Spa is the actual name of a town in the Ardennes region of eastern Belgium, sought out for centuries for its curative, mineral-rich, thermal waters by the wealthy French-speaking aristocrats of the region. The quaint medieval town of Bruges, the Venice of Belgium, with its romantic canals, beautifully preserved architecture, and horse carriages klippety-klopping over the cobbles, boasts its fair share of spa hotels, as does nearby Ghent. But, we opted for the ever-charming historic Martin’s Relais, with its French doors opening up to the canal. A little fresh air does wonders for the spirit.
Even the stately Brussels Hilton Grand Place had a bit of a spa-like feel. They served Spa Intense mineral water (a little too minerally for me) and the elegant marble baths were equipped with Grohe Metropol faucets – which somehow struck me as cosmopolitan – and a most luxurious showerhead. They even had a little soap with a built-in massage tool. Nice touch.
Here, spa secrets abound. Beautiful, half-Belgian / half-Greek, Brussels Airlines flight attendant Alexandra (her dad was on the Greek national soccer team) suggested Belgian waffles and gave me her favorite DIY recipe for healthy, hydrated skin and hair.
For the hair: Mix one egg, honey, and a banana and apply to hair. Leave in 30 minutes. Follow by wash and conditioner.
For the face: Apply a mixture of avocado and honey for 20 minutes and rinse thoroughly.
Upon arrival at Zaventen Airport, the Formula One Ferrari driving team was at our baggage carousel, all outfitted up with their fluorescent yellow sneakers, matching insignia jackets, and big red suitcases. They might like to go fast, but let’s slow things down a bit, shall we?
To the spaaaaa. Thermae Boetfort Hotel & Spa, Thermae.com, just on the outskirts of Brussels, is a spa in the very truest sense of the word—a veritable oasis of serenity. This is a haven for those seeking peace and tranquility that allows for the utmost decompression. Within the realm of a turreted castle, Thermae Boetfort enjoys nine distinct saunas (some private), two outdoor swimming pools, four jacuzzis, steam baths, a laconicum, warm and cold showers, and relaxation rooms. The laconicum was the dry sweating room of the Roman thermae, contiguous to the hot room, or caldarium, which we learned about in Latin class long ago but had never experienced. Until now.
At this wellness center, you can enjoy the soothing waters either in a bathing suit or nude. The two sections are completely separate, so there’s really something for everyone. They describe it as totally Zen. I would agree. And at the spa, silence is golden.
Meander about as if in a fairy tale. Castle turrets towering above transport the imagination to another place, another time. As you stroll along paths among the trees, you will now and again come upon a charming little Hobbit hovel tucked deep in a hillside—each with its own unique sauna or hydrotherapy pool. Explore the Ice Cave Sauna, Wine Cellar Jacuzzi, and the Mine Sauna. For a moment, you might be tempted to leave a trail of crumbs along the forest path à la Hansel and Gretel—but then again, on second thought, you might not want to find your way back.
According to Thermae.com magazine, a visit to the thermal baths can contribute to a fit and healthy body in various ways. They reveal that, “your heart rate increases by 50 to 70% during a session in the sauna. Your body expels a lot more waste because of this sweating. This strengthens healthy body processes such as detoxification and proper blood flow. That is why a visit to the sauna is also called passive exercising.”
Indeed, medical expert Dr. Ronald Repice of Blog Talk Radio in Bonita Springs, Florida reminds us that the ubiquitous mineral aluminum, for instance, is detrimental to our health—even citing research indicating potential links to Alzheimer’s—and recommends avoiding aluminum foil in the kitchen and to even stop using antiperspirants. Not only do they contain aluminum, but they actually stop you from perspiring. His daughter Maria Repice singled out Arm & Hammer Essentials deodorant for being aluminum- and paraben-free with baking soda as its neutralizing ingredient, (like with toothpaste.) It gets its light, fresh scent from natural plant extracts such as coriander, rosemary, and lavender. Another option is the lightly fragranced hypoallergenic deodorant for sensitive skin Klorane, which is also aluminum- and paraben-free. Sweating it out in a sauna helps remove harmful minerals from your system. Just remember to replenish certain beneficial minerals such as magnesium and sodium. Plus, it’s oh-so-relaxing. Highly recommended.
One of the most innovative and evocative spaces for me was the Eucalyptus Sauna with its softly glowing lighting. It gets the olfactory bulbs going full-tilt. Inhaling deeply, you could really feel the enhanced respiration. Note to self: eucalyptus essence in the home diffuser. And another recently renovated experience to behold is the private Blue Lagoon Sauna, reminiscent of the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri.
One of the featured experiences at the Thermae, Aromatherapy Aufguss, “a traditional Finnish custom in which water with essential oils is poured over the sauna stones, is aimed at the skin and the improvement of the immune system. It cleanses and purifies the body both mentally and physically.”
Relaxation and health are the focus here. The philosophy behind the spa is to help visitors unwind, release tension and, by extension, increase well-being and productivity. It is beneficial, “to learn to distance yourself and let go, helping you to see new solutions more easily.” Meditate on that for a moment.
Visitors are drawn from afar, such as Ines Scopazzo Tuttobene and her lovely daughter Rosina from Saarbrucken, Germany. “It was an enjoyable and relaxing way to spend a beautiful day together. You felt immediately at ease and welcome.”
Open ‘til midnight, you have full access to the spa, saunas and wellness facilities for 30 Euros ($35) after 5pm—perfect if you’re staying overnight. Splurge on a superior or deluxe room if you wish to dwell within the walls of the castle domain. Trust me. You do. They provide you with fluffy white terry cloth bathrobes, towels, and shower slippers. And if you have an early flight out, they’ll even bring you a bountiful breakfast basket the night before!
Indulge in a therapeutic massage or specialized facial treatment with the likes of lotus extract. Or participate in aromatherapy, yoga, Tai Chi, mindfulness, or even dancing.
Then dine al fresco in your bathrobe in the shadow of the castle, followed by a moonlit dip in the bubbling jacuzzi to fully recalibrate your state to total relaxation. Total relaxation.
Can’t leave? I know the feeling. What time is it? It’s time to stay at a spa castle. The sleep you will experience after all this hydrotherapeutic immersion will be most opulent. The wonderfully rustic rooms have stone walls and wooden ceilings. Even a clawfoot tub! It’s like you’re in another world. Because you are. So gaze out the curtained window upon the castle, and well, just dream…
For an energy-boosting green drink, try this invigorating detox smoothie from Thermae.com. Blend one peeled kiwi, ½ peeled lime, ½ unpeeled apple, one banana, ½” piece of fresh ginger, a handful of spinach, and a handful of lettuce with a little water until smooth.
Thermae Boetfort Hotel
+32 (0)2 759 81 96
Photographs by Allison Chase Sutherland and Helen Titiheru