Since moving to Sweden and beginning to indulge in all the sybaritic offerings here in Stockholm, I’ve suddenly had a new practice to acclimate to: the Swedish way of sauna-ing.
I’m an American—your typical overly-friendly, sometimes geographically-inept American that is modest to a point. Potentially describable as prudish. Someone who views a bathing suit with or without a towel wrapped around oneself as standard sauna dress code.
At your more “international” Swedish saunas, like you’d find at a hotel, that’s just fine. But at a Swedish institution, like Centralbadet (The Central Baths—built in 1904 and wonderfully ornate) in the heart of Stockholm, which I visited last month, you’ll see prominently-placed signs reminded guests that bathing suits are not to be worn in the saunas “for hygienic reasons”. I have a hard time following the spirit of the rule, getting around it by removing my swimsuit but still clinging a towel tightly around my Americanness.
As the year winds down, though, it’s time for another spa visit. For this go-round R found a great deal for both of us on Groupon, which included lunch and an afternoon at Skepparholmen Spa out on one of the promontories in Nacka, where visitors have a crazy beautiful view of the sea flowing out to the archipelago. And lucky us, the day of our visit last week coincided with a little snow fall so we had the most surreal and ethereal experience in the woods (and I’m happy to say the sauna was international style, so swimsuits stayed firmly on!).
The spa is about 20 minutes from the city by car and we were invited to come at 1PM for lunch and then have a few hours after to enjoy the pools and sauna. Winding roads took us to a little spa hotel surrounded by stunning seafront greenery where we sat down to a lunch of carrot, ginger and lentil soup, a white coleslaw salad, deliciously nutty (gluten-free) bread and cheese, and a few slices of pork in a mustard tarragon sauce with a little broccoli and rice. There was a light Swedish beer to start and strong Swedish coffee to end. Lunch was served in the building above where you see stars hanging in the window and we had a view out to those craggy rocks and pine trees.
Then after relaxing a little bit in the lounge, at 2PM we headed down to a different building (the one you see in the first picture), removed our shoes, picked up our towel, robe and slippers, went through the changing rooms and emerged into the spa. There was a resting area in front of a fireplace with water and fruit, an indoor pool whose edges were built like beach recliners so you could comfortably lay down in it, tropical and ice water showers, a sauna with plate-glass windows directly overlooking the sea, and then of course, a heated outdoor pool on a platform in front of the sauna’s windows with the best view of all.
As we entered the spa proper, the ominous clouds opened up and snow began to drift down, the sky changing from eerie green to moody gray to a mystical deep blue and there was no way we could stay inside, so we hung our towels and robes on a heating rack, took a deep breath, pushed open the door and (carefully) ran the 20 feet from the door to the pool, where we gratefully sank down.
Below our necks we were nice and warm, and above, our hair was sprinkled with snowflakes and our cheeks flushed from the cool air. It was the oddest and most wonderful of sensations, especially given the views before us. Across the water we watched the towns on the other bank turn from dark, slightly sinister-looking landscapes into white-flecked, cozy little hamlets. And then a cruise ship sailed by, with its twinkly lights winking at us from along the sail lines.
Being so close to, yet so far away from, the city always makes me feel unshackled and wild, and that current of energy combined with the cozy starkness of the spa made our day one of my most favorite ones of this year. But, I’m not sure if we could ever go back there again knowing we might not have the same amazingly perfect atmospheric conditions.
…What am I saying, of course we’ll go back!
All photographs by Jillian Mascarenhas