found that there are many good reasons to visit Chelsea. We had lunch at Les Fougères, a bright modern bistro. We nestled into a corner table next to a picture window overlooking the woods. I would have been delighted with only the 12-grain bread slathered with fennel butter and pollen. But I’m glad I ordered the eggs benedict, hands-down the best I’ve ever had, with a perfectly crisped rosti replacing the traditional English muffin. My husband passed me spoonfuls of his sweet potato, carrot and tamarind soup. I’m surprised he shared—I would have kept it all to myself.
Les Fougères also has a store with a wide range of curated products from carry-out foods like smoked haddock with pear and cherry soup to retro board games. Upstairs is Galerie Old Chelsea, where classical music played as we admired the paintings and handicrafts. The gallery is run by local artists. It was painter Marianne Feaver who greeted us warmly that day.
La Fab Arts Centre, in the old rectory of St. Stephen’s church, is another artists-run gallery and studio. It’s a funky place filled with an eclectic mix of jewellery, ceramics, and so much more. We bought beautiful glass coasters and took note for future presents.
We made two more purchases in Chelsea. At Doozy Candle, I loved the kaleidoscopic colours of wax art and bought several candles with soothing names, such as ‘Japanese Cherry Blossom’. At Chelsea Smokehouse I would have paid admission for the irresistible aroma alone of fish being smoked on Canadian maple. We bought both traditional smoked salmon, as well as one infused with maple, zaatar and coriander.
More to Discover—Next Time!
Spending quality time in Chelsea was the best way to spring forward. For such a small place, we only scratched the surface of the food, art and specialty shopping options. We will be back soon to keep exploring. In the meantime, here are some more moments travellers captured in the beautiful Chelsea and Gatineau Park region…
Header photo credit: Spa Nordik