A manifesto for London saunas

images-21London has many things in abundance. But one key facility it lacks is authentic sauna experiences. You can count on one hand how many venues offer it. That’s 2 million people for each sauna! It’s a real shame as London living is pretty stressful and a decent sauna can help make it less so.
So we’ve come up with a wish list of actions that we think could improve the sauna landscape in the Capital:
  1. A sauna multiplex! Well this is definitely a pie in the sky dream! The price of rents means that it would be really difficult for anyone to establish a large sauna complex near London and make it viable. Perhaps a bit more realistically it would be good if spas offered more than the bare minimum of one sauna and one steam room. It would be great to have more options in one venue.
  2. Saunas that reflect the area they’re based in. Hotel spas always try to be anything but about the establishment’s history. How many pastiche pan-Asian spas does a city need! Some hotels have amazingly designed spaces but you could be in any hotel in the world. We’d like to see a spa that recreated a Victorian London bathing house, for example.
  3. A reclaim the sauna campaign. For authentic sauna experiences to get a foothold in the capital they need to successfully differentiate themselves from the current market which, almost predominately, serves and targets two markets: 1. gay men looking for fast love and 2. ladies what lunch. The benefits and wholesomeness of European saunas need to be promoted to start changing the  general public’s perceptions of saunas, leading to changes in the industry. This campaign could work alongside some practical actions that spas could make to engage the public with their saunas including…
    • Better promotion of saunas in spas.  It’s actually not that easy to identify what places have a decent sauna from their websites – whether it’s a hotel or spa. This tends to reflect the fact that saunas are seen as a side show to the main event of spa treatments in most places. As such, they aren’t talked about much on websites and there are rarely photos of the actual sauna, resulting in Google not ranking them very high in its search results. This could easily be rectified.
    • No swimwear days. It’s just not as comfortable going for a sauna in your swimmies, but there are only a few, non gay, places in London that cater for people who want a proper sauna. If establishments started off small scale trials to test the market for non-swimwear days I think they’d be surprised at the level of demand. There are loads of north Europeans in the Capital for a start who would be keen. And there are ways to market the no swimwear days so that they attract genuine sauna enthusiasts.
    • A free sauna day. Based on the inaugural Helsinki Sauna Day, spas would open their doors free of charge to raise awareness and improve accessibility of saunas. This would require some coordination but I presume there are leisure industry groups that could help do that. It would also be good business for spas.
A London sauna manifesto in the making? Sure, we’ll go with that.
Any other ideas?
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5 thoughts on “A manifesto for London saunas

  1. Good little website you’ve got so far!

    I am a big fan of the PROPER continental sauna/spa experience of not wearing anything in saunas, steam rooms, and other similar spa facilities. It’s just so much more healthy, relaxing, hygenic, and beneficial to be not wearing anything in such facilities, as it allows the skin to fully breathe. Wearing swimwear in such facilities is just absolutely ridiculous, it’s like having a bath or shower wearing swimwear! Unfortuntately in the UK this is what it’s like, as the vast vast majority of spas have these “please wear swimwear at all times” rules!!! There are a few exceptions in the UK such as the Lost Horizon Sauna and other festival saunas, and a very small “naturist” spa in Birmingham, and another very small spa in London. But on the whole,the sauna/spa scene in the UK is utter crap compared to countries like The Netherlands and Germany! Most Brits aren’t even interested in going to saunas/spas!

    I do really wish there was something that could be done to improve the way things are, including like you say better promotion of spa facilities in the venues that do have them, “no swimwear” days, etc.

    I note that you say in your article “there are only a few, non gay, places in London that cater for people who want a proper sauna.”. Out of interest which few venues are these in London which offer a proper sauna experience? The only one I know of in London is Elixir Health Club(now under new management as the Naked Hands Spa) – not been in there myself, but I hear from other people that it’s not too bad, though very small that it is.

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  2. Cheers – and thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s great to meet another enthusiast!

    I agree – the benefits of sauna are amazing! I just find it odd that there are hardly any venues here despite so many people from the UK having been to Europe and enjoyed the saunas there. I wonder if those big European spas don’t want to invest here because they don’t think our culture would be conducive to it. If they realised that a naked pop-up restaurant in London currently has a waiting list of 36,000 then it might change their minds! (www.thebunyadi.com).

    Ah right – yeah I know Elixir. Not been but the other sauna boy, J, has a few times and likes it. Although my female friend had an inappropriate massage there from the female masseuse which was borderline sexual assault. I tried to get her to complain but she didn’t. Anyway, I’m glad that they have new management at least! Will have to check it out.

    The only other ones I know about are:

    · Finnish Church sauna: http://www.finnishchurch.org.uk/107-sauna. Planning on going in a few weeks. Looks small but authentic.

    · Rios: http://www.rios.co.uk/. Not been but the reviews make it out to be quite fruity!

    · Porchester Spa: http://www.better.org.uk/venues/porchester-spa/facilities. Tired in places but good, clothing optional (usually 50/50), usually segregated so you’ll need to check the times.

