A journey outside the comfort zone at a psychedelic-assisted therapy retreat.
Walking through the crystal clear glass doors at the Spa St. James in the elegant Ritz-Carleton Montreal, you’re enveloped by the warmth and luxury, which inspires a blissful breath and the release of a prolonged “ah.” Perhaps it’s the calming aromas drifting from diffusers built into the walls, the soft splash of the foyer waterfall, or the warm, natural tones complemented by wood and copper accents. Everything about this special place whispers relaxation.
“We always make sure to have the warmest welcome with the biggest smiles greeting our guests,” explains Carolyn Turner, the spa’s marketing director who helped open it as the landmark property’s first in-house spa five years ago. Since then, she has seen the spa elevated to a top tourist destination, even in the face of a global pandemic. “Our spa had the honour of winning a 2021 Travelers’ Choice award. We were in the top 10% of attractions, worldwide.”
The partners represent two families, founder Carol St. James and her son, Jordan, who opened the original spa 20 years ago, and Carolyn and her mother Maria Turner. “My mother and I travelled the world visiting the most beautiful spas,” says Carolyn. “Our experience and passion for the industry was a goal we shared with them.”
Working in the spa’s 5,500 square feet of space are 30 staff members, including aestheticians, RMTs, and hairstylists. The space boasts a serene relaxation lounge with two fireplaces,
12 treatment rooms, a manicure and pedicure suite, and a state-of-the-art salon. Guests can also access the hotel’s stunning rooftop pool overlooking the city, complemented by a sauna and steam room.
“Our passion lies in keeping up with the latest technologies in non-invasive treatments. Prevention is definitely the key to healthy, youthful skin, so we offer a variety of non-surgical, anti-aging treatments. That’s really our big focus,” explains Carolyn.
One of the more popular treatments among clients, the majority of whom are locals, is the St. James Signature ‘Facelift,’ which has garnered a long-time following among clients. This non-surgical facelift applies a very gentle microcurrent to retrain muscles by recreating a lifting effect to target sagging skin, leaving it feeling naturally firmer. Microneedling has also gained in popularity in fighting the signs of aging and improving scarring and skin pigmentation.
“We offer a series of treatment packages as a cure to ensure the optimal result. It’s beneficial because you’re not going under an invasive procedure. There’s no after care and you don’t have to worry about side effects,” explains Carolyn.
Among a range of non-invasive treatments offered at the spa, there’s IPL Photo Regeneration; a seaweed wrap optimized within a state-of-the-art sauna capsule; as well as Carolyn’s personal favourite, the Advanced Oxygen Facial. “It’s meant to boost your skin’s metabolism with an infusion of pure, high-quality oxygen. It really does give a radiant, youthful glow, and it can be combined with many facials.” Treatments are performed using products from Aromatherapy Associates, Cellcosmet, Jan Marini, Luzern Laboratories, and Nelly De Vuyst, many of which are sold at the spa.
There’s little doubt that the 18 months has been a challenge for Canada’s spas, notes Carolyn, expressing praise for Quebec’s healthcare workers. The pandemic meant the St. James, like others, had to adapt to public health measures. “Moving forward, we are paying even closer attention to detail and shaping our protocols to adapt to make sure each of our clients feels secure and at ease.”
Among the many measures the spa took, they felt it was important to invest in the installation of air ventilators around the facility to ensure good quality, healthy air. Funding from the federal government helped cover some of that cost, as well as rent and wages. “We’ll be able to transition off the support this autumn as we get back on our feet,” explains Carolyn.
Like most spas, the St. James was forced to close its doors until its reopening this past June, but Carolyn underscores that during the shutdown clients and staff remained patient and understanding. Her staff made sure to stay in touch with clients through newsletters and social media. They offered gift cards, created music playlists, and posted tips on home pedicures.
“We have an extremely dedicated staff. They’re very loyal and have built close relationships with so many of our clients. The pandemic just brought us all closer and more unified than we already were.” Unlike some situations, where spa staff simply did not return once closures lifted, Spa St. James employees stuck by the organization. “Thankfully, they also received help from the government, so they were able to maintain their lifestyles and were able to wait.”
To reignite plummeting tourism in 2020, Tourisme Montréal looked to jump-start its industry with a campaign to encourage residents to spend on experiences in their hometown. The spa was part of the campaign, which included an overnight stay at the Ritz-Carleton, with breakfast, and a 30% discount at the spa. In part, this helped keep a steady flow of guests to the spa, explains Carolyn.
“Montreal is a major tourist destination, and the Ritz-Carleton is famous worldwide for attracting tourists, so having the spa in the hotel is even more of an incentive for visitors, and it’s just the perfect experience.”
The pandemic has amplified wellness in consumers’ minds, something that has not gone unnoticed at the Ritz-Carleton as in-room spa treatments have become even more popular. “Guests really enjoy having a treatment in the privacy of their rooms, so we’ve always offered in-room massage therapy,” explains Carolyn. “Our massage therapists will bring the full set-up, including the beds and music, into the room to instill a nice atmosphere.”
Hotel spas are coming into their own, believes Carolyn. “Operating a spot in the Ritz-Carleton feels like the perfect fit for us. It really is a strategic alliance between two well- run organizations that, like a family, share the same vision and standards.”
Paying close attention to detail and delivering a luxury experience flows easily between the hotel and the spa — a combined oasis of tranquility where guests are gracefully lulled into bliss.