Plunging into wellness- Swedish style
Scandinavia has consistently been ranked as the happiest region in the world. Perhaps it’s the salubrious, outdoors lifestyle, or its emphasis on a healthy, work-life balance. Taking advantage of the newly launched, non-stop service from Newark to Gothenburg, I delved into the wellness culture in Sweden’s second largest city on the country’s west coast.
Gothenburg, the hometown of Alfred Nobel and Nordic noir author Henning Mankell, celebrates its 400th anniversary this year on June 4, with festivities continuing throughout the summer through September 3. Known as a leader in transport innovation, and the headquarters of Volvo, the city is also one of the world’s most sustainable destinations. The concern for the environment and a commitment to an active lifestyle is notable by almost 500 miles of bike trails in and around the city.
The Gothenburg archipelago, comprised of 20 islands on the Swedish western coast, is a must-visit for nature lovers. The southernmost inhabited island is Vrångö, a mere 30 minutes from the city by an express ferry, but a world apart. A popular day trip, the island with just under 400 full-time residents is known for its wild beauty, a nature reserve, hiking trails and sandy beaches with rock pools. Needless to say, everyone knows one another in this tight-knit fishing community, and my host is the owner of the island’s only hotel, Kajkanten, where you can stay in a rustic but modern boathouse.
Wellness in this part of Sweden is pared down to its bare bones, like the stark simplicity of Scandinavian design. There’s no need for fancy potions or superfluous embellishments. Just fresh sea air, a diet of omega-rich fish, and like its Finnish neighbors, an almost religious devotion to saunas. Reputed to improve circulation and boost the immune system, its health benefits are revered by many Swedes. I discover that Vrångö is home to a floating sauna with an outdoor hot tub.
The outdoor temperature that day was 45℉, the water temperature 50℉. I swore I wouldn’t take the icy plunge, but in the interest of an authentic, first-hand account, how could I not? After a few minutes in the sauna, I descended the ladder on the side of the floating wood platform and tentatively lowered myself into the water from the waist down. Hmm…this isn’t so bad, I thought. Then letting go, I fully submerged my body. Climbing out of the sea and getting into the hot tub to warm up, I felt a tingling sensation in my legs. Bracing, invigorating, energizing—my baptism in the sea. Call me a cold plunge convert.
Back on the mainland, I continue with my exploration of Swedish wellness traditions. Situated a short walk from the city center, Haga is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Gothenburg. Its pedestrian streets are lined with well-preserved wooden houses from the late 1800s, eclectic shops and an abundance of cafes to stop for fika—a Swedish break for coffee and pastries such as the popular cinnamon or cardamom bun.
Also in this neighborhood is Hagabadet (hagabadet.se), the city’s oldest spa. Founded in 1876, this Old-World European bathhouse features a range of thermal pools of varying temperatures, steam saunas, relaxation areas with hammocks, and a stunning main pool with original painted ceilings. Along with an extensive menu of treatments and fitness classes such as yoga, I indulged in a massage with the option of an IR mattress. Equipped with infrared heat, red light and electromagnetic fields, the mattress is said to be beneficial for the lymphatic system, as well as reduce inflammation and cellulite. Hagabadet also offers light therapy treatment to combat the effects of the long, dark Swedish winters by boosting the immune system and improving mental health.
High above central Gothenburg is the Upper House Spa (en/upperhouse.se) at the top of Gothia Towers. With sweeping views of the city, this luxurious spa offers steam and dry saunas, a hammam, a rainforest shower and three pools including a jaw-dropping, glass bottomed, outdoor pool on the 19th floor that extends from the side of the building. Those who are not guests of the hotel can book a two-hour day or evening spa session for around $35 to $45.
If you come to Upper House for a massage, do yourself a favor and ask for Felix. I’m usually not a big fan of Swedish massages, because while relaxing, I often find that I need something stronger to relieve my sore muscles. But Felix assures me I haven’t had a Swedish massage in Sweden before. I’m not sure if he’s a masseuse or a physiology psychic, because without me saying a word, he was able to pinpoint my problem areas, work on trigger points and release my aches and tension.
Whether taking a cold plunge in an outdoor sauna, visiting a historic bathhouse or experiencing a real Swedish massage in a spa in the sky, the Scandinavian culture of wellness thrives in Gothenburg.
How to get there:
SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) launched a non-stop service from Newark Liberty International to Gothenburg this spring on their new Airbus A321. This long-range aircraft offers enhanced fuel efficiency and an 18% reduction in carbon emissions. The Business Class cabin is standard with limited entertainment options but highlights include seats with a rolling massage option and custom Hasten bedding. The single seat rows are vastly preferred over the double seat configuration not only in terms of comfort but also for privacy.
Photos by Yvonne Yorke