Five saunas in Flemish Brabant to warm you up this winter
While saunas are open year-round, there’s a special kind of feeling in the winter, as visitors step out of the cold and into a 70°C chamber smelling of eucalyptus and cedar. If you’re lucky, there is a window in your sauna where you can gaze out at the blustery day and, just maybe, a bit of snow falling.
It sounds idyllic, but there are many saunas just like this, and quite close to Brussels. Our five choices here will certainly get you through the winter.
In case you are not used to Flanders’ sauna culture, do be aware that everyone is naked in the sauna. While you don a bathrobe for lounging about and are free to wrap up in a towel in a dry sauna, clothing is not allowed. Sauna-goers take this nudity in stride, and, once you are among them, you will, too.
That said, larger saunas usually have two separate facilities, with one designated for visitors who want to wear bathing suits. All of our suggestions here offer facilities for both. But we encourage you to put away your inhibitions to get the full experience.
All public saunas have a restaurant, and many of them have a hotel attached. They pretty much all come with multiple dry saunas, a steam room (sometimes called a hammam), foot bath, swimming pool and quiet resting areas. Most saunas offer special sessions that come with your entry fee as well as extra wellness services like massages and facials. Many saunas also have fitness facilities.
In some, you can pay for private saunas, and they all have packages so you can combine services. So, while you can just make a day or evening of it, a good sauna also makes for a great weekend getaway.
One of Flemish Brabant’s most sophisticated saunas is located on castle grounds in Melsbroek, just a few kilometres from Brussels’ Haren district. A hotel, restaurant and wellness services are located in the 400-year-old castle. Much of the rest of Thermae Boetfort is newly built, with differently themed saunas dotted among the little forest on the grounds. The steam room is in a former cellar, with a beautifully arched stone ceiling. There are five other saunas of varying temperatures, an outdoor pool, two Jacuzzis and a ‘quiet bar’. Among the sessions are a salt scrub in the steam room and aufguss in the castle sauna. Aufguss (called opgiet in Dutch) sees a sauna worker throwing scented oil and water on the stones, creating an amazing aroma, and then whipping a towel around like a regular bullfighter. The heat this generates is intense.
It’s surprising to discover that this is a sister sauna to Boetfort because it’s very different. It is committed to its themes, which really run the gamut: A Roman bath steam room, African Lodge sauna, Tibet sauna with a big metal gong and fireplace, a Mayan relaxation room and a Celestial sauna with a huge crystal in the middle. There is even a sauna dedicated entirely to aufguss. The lovely garden is home to some of the saunas as well as the swimming pool and Jacuzzi. Thermae Grimbergen also has a restaurant and hotel.
This extensive sauna complex in Groot-Bijgaarden, just west of Ganshoren, is relatively new and quickly became popular for its beautiful architectural elements and grounds. With an outdoor pool the size of a lake, Waer Waters beckons you out of doors with expanses of grass, terraces and trees to cool off between saunas. Unlike other saunas, the bathing suit portion has even more to offer than the naked facilities and some of the nicest saunas. The Hot Sauna with its iron kettles has a great view over the grounds. The Panorama Sauna has a unique design, with wide terrace-like benches, making lounging easy. Waer Waters has what others saunas have in abundance, and a few extras, like meditation sessions. The hotel and restaurant are equally luxurious.
Bigger is not always better, as evidenced by Thermen Tadema in Halle, which makes the most out of its location. A charming back garden has an intimate, homey feel, but visitors can also gaze out over the surrounding fields. It has all the facilities of larger saunas, just in more manageable numbers, and even has two swimming pools – one of them heated. Tadema does not have separate facilities for bathing suits but allows customers the choice two days a week, and dedicates one day a week to suited visitors.
Aquatherma in Overijse is different from our other suggestions because it is completely private. This means it is costlier but offers the privacy that newbies to the sauna might appreciate. It’s also rather romantic for couples to have a sauna, hammam, jacuzzi and indoor heated pool all to themselves. Visitors can also order snacks and drinks to enjoy right inside the facilities, which are exquisite, especially in the evening when they are beautifully lit. Aquatherma also caters to groups of visitors, including party packages.
Photos from top: ©Waer Waters, ©Thermae Boetfort Hotel, ©Thermae Grimbergen, ©Waer Waters, ©Thermen Tadema, ©Aquatherma