A jungle sauna and Northern Lights laconium are just two of the novelties at The Well in Norway which opened in late 2015 with some of the most contemporary hydrothermal experiences in today’s spa industry. The three-storey bathhouse – one of the biggest in Europe – is looking to attract up to 100,000 visitors a year with its huge range of pools, steamrooms and saunas inspired by global spa traditions. It’s built in the pine forests of Sofiemyr, south of Oslo, by Norwegian architects Halvorsen & Reine and has been a key project for Thermarium, a division of Klafs, which specialises in wet spa design. Treatments by British brands Elemis and Mii make-up, and Norway’s Dermanor are also available in one of 25 suites.
The Well is the brainchild of entrepreneur Stein Erik Hagen, the second-richest man in Norway, (see p74). His investment firm Canica manages a diverse portfolio from e-commerce groups to grocery stores, but Hagen’s had experience in wellness since opening the famous Farris Bad mineral spa in Larvik in 2009.
After nine days of exploring western Norway, a visit to The Well was highly anticipated. Every muscle was aching from scaling mountains, circling placid fjords and negotiating the cultural delights of Oslo and Bergen. But that didn’t mean the NOK275m (US$33.2m, €30m, £26m) spa facility was guaranteed to impress. Norway is breathtaking – and that’s a hard act to follow.
The Well was easy to find by car, 20 minutes from Oslo down the main E6 road. There’s also a dedicated shuttle bus to and from the capital – a smart touch for an out-of-town spa that, to be worth the effort, needs people to stay all day.
Thankfully, The Well has more than enough to offer as a day-long destination and an all-day ticket is very reasonably priced at NOK495 (US$60, €54, £46). On arrival, I was greeted by Eric who was impeccably presented, fluent in English and polite. Without hesitation, he explained The Well’s concept, including the delicate subject of its rules on nudity.
The Well is a longtime dream for Hagen, who wanted to introduce the tradition and social atmosphere of the Roman bathhouse to Norway. Further inspired by the open culture of Europeans, he made it a naked spa. Eric swiftly added that it isn’t compulsory to be naked as long as visitors wear The Well’s branded swimwear, which can be purchased for NOK125 (US$15, €14, £12).
On checking in, I was given a wristband which operated the lockers and doubled up as a convenient cashless system. I had trouble using the locker because the instructions were only in Norwegian. The lack of translation was a recurring issue and I missed out on details about complementary aufguss sauna rituals and a warning to wear slippers on hot floors (ouch)! However, The Well says it’s “absolutely working to make it easier for international guests”, adding further translations and developing signs with pictograms and symbols.
At the heart of the spa are the baths, which are surrounded by saunas, steamrooms and showers. These were filled with people relaxing and enjoying themselves: floating, swimming and using the massage jets and hot tubs. Every detail is beautifully finished and the quality of the materials, fittings and furnishings can’t be faulted. The level of craftsmanship is compelling and this was the same throughout the building.
It was almost impossible to drag myself away from the massage jets, which are sheer bliss, but eventually I moved to the thermal area. There are 15 heat experiences in total, some offering special treatments such as the stea sm and aromatherapy rituals in the aufguss sauna. The standout sauna has to be the two-storey Austrian-style loft. Not only is it the hottest, it boasts log-cabin décor and brushed spruce walls for a traditional feel.
A cinema (TV) sauna features special ambient lighting that changes colours according to the visuals on screen. The jungle sauna creates a tropical world with windows of greenery and a mango scent. The art deco tepidarium is stunning – painstakingly covered in gold mosaic. In amongst the saunas, a couple of ice-cold plunge pools and numerous multi-setting showers were easily accessible.
When it was time for lunch, I found the restaurant served a variety of freshly-prepared salads, pizzas and more. Prices were affordable, hitting the right note for a place that wants to keep people all day.
Back to the spa, where a major highlight was the shower grotto. Step inside and your ears are filled with the sound of water – it’s intense, like standing under a waterfall. In this dark cave, surrounded by sheets of falling water, a variety of powerful showers beat down on your body.
Upstairs there’s an impressively authentic Japanese lounge, with meditation area, steambath and a cosy fire room. Chilling outside in the onsen, the steam rising as the cold Norwegian rain falls around you, is seriously good.
Little discoveries and moments like this made The Well remarkable. There’s the obvious size and beauty of the place, but the essence for me was the element of surprise and the variety of experiences (including up to 100 showers). It’s about creating your own journey in a free and non-prescriptive way and the facility seems to be driven by a desire to make guests, quite simply, feel good. The Well is a day-long destination for people from all around the world, all walks of life, all adult ages – and all as naked as they want to be (or not). In this wellness utopia, there’s something for everyone.