Naked and unashamed: You won’t sweat the small stuff at this swanky Norwegian spa where nudity is celebrated
- Jane Alexander visits The Well, which lies in the Norwegian village of Sofiemyr
- During her visit, she finds that swimming naked feels ‘wonderfully liberating’
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We’re men and women of all shapes, all sizes, all ages — and all starkers. A lithe woman (clad in swimsuit and sarong) is dancing around the sauna, artistically waving a towel to spread the heat and scent from the coals.
Her wahey is in sharp contrast to how I’m feeling. I’ve always hated my body (my mother put me on my first diet aged eight — which pretty much wrecked my body image). So it’s no wonder I approach my visit to The Well, just outside Oslo in Norway, with trepidation.
The Well is the largest spa in northern Europe — sprawling over 10,500 sq m with 13 pools, 15 saunas and steam rooms, and 140 showers.
It is the water baby of Stein Erik Hagen, the second richest man in Norway and a confirmed spa fanatic.
He has cherry-picked the best spa traditions from all around the world, spent £30million, and collated them under one enormous solar-panelled roof.
Jane Alexander visits The Well, which lies just outside Oslo in the Norwegian village of Sofiemyr
Liberating: Above, a sauna master twirls a towel to spread the heat and wellbeing at The Well (file photo)
The spa and its 104-room hotel are in the village of Sofiemyr. The lobby has the air of an art gallery rather than a hotel. Hagen collects art on a monumental scale. He’s also big on ‘natural nakedness’. Apparently, it’s for both health and hygiene reasons. Sweat evaporates more easily when it’s not absorbed by swimwear, plus synthetic fabric is a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. It’s enough to make you strip off.
Hagen also wants to encourage his fellow Norwegians to embrace the body acceptance culture of mid and northern Europe. It turns out Norwegians are only slightly less prudish than we Brits and baring all is a stretch for them, too.
So, while nakedness is encouraged in the saunas and pools, it’s not remotely obligatory. You can buy hygienic swimwear (from £12) for the pools and you can cover up with a peshtemal (hammam towel; £6) for the saunas. And beyond the pools and saunas, everyone wears robes.
I encounter a group of women from Birmingham who have tacked a couple of nights on to a weekend break in Oslo. The nakedness has come as a surprise.
The Well is the largest spa in northern Europe — sprawling over 10,500 sq m with 13 pools, 15 saunas and steam rooms, and 140 showers
‘But, actually, we’ve found it rather fun,’ says one of them. ‘It feels lovely swimming nude.’ I had not expected to love this place but fall for it hook, line and sinker. It is deeply unpretentious, friendly, open-minded and huge-hearted.
Tiny details make the difference. A waterproof wristband acts as door key, spa entrance, locker key and cash card. Each spa robe has a letter of the alphabet on the back so there’s less chance of walking off with someone else’s.
I spend hours bobbing from the Northern Lights laconium to the crystal cave steam room; from the waterfall shower room to the super-hot Russian banya. I become smitten with aufguss, the sauna ritual in which balls of ice laced with essential oils are placed on the coals.
While nakedness is encouraged in the saunas and pools at The Well, it’s not remotely obligatory, Jane reveals
The Well hotel (thewell.no; +47 480 44 888) costs from £160 per night B&B. A day pass to the spa costs from £47. British Airways flies to Oslo from Heathrow, from £80 return (ba.com).
A sauna ‘master’ twirls towels and fans to spread the heat and scent to mood-shifting music. It’s totally addictive.
The Well takes its wellbeing seriously, but it’s never po-faced or stern. This is a sociable spa, taking its lead from the Romans where bathhouses were social hubs — where good conversation and great food were as important as cleansing.
In the main bistro-style restaurant, everyone wears robes (even for dinner). It’s an equal mix of men and women (no children — The Well is adult-only) and everyone is chatting and laughing. It suddenly strikes me that nobody is scrolling through their phones.
Eventually — albeit slowly — I come to embrace the naked thing. You realise people do, indeed, come in all shapes and sizes; that nobody cares how you look except you. And yes, swimming naked does feel wonderfully liberating.
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