Urban Saunaring

What can you do with a vacant piece of land that is not going to get developed for a couple of years? Create a swimming pond and pop-up sauna of course!

This was the thinking behind the creation of a bit of the countryside amongst a huge construction site in London, which will eventually include Google’s new HQ in the UK.

The site is called King Cross Swimming Ponds and is the UK’s first ever man-made fresh water public bathing pond. The ponds opened in Spring 2015 and during the winter months a sauna is also on site.

It’s an absolutely brilliant concept and must be completely unique in the world. Not only that, it’s an idea that is well executed.

Choosing to utilise this space to create a relaxing oasis rather than have as a construction site office is just a fantastic bit of urban planning. Cities are stressful places to live so anything that improves our environment and wellbeing is very much welcomed and encouraged.

It was my first time in a cabin sauna and it’s really is amazing the atmosphere you can create in a small space. Intimate and quiet, the sauna provides the simple pleasure of being in a well designed space. And one of the benefits of a small sauna space is that you can control the heat a lot more easily – when you put water on the coals you can feel the heat change instantly.

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For a few people there the main attraction is the swimming pond. The 40 metre long pond is surrounded by wild flowers and grasses. Apparently the water is purified through a natural, closed-loop process process using wetland and submerged water plants to filter the water and keep it clear.

I have a new respect for people who enjoy pond swimming as the water was unbelievably cold! I couldn’t manage a long time in the water, but to have the contrast of temperature with the sauna was invigorating! This is as close as I’ve got to an authentic Finnish sauna. A cold plunge pool in a commercial spa just isn’t as complete as experience as jumping into a freezing lake!

The crowd was really mixed: some older ladies, a hen party, teenagers, and a couple of Russian guys. I think part of the reason for the wide mix of people was the cost  – a 2hr session was £3.50! Unbelievable value. More of this affordable pricing should be available and it would get a lot more people trying a sauna. 

The site and facilities are basic but clean and there are some nice touches.  The changing rooms for example, offer a throwback to traditional seaside changing huts of old. 

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My only issue was that the sauna is only there in the winter months. I went in the last weekend of the sauna, which was disappearing at the end of April. NEWS FLASH: England is NOT a hot country! Getting rid of the sauna in April takes a very optimistic view of British summer! And the benefits of a sauna can be enjoyed all year round. Still, it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

Is urban saunaring going to be the next big trend? I hope so. 

Summary: Feel alive by getting back to nature in the middle of the city.

Overall sauna experience: Cold, Warm, Hot, Top Sauna!
Facilities: Basic, Standard, Excellent  
Cost:  £££

Website: www.kingscrosspond.club

7 small spaces that could be converted into saunas

In the UK there’s a massive lack of saunas around for people to enjoy. And it would cost millions to establish lots of new saunas across the country. So rather than build new ones why don’t we just use the unloved buildings we have and convert them into saunas! Here’s a few examples  of some small buildings that could make great saunas….

Sheds

Most gardens have them and all they’re usually good for are storing some rusty garden tools. They already look pretty much like a sauna, so it wouldn’t take too much of an imagination leap to see them as working saunas. If every household with a shed changed its usage into a sauna the UK could be a saunaing nation within a week!

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Beach Huts

I’m not sure if these quirky buildings exist much outside the UK but they could be great saunas. They’re empty for most of the year save for a few weekends where families use them to protect themselves from British ‘summer’ (i.e. rain). But by converting the beach hut into a sauna and with the sea substituting as the plunge pool you’d be able to have an invigorating sauna experience all year round.

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Greenhouses

One for the extroverts! Most glasshouses are unused and only contain a few dead tomatoe plants. But with just a few additions these see-through buildings could be converted to create sauna conservatories. Not only would the sauna benefit from natural light but you’d be able to see the nature outside whilst you sweat.

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Public toilets

After a deep clean and a bit of imagination these unloved buildings could become great community sauna assets. Just put £1 in and get 20 mins of sauna time!

