It is perhaps one of the great tragedies of my life that I don’t spend every weekend in a beautifully crafted replica of a Kyoto bathhouse, surrounded on all sides by thirty or more totally naked Norwegians, each glistening with perspiration and a curated array of essential oils. However, my trip to the spectacular Oslo wellness resort The Well ensured – within an hour of arrival, in fact – that my existence would no longer be completely lacking this experience.
If the beginning of this wellness resort review sounds like the stuff of teenage fantasy crossed with a Nordic fever dream, I could only apologise. Except, as you probably expect, I won’t. Firstly, I’ve a job to do, and I’m committed to carrying this burden with pride. Secondly, as any seasoned spa attendee will tell you, there’s nothing particularly sexy about a sauna, even one this impressive or so stuffed to the walls with towering and shockingly well-preserved Scandinavians.
The Kyoto-inspired bathhouse – and the Japanese sauna ritual I attended, which involves a less-than willowy woman dancing through the sauna waving an almost comically large fan to traditional (one assumes) Japanese music – sits on the top floor of The Well. It’s but one of seemingly dozens of similarly enveloping spaces, meticulously designed to ensure the utmost in relaxation and distraction. The remit of a spa hotel is always to cocoon the visitor and transport them into something akin to a steamy, perfumed limbo. The Well achieves said remit in a way which warrants – at the very least – a long weekend away.
The hotel, situated on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital, opened in 2015 after an investment of 35 million was poured into the project (by self-made billionaire and local hero Stein Erik Hagen) and was received with rapturous acclaim. It’s not hard to see why. A vast and sprawling Nordic spa megaplex, The Well boasts a three-storey wellness centre offering a seriously impressive array of saunas, steam rooms, pools of various temperatures, outdoor plunges and hot baths, treatment rooms, chill out areas and ritualised experiences. The works, it’s fair to say.
The abridged review? I’ve visited many spas in my life on numerous continents. The Well is my favourite.
Despite what one might suspect, its position on my list of all-time favourites isn’t due to the resort’s oh-so-Scandi insistence on nudity throughout the spa. In fact, there’s such a nonchalance to the bare flesh on display that all trace of titillation falls by the wayside – I’m confident I witnessed a full business meeting, featuring executives of both genders discussing quarterly finance reports in the birchsmoke and fennel-scented Russian sauna – and when in Norway, one should hang freely as the Norwegians do. No, my immediate ardour for The Well arose from the sheer commitment to quality and the immersive, enveloping, comforting and bliss-inducing efforts that are clearly being made day-in, day-out.
The list of available treatments is a long and all-encompassing one; I think it’s reasonable to say that all skeletomuscular issues are attended to, along with the full gamut of beauty treatments, facials, epilation options, ad infinitum. My selected treatments included a very vigorous sea salt scrub (awakening, cleansing, bordering on the masochistic) and a seaweed wrap (enriching, nourishing and spectacularly messy), each followed by a lengthy massage. Needless to say, I skipped out of those treatment rooms feeling like a new man, the aches and pains caused by days hunched over a keyboard momentarily flitted into the ether.
It was clear that many of the resort’s visitors during my stay had popped out to The Well as day trippers. Who wouldn’t take time out to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, luxuriate in healing waters or get a proper rub down from someone who knows their way around a back problem? For those of us staying a weekend or longer, The Well does well to compensate for the fact that, beyond a few limited woodland trails on its doorstep, once you’re in the resort there’s not exactly a plethora of other places to go. The hotel and its designers stuck to a clear brief: this isn’t a hub from which to explore the surroundings, it’s a sanctuary.
Suits me fine. The rooms are beautifully designed – mine was bedecked in dark natural woods and a luxuriant teal colour palette, harking back to high periods of mid-century Scandi design and featuring what might be the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve slept in. There is (of course) a curated hotel scent, crafted from local botanicals and ever-present throughout the ranges of toiletries, further adding to the sense of being somewhere out of space and time.
Dining options begin with the hotel’s primary restaurant, offering a solid range of local and international dishes in an airy dining room with woodland views. The pan-roasted cod cheek with peppercorn sauce and griddled vegetables was a solid whack of Nordic comfort eating, the wine list was more than adequate for the dishes on offer.
On the top floor of the resort, you’ll find MORI – the hotel’s newest gastronomic offering and a further extension of the owner’s clear fascination with the orient. MORI (Japanese for ‘forest’) offers a seven-course tasting menu with some clear highlights: the coconut green curry with mango sorbet was a genuinely thrilling melange of flavours, textures and temperatures. Langoustine on toast is always going to delight, as is a pearly hunk of turbot swimming in a sauce speckled with caviar. The dessert was a multi-faceted representation of the forest floor, crafted in chocolate, nuts and moss-like sponges, and was right up there with the best of them. A couple of courses missed the mark for me – the bao bun fell on the wrong side of sweetness and there was a little too much enthusiasm for truffle overall – but I couldn’t help but be impressed by the atmosphere, the service, and the clear attempt to provide something genuinely bold and innovative beyond the ubiquitous superfood salads and green smoothies one expects from such establishments.
The trip came to a close in the deliciously comfortable library bar, where a cocktail heavy on the aquavit ensured I knew which latitude I was visiting.
A break from reality to the embrace of The Well provides further ammunition to my ongoing claim that, when it comes to luxury, relaxation and style, those Nordics have it covered. The winter days may be brutally short and the nip in the air may proverbially castrate brass monkeys, but from the top bench in a well-populated and expansive sauna, such things are quickly forgiven.