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Europe's quirkiest spas

From a rock’n’roll boat to a melting igloo, these aren’t your average spas

  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas
  • Europe's quirkiest spas

The Hot Tub At Sea

The Vulkana⁄Tromsø, Norway

As the man behind one of the world’s most-remote music festivals – held on the Traena archipelago, right on the Arctic Circle – long-haired Norwegian Erlend Mogård Larsen likes a challenge. So when he came across the battered shell of a 1950s fishing schooner in Tromsø, at the northern tip of Norway, he didn’t have in mind simple restoration, but full-scale reinvention. Working with boatbuilder Gunnar Eldjarn, Finnish architect Sami Rintala, and a team of carpenters, electricians, plumbers and plasterers, he spent a year stripping the boat down to its timber frame and rebuilding it as a seaworthy spa.

A saltwater hot tub stands at the Vulkana’s stern, along with a 7m div- ing platform for bracing plunges into the fjords. Below deck there’s a ham- mam in the hold, a wood-panelled Zen Lounge in the hull and a Finnish sauna with a window looking out across the sea. Trips include two-hour sailings and off-piste ski expeditions into the Lyngen Alps, accompanied by a mountain guide, the ship’s two-man crew and a chef. If you hadn’t realised already, this is no ordinary spa. www.vulkana.no

The Grape Therapy In A Vineyard

Les Sources de Caudalie⁄Bordeaux, France

The wine harvest of 1993 was a momentous one for the Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a sprawling, stony terroir to the south-east of Bordeaux. The estate yields some superb Grand Cru wines, but the visiting professor of pharmacy from the University of Bordeaux was more interested in what was being thrown away: the grape seeds. The polyphenols they contained are, he explained, an excellent source of antioxidants, used by the beauty industry to combat the signs of ageing. From that discovery, cult French beauty brand Caudalie was born (caudalie is the unit measuring how long a wine’s flavour lingers on the palette).

And now, amid rows of vines that stretch as far as the eye can see, the 55-hectare estate is also home to a wine-fixated spa and luxurious hotel. This is the world’s first “vinothérapie” spa, offering treatments derived from grapes: an exfoliating Crushed Cabernet scrub, a massage involving fresh grapes, or a soak in an oak-barrel bath, laced with a purple powder of crushed grape extracts. It may be a spa for sybarites, but there’s no drinking during treatments; that’s reserved for the excellent restaurant, with its 16,000-bottle cellar. www.sources-caudalie.com

The Bank Vault As Manicure Room

Hotel and Spa de Rome⁄Berlin, Germany

The quietly dignified, neoclassical mansion that stands at 37 Behrenstrasse was once the headquarters of the Dresdner Bank. Having reopened as a five-star, Rocco Forte-run hotel, these days its business is more frivolous. Stuccoed suites occupy the director’s grand former offices; the counter hall has become a ballroom, and down in the old security vaults is an opulent spa, clad in lustrous black marble. The centrepiece is a 20m lap pool, whose glinting, Italian-made golden mosaic tiles recall the riches once stored here – some 400 deposit boxes, filled with dowagers’ jewels and respectable burghers’ bullion. A Finnish sauna and six treatment rooms occupy the rest of the vault, along with a manicure room set behind an anchored steel door. www.hotelderome.com

The Spa In Teletubbyland

Rogner Bad Blumau⁄Blumau, Austria

Amid the green, rolling hills of eastern Styria, around 90 minutes’ drive south of Vienna, the Rogner Bad Blumau is an otherworldly apparition that looks something like the lovechild of Gaudi and the Teletubbies: a haphazard, patchwork-painted castle, topped with turrets and gleaming onion domes. It’s a spa and hotel, but also a Gesamtkunstwerk (complete artwork) by the late Friedensreich Hundertwasser – artist, ecologist and sworn enemy of the straight line, which he proclaimed “godless and immoral”. Built around three natural hot springs, the spa takes in a series of mineral-rich, indoor and outdoor thermal pools and lagoons, a stalactite-hung Dead Sea salt grotto – said to improve respiration – plus assorted steam baths and saunas. After a while its undulating floors, multicoloured mosaics and curious, bulging pillars seem soothingly normal – it’s the rest of the world that looks a little grey and drab. www.blumau.com

The Shrinking Snow Sauna

Arctic Snow Hotel⁄Rovaniemi, Finland

Built from ice and compacted snow, the Arctic Snow Hotel is full of glacial, glittering wonders. In the restaurant, reindeer skins are thrown over opaque benches of solid ice and cloudberry liqueur shots come in ice-carved glasses at the curved, crystalline bar; there’s even a small ice chapel, where newlyweds walk down a snow-crusted aisle. Perhaps strangest of all, though, are the 12 snow-saunas down by the lake. When the stove is lit the walls start to melt, resulting in a gentle, mist-filled sauna (though temperatures can still reach up to 70°C). There are conventional saunas, too, and a hot tub under the stars – plus unlimited snow in which to roll, in time-honoured Finnish fashion. The hotel is open from late December until the spring thaw begins, but the snow saunas have a shorter lifespan: the walls, over 2m thick when they’re first built, melt by 5mm a session. www.arcticsnowhotel.fi

The Meat-storage Warehouse

Aire de Barcelona⁄Barcelona, Spain

Beside an industrial-looking wooden door on Passeig de Picasso, a small sign marks the entrance to an unlikely retreat: El Born’s baños árabes (Arab baths), set in an old, brick-built warehouse. This was once a great storehouse where meat for the nearby Mercat del Born was kept. Now, past the sleekly modern ground-floor changing rooms, steps descend into another world of marble pools, lantern-lit nooks and soaring, subterranean chambers. A modern interpretation of Moorish- style communal baths, its sequence of hot and cold baths are built into the old, brick-vaulted cellars; a steam room, jacuzzi and saltwater flotation pool complete the experience, along with heated marble slabs for massages. In the warm, flickering half-light it’s easy to drift away, while the spa’s ban on talking means the real world doesn’t intrude. www.airedebarcelona.com

The Old Textile Mill

Titanic Spa⁄Manchester, UK

Set on the edge of the Pennines, the austerely handsome Lowestwood Mill has long been a local landmark. Its official opening ceremony in 1911 involved members of the Linthwaite brass band being winched atop its 30m red-brick chimney. This also being the year the RMS Titanic was launched, the six- storey mill soon acquired a new nickname to suit its epic proportions: the Titanic Mill.

Unlike its namesake, the empty mill survived into a new era, whereupon the problem became what to do with it. A solution was finally found in 2006, when it reopened as a vast apartment complex and spacious, eco-conscious spa. The facilities include saunas and steam baths, a hammam, an Egyptian mud chamber and an ice room, while the borehole that once supplied the mill fills the plunge pool, showers and magnificent, salt-regulated pool. www.titanicspa.com


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