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Empty shops

There’s a growing trend in the UK of micro-pubs. These are one room pubs that follow the basic premise of KIS, KIS – Keep It Small, Keep It Simple. Traditional and basic this new style of pub often takes over empty shops as the rent is cheap. Using the same concept the model could be applied to saunas. Every high street could have one!

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Telephone boxes

The downside of everyone having a mobile phone these days is that it’s left a graveyard of thousands of unloved phone boxes on our streets (58,500 in the UK to be precise) . They might not be appropriate for a sauna conversion but if you put three together you could make a convenient changing room, steam room and shower!

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Abandoned cars

You just need to convert the engine to take coals, add a funnel and put a plunge pool in the boot. And voila – enjoy a sauna ride!

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Any thoughts on other buildings/spaces that could be converted?

Inside the world’s largest spa

Therme Erding is the daddy of European saunas. Forty minutes outside of Munich they’ve created a vast sauna complex that dwarves even large sauna establishments. 25 different themed saunas, loads of unique aufguss, a hamman and hot tubs. The centrepiece of the spa is a massive pool heated to 34 degrees that continues outside – great in winter and a swim-up bar means that you can hydrate after all those saunas! If you want to experience total sauna, this is the place to come.
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After a day on the beers in Munich we headed to Therme Erding to recover and take it all in. We were also keen to escape a bitterly cold January and reap the heightened benefits of saunaring in winter.  And we were surely glad we did. Some quick highlights included:
  • An erupting geyser: the aim of the exploding geyser in the sauna room is to keep the air comfortably humid. But the clouds of steam and the bubbling activity create a bit more theatre than your average sauna room.
  • A Roman villa: what have the Romans ever done for us? You can recreate the high art of Roman bathing in a communal pool that looks like a Ben Hur set.
  • A bakery sauna: smell the delicious scent of baking bread whilst you cook in the sauna and enjoy your hard work by scoffing the bread rolls at the end.

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Therme Erding achieves a rare feat of managing a large volume of people well. Part of that is down to the scale of the place but it’s also due to the customer service. The staff doing the aufguss make a real effort to engage with the room and make you feel like you’re having a unique experience.
One of the rooms for example, was themed on recreating a Bavarian pub. You’re given a pint of beer and then a member of staff begins telling jokes and anecdotes. Then other people in the room would chip in with their own jokes. (This was all done in German of course, of which we speak little, but we laughed along anyway!) So the member of staff created an atmosphere that made you feel that he wasn’t just going through the motions, which you can often get at large attractions.
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One of the other unique aufguss included a sauna where you’re given an ice eye mask and a receive guided meditation. You do have to get into the room early as the aufguss are popular. But if you’re keen and plan your timings you shouldn’t have a problem.
Some of the rooms are quite unique as well and I’d put a recreation of a Celtic feasting hall at the top of that list! And that’s we liked most about Therme Erding is that sense of fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is novelty and light heartedness alongside some serious sauna experiences.
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As we stayed into the evening, a Caribbean show came on. Standing naked with hundreds of others, in a warm pool, with a beer, watching dance routines – what’s not to like!
A few comments on Trip Advisor mentions the crowds during the German holidays, but I think they mainly refer to the waterpark which is also part of the same complex. We found that outside of the aufguss most saunas were pretty quiet. A few other reviewers mention the price. But we thought that at 37 euros (£29) was pretty good for a day pass, as we were there all day. We also stayed in a local budget hotel rather than the onsite hotel to keep costs down.
On the whole the Trip Advisor comments and rating are overwhelmingly positive and you can feel people’s amazement of Therme Erding through their comments.
There really is something here for all sauna tastes from the intimate to the theatrical.
Since we went in January 2015 they’ve added more facilities and the website now bills itself as the biggest spa in the world!
Summary: A must. Probably the number 1 sauna complex in the world!
Overall sauna experience: Cold, Warm, Hot, Top Sauna!
Facilities: Basic, Standard, Excellent  
Cost: £££
Trip Advisor: here.