Sturebadet – A Viking Temple of Health

SturebadetSecret spas are rare, but we’ve found one in the center of Stockholm that never advertises. The country that brought you ABBA and the Saab keeps Sturebadet to itself. Not exactly a secret—there are 4,000 members—it’s the place in Stockholm to work out, get a massage, and enjoy spa cuisine. So here’s how to experience Sweden’s oldest and grandest spa.

Don’t be put off by the location—in a shopping mall called Sturegallerian. The original Sturebadet, opened in 1885 as a communal bathhouse, once stood here. Destroyed a century later, the new building recreates Sturebadet in all its Nordic Art Nouveau glory. There are Moorish arches and Arabic grottoes, two floors of galleries for massage and skin care around the swimming pool, and a well-equipped fitness center for cardio-strength training.

The decor inspires mixed reactions: One member describes it as what a temple to the Vikings might have looked like to an Ottoman sultan. Restoration involved carving antique pine timber for the galleries, adding warm tones to the granite fountain that fills one end of the pool area. Skylights illuminate the pool, a nice touch in winter when members gather in bathrobes at the cafe/restaurant on the fifth-floor gallery, overlooking the pool.

Busy day and night, the club attracts the young, professional, high-energy, and stressed. Visitors are welcome when space is available for treatments, or you can drop in to swim and exercise by paying for a day pass ($15). Check in at a reception desk on the mall level, collect a robe and locker key, then take the elevator to the locker rooms. An aerobics studio pulses with classes throughout the day, some high-impact, others listed for various levels. In the gymnasium, you may have to wait if your favorite treadmill or Stair-Master is in use, but there are rowing machines, bicycles, and free weights. An instructor is always present; if you don’t speak Swedish, the locals are fluent in English and other languages.

With all the high-energy workouts, getting a Swedish massage here is worth taking the next SAS flight. Because therapists are trained for three years at professional schools like the Axellsson Institute, the classic massage strokes are mixed with new techniques that set up a synergy between masseuse and recipient. The spa department also provides facials, body scrubs, manicures and pedicures, and the latest herbal treatments. Treatment cabins surround the pool on all sides, and demand for appointments is so heavy that there is a Web site for members to snag last-minute cancellations.

Two hotels in the area have branches of Sturebadet, where getting treatments may be more convenient. If you stay at the recently built Radisson SAS Royal Park or the historic Grand Hotel opposite the Royal Palace, you can use facilities at all three club spas. But nowhere else can you combine a historic bathhouse with an aromatherapy kur.