    It would be great to hear your feedback if/once you’ve been to any of these places.

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  3. Well some comments about those three venues you mentioned….

    RIO’S – I would not recommend this spa atall. Not a good example of a proper spa experience atall. Allthough it calls itself a “naturist” spa and it’s clothing optional(and clothing prohibited at certain times), it’s more like a swingers type venue really, due to the “private rooms” they have there. I did go there a number of times between 2002 and 2005 before I discovered the FAR FAR SUPERIOR festival saunas and the fantastic larger spas over on the continent. I didn’t partake in any of the “swingers” type activities there, I went there simply to use the spa facilities naked, as it along with Bristol Gardens Health Spa(also unfortunately another similar type spa I would NOT recommend) were the only unisex spas I knew of in the UK where I could use the facilities naked. I didn’t think it was a very good mix of people there really and the atmosphere and vibe of the place wasn’t very good, but I just put up with it whilst I was going there. I noticed a lot of the men there followed any of the women around like sheep. For instance men could be in one of the two jacuzzi’s, they see a woman heading down towards the shower area, and they’d then get out of the jacuzzi and head down to the shower area hoping to see the woman naked. Also a lot of men would look through the windows of the saunas to see if there were any women in there, if there wasn’t they wouldn’t bother going in. Or they’d open the door of the steam rooms to see if there were any women in there, if there wasn’t then they’d close the door and leave. Also on one occasion when I went in one of the steam rooms there was a man performing a sex act on a woman, with a few men there spectacting and pleasuring themselves. I swiftly left the steam room. Rio’s is not a very pleasant spa atall, nothing atall like the lovely spas in Germany, The Netherlands,etc. Unless this sounds like your type of spa, then I would avoid this place without hesitation.

    FINNISH CHURCH SAUNA – Not been there myself. Allthough it does look like a respectable sauna, it does unfortunately have sex segregated sessions. I myself am not keen on male only spas/spa sessions. I prefer spas which are mixed and have a reasonable balanced mix of sexes.

    PORCHESTER SPA – Again not been there myself. And again has sex segregated session times, so I won’t be going. Although there are mixed sessions on Sunday evenings, I read that the rules are that “swimwear must be worn at all times” during these mixed sessions. Clothing optional during the male only and female only sessions, but swimwear must be worn during the mixed sessions. Why????!!!! This is the thing that really annoys me about UK spas!

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    • Really helpful feedback – thanks!

      Sounds like they’re all a very long way from being decent European saunas. It’s not a great selection is it!

      On your nod my mate went to Naked Hands last night under the new management so I’ll be interested to hear his views of the place.

      I think that spas that identify themselves as naturist are probably putting a lot of people off. People might think they have to play tennis in the buff!

      A group of us have hired the Finnish church place so we’ll be able to avoid the segregation issue that way – and it should work out a lot cheaper.

      >

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  4. You’re right about these spas that brand themselves as “Naturist spas”.

    Firstly there are a number of these “Naturist Spas” in the UK like Rio’s Naturist Health Spa and Bristol Gardens Naturist Health Spas, that are more like swingers venues due to the private(and not so private) rest rooms they have at their spas. Yes at these spas, they are either clothing prohibited or clothing optional. They are not even really for naturists really, they’re more designed for swingers. These spas are not good examples of naturists, nor decent respectable unisex spas to enjoy the facilities without clothing.

    Then there’s only just TWO spas in the UK that are branded as “Naturist Spas”(that’s Clover Spa in Birmingham and Naked Hands Spa in London) which ARE decent respectable unisex spas. No “private rest rooms”, and any behaviour like what goes on at Rio’s and Bristol Gardens will not be tolerated at these spas. However like you say, why is it that these two unisex spas where we can enjoy the facilities naked are branded as “Naturist Spas”??? And why aren’t there a lot more unisex spas in the UK to enjoy the facilities without clothing?? Going naked in sauna and steam rooms and similar facilities should be nothing to do with naturism really. As in countries like Germany, The Netherlands, etc, clothing is prohibited for hygiene reasons, and it is far far more beneficial, relaxing, rejuvenating and healthy to be not wearing anything in these such facilities anyway. The vast majority of users who go naked in those such countries are just general spa users, NOT naturists! This is what is needed in the UK – unisex spas that are clothing prohibited(or perhaps just clothing optional), and are not branded as “Naturist Spas”!! They’d then hopefully get a good mix of sexes and ages attending, if maybe not initially(a lot of Brits aren’t used or interested in being naked in unisex spas) As you say, the term “Naturist” will put a lot of non-naturists off from visiting, as they will think they have to be an actual naturist by lifestyle to visit. The vast majority of visitors to Clover Spa and Elixir Health Club(now Naked Hands Spa) are naturists, and with that the demographic of visiters are mostly aged from 40 to pensioner ages, and a mix of naturist single males and naturist couples.

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