Wild & Immersive: New Hydrothermal Spa at Oceanstone in Nova Scotia

by Editor

By Kristina Smith | Design & Consulting by Core Essence | Photography © Roberts & Co

Carved into the breathtaking natural landscape at Oceanstone Resort & Spa is where the sky, the sea, and the land meet. An award-winning destination on the shores of the North Atlantic Ocean in Canada, this family-owned and operated resort underwent a substantial expansion with the development of a unique Hydrothermal Spa which opened in June 2023.

Artful design and nature combine here to offer guests the opportunity to enjoy wellness journeys steeped in the deep traditions of hydrothermal bathing and greatly enriched by the local hand, talent, rituals, and riches of the Nova Scotian landscape and community.

The hydrothermal journey features two warm vitality pools, a North Atlantic plunge pool, an aromatherapy sauna, salt-inhalation Hammam and Kneipp River Walk (more on this later), along with outdoor showers, restore and relax areas, a meditation den and lounge for restorative moments, and crackling fireside recovery stations.

Guests can enjoy nourishment and hydration by ordering from a curated seasonal spa menu created by the Chef here that includes charcuterie, soups and salads, smørrebrød, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages (Oceanstone recommends that any alcohol consumed be done so at the end of your hydrothermal experience).

It was an immense undertaking, years in the process from vision to completion, with a pandemic thrown into the mix. Core Essence, a Wellness Design and Consulting Firm, led the business and conceptual direction as well as all aspects of design for the project.

We spoke to Core Essence’s Founder and CEO, Jennifer Findlay, and Nicky Poole from Development & Education about the undertaking, including the programming, treatments, and stunning hydrotherapy circuit they helped to create here.

Designing the Experience

Jennifer spent nearly two decades working in hospitality and with health and wellness start-ups, often brought in to help businesses that were struggling financially or operationally or were experientially flat for guests. She observed that, across projects and geographies, the businesses were rarely set up for financial and operational success, and the correlation with guest experience and needs was lacking.

Jennifer found many spas to be one-dimensional or tending to go big but sitting empty much of the time and wanted to focus on guests experiencing something exceptional in beautiful, “rightsized” spaces. Core Essence was born out of this desire, to offer wellness design for businesses looking to layer on a deeper, more intentional experience for guests.

For every project, Core Essence undertakes due diligence to understand the market conditions and elements like local tourism, and Oceanstone checked all the boxes for the perfect project: the location is stunning (spread along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean, about a 5-minute drive from Peggy’s Cove);

the property was large and deep, with a great deal of unused but beautiful outdoor space. Well-known as a warm, welcoming, and quaint summer wedding destination resort with incredible culinary offerings, the Owner, Dean Leland, was instrumental in pioneering this next chapter of mindful, meaningful growth for the resort.

If you’ve been to Nova Scotia, Canada, you know what an exceptional part of the world it is, famous for its warmth and culture. So, it was all about rightsizing the property to be both supportive of the local community and to usher in a new era of potential; with spa and hydrotherapy offerings, the resort could attract more winter and shoulder-season guests to enjoy exceptional wellness experiences in nature.

Intention for Engaged Experiences

As Nicky explained, in designing the vision, Core Essence felt drawn to integrate ancient hydrothermal bathing practices within the local Nova Scotian essence because of the surroundings: warm and welcoming, a short walk to your neighbour’s cottage if you’ve come with family or friends, with stunning ocean views and a bit of a raw edge. Guests tended to be urban and this access to nature, during all seasons, was crucial.

Hydrothermal bathing, at its core, is a tried and true way for people to come together for wellbeing. So they sought to not just import a concept from another place but incorporate it into the local landscape, a traditional meeting place of Indigenous peoples and settlers.

It was all about keeping Oceanstone small and welcoming, and not about just adding volume. And they succeeded. The local culture is seen and experienced throughout the property and spa, the design of which was led by Core Essence’s Director of Design, Sarah Gatenby. Guests arrive at a spectacular lighthouse-inspired glass building, a beacon of welcoming; instead of an “ice bath,” it’s the “North Atlantic Plunge Pool.” Nods to the region are the details, however small, that make the difference in anchoring the experience to place.

