Sweden is currently in the UK’s travel corridor “green list”, meaning you can travel without having to self-isolate for two weeks when you return. So why not venture into the wilderness of Swedish lapland to forget about the woes back home, staying in Arctic Bath, one of the world’s most unique hotels.
Set on the remote Lule River, just south of the Arctic Circle in Swedish Lapland, Arctic Bath is a fantastically-imagined floating spa hotel. Found at the heart of Sámi territory, it is surrounded by fairy-tale-like fir-tree forests, icy landscapes and roaming reindeer.
Here, it is all about the spa, with the wellness retreat housed in a doughnut-shaped building, shrouded in a clashing mass of pine logs – a nod to the former log-floating industry that once used the river to transport the wood.
The wacky design by architect Bertil Harström is like nothing you’ve ever seen, with an icy plunge pool at its centre, surrounded by saunas, whirlpools (which are open to the elements), and a sustainably-run restaurant.
This main hub of the Arctic Bath is designed to float on the river in the summer, and to freeze in the water in the winter months. There are also 12 standalone rooms – found on the land or the banks of the Lule – as well as a focus on mindful activities that take you back to nature in the surrounding wilderness.
For cosy nights, opt for one of the simply-designed cabins on the banks of the river. Inside, these give a cosseting feel with an eco-log-burner, pine clad walls and sheepskin covered bed.
For the wow-factor, the larger suites, built on stilts and set a few metres from the shore, offer split-level living. Upstairs, via a spiral staircase, is the bedroom, which has a Scandi-cool vibe courtesy of designer Annkathrin Lundqvist.
Downstairs, the bathroom is shrouded in dark limestone with a standalone tub and super-power shower, while the living room has wooden tables, minimalist lighting and a mix-and-match of cushions, throws and rugs to warm the space up. If it were 2018, we’d be calling it hygge.
Best of all are the floor-to-ceiling windows that give views across the river and to the star-studded skies above. If you’re really lucky, on a clear night you can lie in bed and watch the enchanting light show of the aurora borealis.
The sauna ritual. Each guest is given a pouch of products by Swedish vegan brand Kerstin Florian – body scrub, hair conditioner, face mask – as well as tasteful Arctic Bath-designed swimwear – “So everyone is the same and we can focus on being mindful, and not be distracted by clashing colours,” explains mindfulness-expert and SaunaGus master Nina Medin.
You then go through a series or rigorous hot-cold therapy steps, warming up in the sauna, and freezing in the outdoor plunge pool. Rinse and repeat. Visit in winter and this takes some muster, with the swirling water of the Lule River a limb-numbing 4°C, while around you the temperature can drop to minus 35°C.
Sustenance comes courtesy of the ‘Sami Chef’, Kristoffer Åström, who has conjured up a daily-changing five-course dinner menu offered as standard to every guest. The ethos is showcasing local produce, with dishes rooted in age-old Sami techniques and recipes. There’s smoked capercaillie (similar to grouse) with pine, seabuckthorn, gin lingonberries and caramelized whey. Also on offer during my stay was moose with sweet parsnips, butter-fried Arctic char, and slow-cooked reindeer.
One of the activities on offer is the mesmerising ‘Healthy Herbs and Healing Songs’, led by foraging expert Eva Gunnare. During the 90 minutes session in a dimly-lit room, she introduces homemade herbal teas, treats including dandelion honey and candied angelica, and savoury snacks made with locally-sourced wild plants.
Each one is created in an assortment of hand-carved pots, ceramic boxes and wooden containers, as if she’s a Polar apothecarist. The provenance of each morsel is explained, thorugh means including ancient folk song and evocative lullabies that transport you to a bygone time.
And after that
Local musher Kim Jonnson will take you on husky tour through the remote lands of Krokfors. You’ll rush through ice-capped forests, 12 dogs in front of you yelping and pulling at the reins, and eventually stop at a frozen lake for fika – cinnamon buns toasted over an open fire and cups of warm blueberry tea. It’s transformative stuff.
Factor in a visit to the nearby Treehotel (treehotel.se), which has avant-garde rooms perched high in trees – one is shaped like a UFO, another is a mirrored cube. The Birds Nest room, which you enter via a ladder, through a hatch in its floor, is also designed by Harström.
Need to know
Rates at Arctic Bath start from 9,600 SEK (£764) per night based on two sharing water accommodation on a half board basis including spa access, Arctic Bath spa robe and spa bathing suit or shorts, slippers and a spa ritual kit. Guests can choose to stay on either full board or half board basis. For more information, visit Arcticbath.se.
Rates at the Treehotel start from 4,700 SEK per night (£374). For more information, including details of all rooms, visit treehotel.se.