While travelers can run hot and cold in their preferences, the Nordic spa trend appears to be going full-steam ahead. Maine is the latest playground.
When brothers Tony and Nate DeLois opened The Francis, a boutique hotel in Portland, Maine, back in 2017, they realized something was missing in the market.
“There has been a lot of hotel development in the past 10 years in Portland, and every new hotel that has been built on the peninsula has been branded,” said Nate, the co-principal and chief financial officer of Uncommon Hospitality.
“That’s not hyperbole — that is every single one,” said Tony, co-principal and chief operating officer.
Their goal with The Francis was to bridge the gap between a large, corporate hotel and a bed and breakfast.
“All the hotels in Portland are over 90 rooms or less than 9 rooms, and really nothing in between,” said Nate.
After opening, though, the fourth-generation Maine residents realized they could go bigger. The Francis, set in a historic mansion built in 1881, has only 15 rooms and no space for a spa, gym, or meeting rooms.
So they are building across the street The Longfellow, which last week began taking reservations and will open in September. The 48-room property will be the first full-service boutique hotel in Portland to open in 20 years.
Maine Meets Scandinavia
What gets Tony and Nate most excited about The Longfellow is its Nordic spa called Astraea. The brothers want to bring some of the Nordic spa culture to Maine.
In addition to its treatment rooms, the 1,800-square-foot spa has two sauna suites. “The idea is that someone will be in the sauna, then go into the rain shower, drench themselves in cold water, and then sit in a relaxing room with a slightly warmer temperature,” said Tony. “So, it has this very loosely Nordic-themed spa routine.”
While Nate and Tony were working in 2021 on developing The Longfellow, they purchased a 5-acre property in Rangeley, Maine — just over a two-hour drive from Portland and near the New Hampshire and Canadian border. It’s made up of 5 buildings, including two motels, a cottage, a single-family home, and a main inn.
The plan is to turn that property into a full-on Nordic spa destination.
“Instead of being a hotel with a spa it’s going to be a spa with hotel rooms,” said Nate.
The brothers did research in Canada, where Nordic-style spas have taken off. Nordik Spa-Nature Chelsea, located in Québec, opened in 200 and features a similar concept to what Tony and Nate are developing. Meanwhile, Strøm Nordic Spa, which has locations all over Quebec, Siberia Spa in Québec and Scandinave Spa in Whistler, have expansive Nordic spas (but lack accommodations).
“We’ve become completely infatuated with [Nordic spas],” said Nate. “We have a very similar geography and climate up in Rangely [to Canada], where we’re up in the hills, overlooking the mountains — you know, peaks and the lakes, and it’s winter for many months of the year.”
In Rangeley, Tony and Nate’s spa, which starts construction in 2024, will feature all the Nordic spa trappings, like outdoor hot pools, outdoor cold plunges, relaxation areas, treatment rooms, and guest rooms for people who want to stay.
Fine-tuning the Boutique Hotels
As Portland tourism continues to grow, Tony and Nate are hoping to draw in visitors from markets like New York (an hour-long flight or a five-hour car ride away), Boston, and beyond.
Enhancing guest “well-being” is the through-line in their thinking. That’s with the spa, the blend of coffee they offer guests, and the soaks and the lotions in the rooms. They recently hired a sleep consultant to help improve the guest experience at The Longfellow.
What keeps their property feeling like boutiques is an upscale-meets-relaxed aesthetic, such as with the interiors at The Longfellow Jou-Yie Chou of Post Company, the firm also behind the design of Marram in Montauk.
To help guests explore Portland, they bought an all-electric BMW i7 as a free in-town shuttle service. They train staff on how to give relevant, live-like-a-local recommendations to guests, too.
“Portland is a port city right on the water, with beautiful shops and restaurants, but Portland until five or 10 years ago had never been considered a destination,” Nate said. Him and Tony are making a bet that the city has arrived on the map with the kind of audience seeking boutique hotels and Nordic spas.
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Photo credit: A rendering of a private sauna at The Longfellow boutique hotel in Portland, Maine. Photo by Leonardo R. Merlos. Source: Uncommon Hospitality.