Hydrothermal was also a good fit for Oceanstone because of the seasonality of tourism; the area is equally beautiful in winter and having warm pools and saunas extend both the season and the average length of stay. Hydrotherapy is affordable and accessible; one can do the circuit daily during a vacation, and many locals who come for the day come back for a longer stay. It is also not weather-dependent, important as businesses in the Maritimes and globally face the stark realities of climate change.

The importance of sustainable tourism also played a role, diversifying and spreading out the footprint so there are no harsh seasonal peaks. Plus, it offers a personal, more holistic sense of wellness: not just pampering (being done “to you”) but an empowered sense of discovery and active participation while relaxing.

The Pillars of Wellness

To provide a cohesive experience for guests, Core Essence helped Oceanstone to identify and refine four pillars of wellness to ensure that the hydrotherapy and spa services aligned with the overall philosophy and ethos: Individual & Introspective, Wild & Immersive, Sheltered & Nourished, and Social & Communal. Given the project’s overlap with the pandemic, the latter became even more important as all parties sought to bring people together, encouraging “social wellness” with communal elements like circular vitality pools (hot and warm) and fire pits to gather ‘round.

The overall vibe is quiet, conversational, not silent but not rowdy. Silence is reserved for the four treatment huts (again, inspired by local fishing huts) and a meditation den that serves as the pre and post-treatment lounge. Under this spectrum of wellness they brought to life a curated spa menu of therapeutic services based on the notion of “how do I want to feel today?” Signature treatments (see the end of this article for our recommendations) as well as a full menu of massage, facial and body treatments are on offer to nourish and relax.

A Sense of Place

The overall spa design was highly focused on incorporating local materials wherever possible. For the “Kneipp” River Walk (a concept brought from Europe), local river stones were designed into an ankle-deep, cold, meandering river for bare feet that serves as the entryway and offers an element of play.

The Finnish saunas are curved, to be set back into the local topography, while the salt inhalation hammam (set with local tiles) has that misty, Atlantic foggy feel. Only one element was international: the two thermal huts came from a Belgium-based group known for its exceptional design, technology and energy efficiency standards. The thermal cabins were customized and designed to be fully accessible.

The Core Essence team was heavily involved in the finished designs throughout the project to ensure that the connection to the local community and the intention of development were forefront. The goal? To put the East Coast of Canada, and Oceanstone Resort, on the international map as a gem simply waiting to be discovered.

Your Turn

Whether you come for the rugged coastline, the spa and hydrotherapy circuit, the cuisine, or all of the above, you’ll find an intentional wellness experience at Oceanstone Resort in Nova Scotia.

Must-Try Signature Rituals

With sustainability in mind, Oceanstone has partnered with VOYA, an award-winning skincare company from Ireland that offers facial and body products using sustainable harvesting methods.

Ocean Moon-Stones

Warmed stones (all locally found washed ashore) are bathed in moisturizing body oil and massaged rhythmically over the body, in combination with hand techniques that encourage a deep experience of restoration. Then, honouring the ancient Nordic traditions of incorporating hot-cold therapy, the warmed stones are followed by a face massage with cool Cryo Stix to stimulate the lymphatic system, rid puffiness, and soothe skin.

Organic Seaweed Body Buff

A warming sensory experience that stimulates and polishes the skin for a vitalizing response in the body before ending with an oil application to lock in moisture. A combination of organic bladderwrack and antioxidant-rich seaweed, the massage oil is known for supporting anyone who struggles with the heaviness of sluggish or stagnant energy.

Grounding Foot Ritual

A recharging circulation of the lower limbs: first, enjoy a body polish from the knees down, after which the legs are wrapped in a mask of warmed Atlantic seaweed leaves to detoxify, increase circulation, and nourish tired feet and legs. Conclude the ritual with a deeply relaxing massage of the lower legs and feet. A wonderful treatment that is perfect for men and those new to spa treatments.

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