The power of water and heat to relax and rejuvenate the body has long been uncovered by Belgians ever since they coined the term ‘spa’ centuries ago. The love for a good spa day is still strong in the country, but with a resort in nearly every town, it’s becoming more difficult to discern the true wellness oases. These seven quality retreats, from saunas in the woods to thermal baths using spring water straight from the source, are sure to leave you replenished.
Bathe in history at Les Thermes de Spa
Les Thermes de Spa | Courtesy of Les Thermes de Spa
Talk about taking it to the source. Spa, a Belgian town in the Ardennes, is actually the original wellness getaway from which all other spas received their name. All the way back in the 12th century, an ironmaster from Liège discovered a spring here amidst the forests and hilly landscapes. A resort was built near the iron-rich water source, and the place began attracting visitors until it eventually became a favored wellness escape for the 16th- and 17th-century beau monde, not least thanks to Henry V advertising the water’s healing qualities. In those days, Spa was known as ‘the café of Europe,’ and today, the historic resort town boasts a stylish but accessible complex, Les Thermes de Spa, that includes a lush green panorama of the village below.
Proving that an oasis of peace can do wonders for the inhabitants of a bustling metropolis, Serendip Spa has garnered a loyal clientele in the heart of Brussels. Serendip (one of the ancient names of Sri Lanka and the root of the word ‘serendipity’) aims to relax visitors by working on their senses as soon as they set foot in the door. Colors have been chosen to soothe, aromatic whiffs of essential oils enter the nostrils, cell phones are shut off and a welcome tea calms the stomach before starting the Orient-inspired treatment. Serendip also offers yoga classes in a sunlit atelier to de-stress any city bug.
The number one attraction of Thermen Londerzeel is its nine different sauna cabins that contain all sorts of extras, from fish-filled aquariums to Himalayan salt stones and storm effects. Beloved by regulars are the Finnish aufguss sessions under the guidance of a professional sauna master, the quality massages and the smart rooms with complimentary breakfast.
Manoir de Lébioles | Courtesy of Manoir de Lébioles
Winter or fall getaways don’t come much more picturesque than at the stately Manoir de Lébioles. The ivy-clad castle hotel in the Ardennes lies within walking distance of the town Spa but houses a small wellness corner of its own, with views of the green landscapes that surround it and the possibility of a great massage. It’s an ideal place in which to relax after a long walk through the forests and before cozy nights spent by the fireplace popping chestnuts.
How long would you like to Nooz? Whether you opt to spend four hours nestled in the nature-focused resort or an entire week, time will fly by – especially since watches are taboo here. Founder Wim Vanacker doesn’t like to call his project as much a wellness center as a place to take a trip that reconnects people with their environment. Minimalist massage pavilions, charming forest lodges with wooden walkways, and outdoor hot tubs warmed by wood-based fires erase the boundaries between outside and inside to make Nooz one of the most innovative relaxation concepts in the land. For fans of the ocean, there’s Sea Nooz, a luxury fisherman’s cabin by the Belgian seaside that’s surrounded by water and houses a private wellness haven.
‘As wellness ought to be’ – Waer Waters, just outside of Brussels, likes to describe its operations this way, and we can’t blame them. The sleek venue’s choice to not use chlorine has been a refreshing approach to the Belgian wellness landscape. Since the decision effectively ruled out bubble baths, original alternatives such as the Kelo sauna – a construction fashioned out of a rare kind of 300-year-old pine tree that delivers a steady 85-degree temperature – and an ice fountain have been installed to compensate. With its smorgasbord of choices (steam baths, hammams, plunge pools, swimming ponds – all with the option of being clothed or nude) and an added fitness complex, Waer Waters aims to foresee your every health need until you sit down in their brasserie for dinner in a bathrobe.
The Belgian way at Chaudfontaine’s Château de Thermes
The second Ardennes castle to do wellness particularly well is, not coincidentally, also named after a water source made famous by a bottled water brand. The Château de Thermes of Chaudfontaine uses natural spring water, which it guides to its indoor and outdoor pools after warming it up to a balmy 34 degrees Celsius. Besides capturing mineral water straight from the Ardennes spring, the luxurious complex adds a Belgian touch by offering treatments specific to the country, such as shell massages. The Château is traditional wellness at its best, with every facility, including hammams, salt cabins and a gourmet restaurant, at your fingertips as soon as you roll out of bed.