– Words Devon Paige Smith Photography Lia Crowe
People from all over the capital region have been enjoying the benefits of hot and cold therapy thanks to Victoria’s first Nordic spa.
RITUAL Nordic Spa on Johnson Street opened in February 2022, and founder Marci Hotsenpiller says she has been blown away by the local support.
“We built RITUAL for locals first and tourists second, and that has worked out really well,” she explains. “After the initial flurry of sold-out weeks when we opened fully in the spring this year, we expected a downtick as the weather got nicer. Instead, through the summer, we saw the same number of locals coming through the door and becoming members as we did in spring. It’s been great.”
The spa, which is in the Harris Green area of Johnson Street, is tucked away in a private alley.
“During one of my first trips to BC for a ski race, I learned that Vancouver Island is one of the few places in the world where you can ski and swim in the ocean on the same day. I was instantly hooked and have been here ever since,” Marci explains.
As she got older, and was living and working in Cumberland, Marci regularly found herself combining powder mornings at Mount Washington with afternoons at work, evenings unwinding in the sauna, and nighttime dips in the ocean.
“Once I moved to Victoria, and I was running marathons, I was driving to the beach to stand in the ocean, then to the rec centre for a hot sauna, and then to a massage. That’s when it occurred to me that if I combined all three elements in one spot—plus offered a cold beer in a café—it could be a really good thing,” Marci laughs.
And it’s been a good thing, indeed. Visits to the spa have been steadily growing and more and more locals are learning about contrast therapy. But the journey to fully building out a Nordic-style spa during the pandemic was met with some obstacles.
“During COVID-19, I noticed how quickly people were getting into cold plunge as a recovery practice for sports or dance. It went from being something people thought of as a bit strange to being an accepted thing. So, designing a modern space that had hot saunas, a cold plunge, steam room, massage and a café became my mission as we went into lockdown,” Marci recalls.
Her idea was met with mixed responses from the bank, mostly because of the pandemic.
“The first three bankers we met with said no way, this is too risky. It was a strange time—other businesses were closing and there we were asking for a startup loan. But it was an interesting journey, because the next three banks we approached were totally on board and agreed that our idea for a Nordic-style spa was exactly what Victoria needed. So, we were very fortunate to have that support of our idea.”
As the months went on, Marci worked with local contractor and designer Michelle Matte, of Michelle Matte Interiors, to get the aesthetic of the space just right.
“I wanted people to feel like they had stepped into a spa in Helsinki, Oslo or Stockholm, so many of the design elements were based on the streamlined Finnish design elements and fabric, the use of wood and water and wool, and a Nordic palette that focuses on form and function, rather than frills,” Marci explains.
“Our goal was to create a space that was friendly, welcoming to all people, and delightfully unpretentious, like a ski lodge, where other guests welcome you inside on a cold winter day, even if they don’t know you or have never met you.”
RITUAL is also designed to be a digital- and phone-free space, with very few mirrors, to create a sense of freedom for all guests where they can take a break from the current selfie culture.
“As part of that same sentiment, we also practice body neutrality, which is based on the idea of your body as an instrument for moving through the world, rather than as an ornament for being seen,” explains Marci.
RITUAL’s main offering is the two-hour Nordic Circuit—a self-directed journey through the elements of hot, cold and relax. Visitors decide how long to stay in each element, and can choose from a traditional Finnish sauna, steam room, cold plunge pool, Nordic bucket shower, Himalyan salt lounge, and outdoor patios to relax on.
Benefits of contrast therapy, Marci says, include increased circulation, better sleep, reduced inflammation, hormonal regulation and more.
“When you do hot and cold contrast therapy, you also challenge your body and mind to do something they don’t normally do. By doing so, you can become more resilient to stress.”
And, says Marci, the social benefits of gathering are some of the most important.
“As humans we need social connections, especially in an urban world where we are separated by digital tools. The social and communal elements of sauna house culture promote connection with others who you might otherwise not cross paths with. And I’m happy that we can provide that space.”
You can find out more about Marci and RITUAL Nordic Spa at ritualnordicspa.com.