Norway Spas: Spa-hopping in Oslo
Five spas in and around Oslo, Norway
by Julie Ryland
There’s an allure of freshness and purity that comes with the word "Scandinavia." No wonder my expectations were high when I went spa-hopping in Norway’s capital and my hometown, Oslo, this past summer.
Like many Scandinavians, Norwegians have deep-rooted traditions in health and well-being. Ask any Norwegian where their favourite escape is, and most likely they will conjure up a mental image of the sauna at their cottage in the mountains, followed by an ice-cold dip in a pile of snow. Their wholesome lifestyle - a combination of a healthy diet, relaxation and exercise - is the perfect balance. Here’s a sampling of what Oslo and its vicinity offers in terms of nordic wellness.
Mood lit and themed, Artesia Spa, located in the Oslo's historic Grand Hotel, takes guest virtually to the backwoods of Norway. Birch trees lined up around the pool area create the feeling of a Norwegian lake. Frosted glass doors tinted with tree motifs and coloured LED lighting makes it hard to tell whether you’ve gone back to nature – or the future.
While the spa's home may be one of the city's cherished landmarks, it's also a modern oasis hosting international stars such Oprah Winfrey and Madonna.
In one of the comfortably-sized treatment rooms, stacks of soft towels, a heated bed and the smell of essential oils transport me straight into relaxation mode. While the body absorbs the nourishment and moisture of the strawberry and creme fraichè body wrap (the low PH level of the light version of sour cream works as an acid to open up the pores and allow for better absorbtion), I am given a light facial. I lay in my damp cocoon of saran wrap, towels and a heated blanket (a bit too ”ugh” for a hot summer day) for another fifteen minutes before it’s time for a shower. The treatment ends with a massage, using a body cream instead of oils which leaves my skin feeling soft rather than greasy.
Treatments change depending on seasons, trends and each client’s preferences.
You can extend the treatment by spending the rest of the day in lounge chairs by the pool, or enjoying a cup of tea on the rooftop terrace. The lighting and decor is all part of the holistic approach adopted by the managment. A great way to stimulate all of our senses.
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I mentioned the mountains, but the second best Norwegian escape must be the ocean. Farris Hotel and Spa is situated in Larvik, a village built above the natural Farris springs, a 90-minute drive from Oslo. The hotel was built by one of Norway’s most well-known investors, Mille-Marie Treschow, whose vision was to build a hotel in a harmonious unity with nature. Mission accomplished.
In the reception area, floor to ceiling glass windows overlook the sea and set the tone. With a place like this, the atmosphere is just as important as what goes on inside each treatment room. ”You won’t see anyone running in the hallways,” Manager Anette Ose says. She shows me the spacious dressing rooms, pool area, different steambaths, saunas, and the Farris built-in-cave, where natural spring water holds a temperature of 36-37 C,
Farris Spa’s signature treatment consists of a full-body scrub followed by a deep-tissue massage. Oddly, it’s just called a Deep Tissue Massage. As with many spas, treatments here are not just limited to your time on the table. The experience begins once you enter the lobby, lower your shoulders and feel a sense of calm and tranquility, and extends to post treatment – such as relax time in your private spa suite complete with a waterbed full of pillows. There’s also a wet area and complimentary fruit, nuts and smoothies.
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Beth’s Beautyis one of Norway’s most exclusive spas, blending a historic feel with top-notch modern treatments. With a client list that includes the royal family, the downtown spa has a repuation as well as a high standard to maintain. I visited their newest location, situated inside boutique Hotel Gabelshus at Frogner, a high-end area of Oslo vest.
The smell of dark wood and the dim light from old chandeliers and candles lead visitors down the narrow stairs to the spa reception. No minimalistic glass surfaces or stainless steel, but heavy fabrics and a scent of soft leather that reveal an attempt at keeping some of the original details and decor from the early 20th century.
My treatment, however, bears no signs of the olden days. Their signature silk massage is an innovative massage technique aimed to deepen relaxation and effect by sweeping the body in silk sheets. The therapist uses a silk balm, which combined with a blend of rapid and slow movements and pressure releases silk proteines and aminoacids. The silk extracts are supposedly a star-ingredient in anti-age body treatments, and although I am not left feeling much younger, my skin is definitely silky soft.
All therapists at Beth’s are trained in accordance with traditionally high standards, and all treatments are ajdusted and customized based on each client’s needs and wishes. Although a little on the expensive side, you do get the attention and care you pay for. No pool or water therapies, but there is a sauna and relaxation area for use before or after treatments.
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Zen Resort and Spa
”It is not a temple, not a spa, nor a hotel. Still it’s all of that,” said an L.A.-based buddhist who visited the resort shortly after it opened in October 2008. I would have to agree. The backwoods of Norway are no longer props in a downtown space.
A vegetarian, with a passion for zen and meditation, partnered with her best friend and investor to build a place where people could unite with nature, and connect with the like-minded. About $30 million and three years later, Lisbeth Pettersen could greet her first guests at Zen Resort and Spa - set deep into the wilderness, but still less than two hours outside of Oslo.
Complete with a turkish bath, saltwater pool, steam bath and sauna, the spa also gives free seminars and classes in yoga, zen and mediation to guests at the hotel. Guests are encouraged to learn about the zen philosophy, which might seem intimidating to some, but believe me – as soon as you step out of your car you’ll feel what it is. The resort is so quiet you can hear a pine needle fall.
You’ll learn to practice awareness and use the silence and your surroundings to experience the ”now.” Visitors soon learn that ”meditation doesn’t just happen at a mountain top in Himalaya, but that it can be part of your everyday life,” Pettersen says.
Your room most likely faces the lake, from which you also have easy access to canoes and a rowing boat. No kids are allowed, and although there is a bar, loud guests and party-people are encouraged to travel elsewhere. Make sure you try out their treatments as well. I recieved an ayurvedic massage which included elements from yoga and deep tissue work to improve circulation. You’ll reach nirvana before you can even say ”om.”
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WahWah Skin Trim
We exercise regularly, so shouldn’t we be taking care of our skin on a regular basis? WahWah Skin Trim studio encourages just that. With several locations in downtown Oslo, this colourful and modern insitute offers convenient one-on-one time for you and your skin.
The philosophy makes sense (at least in theory). We often think of a spa experience as an expensive treat rather than as a necessary routine for our skin and body, but in order to monitor changes and analyze your skin’s needs – regular visits are a must (if you can afford it). Therapists here take the time to analyse your skin and set up a personal ”skin trim” plan which will move you towards your goals. The concept is much like going to the gym to see a personal trainer, without the sweat.
Although more modern and sleek than the other spas I visited, I felt no less special. My therapist never left the room, and emphasized the importance of making each visit an experience, even if you’re just there to pluck your eyebrows. A hand massage while having a mask, music and candles while simply having your eyelashes tinted.
Each visit is followed by a consultation with the therapist about your skin, diet, supplements and other factors that might help (or limit) you from reaching your goals. Fruit and smoothies are on the house.
As much as I love the concept, my skin will most likely never get a work-out as frequently as my abs do.
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Julie Ryland is an editorial assistant with Travel to Wellness.