More travel notes. This time from Loka Brunn, a spa hotel and conference facility in the vicinity of Grythyttan in mid-west Sweden. The place dates back to around 1720, when an organized “Kurort” was founded. I spent a weekend there with my wife, and found the place to be very relaxing and professionally run.
Situated between the two small lakes of Norra Loken and Södra Loken, Loka Brunn is based on a natural spring. The spring provides water that has been noted as having positive health effect going back a thousand years! The hotel’s own history notes claimed that medieval pilgrims on the trek between Uppsala Cathedral and the Cathedral in Nidaros (now Trondheim) would stop at Loka Brunn to drink the water and refresh themselves.
Over time, this developed into an extensive spa/kur facility patterned after the kinds of spas found in Germany (including the original place called Spa). Development started in the 1720s, with a Royal privilege granted in 1759 – and with the king visiting for a cure in 1761. This was part of a movement to provide access to spa facilities in Sweden, so that people would not have to travel to the continent for cures.
As a result of this history, the place is a sprawling area with buildings from the 1700s, 1800s, 1900s, and 2000s.
The most central building. Note the not-very-antique mobile phone masts on the roof 🙂 In the red building, you have parts of the Swedish Museum of Kurorts (spa) History
Parkvillan, where we stayed. Recently renovated and modern inside.
View from the Water Salon. The red building is the church, open for wedding ceremonies. On the side of the church there is the “Loka salon” where you can drink the spring water directly from the spring.
The Loka Spring
The raison-d´être for Loka Brunn is the spring itself. This is rather non-impressive, being essentially a marshy piece of land in the middle of area where I guess pumps bring up the water underneath wooden platform. Here, you also find a heavy black clay used in some spa treatments – and which was used for “cures” back in the days.
The water is pumped from there and to 99% carbonated and bottled for sale as “Loka” (one of the most common brands of mineral water in Sweden).
If you want to try the water, they have a special room (“Lokasalongen”) in an annex of the Church. It decorated rather nicely, with the water provided by the pulpit-like contraption in the middle:
You can take a small paper cup and fill it with water:
Basically, it tastes like water.
The Water Salon
The best thing with Loka Brunn is really the Water Salon (vattensalongen). This combines a very nice bath with the spa treatment area. The bath features a large pool, plus several smaller warm pools of various shapes and sizes. There is complementary green tea (with a placard about its supposed health benefits) and fruits on offer. If you do not want to be healthy, there is also a full service bar and all kinds of unhealthy snacks on offer.
The main pool – which runs a Jacuzzi in its middle every twenty minutes. It also features a “water treadmill” that you can start to do some long-distance swimming while being stationary. But it is really meant to slowly drift around in and enjoy the water.
This is a very impressive three-level Calidarium – i.e., warm pool (there are something like five different Calidaria in the Water Salon). All the pools at Loka had Roman names. There was also the Caldarium, or steam sauna, as well as Tepidarium, a regular sauna.
The Frigidarium or cold pool. Not quite freezing, but definitely refreshing after a Caldarium.
There was an outdoor Calidarium as well, with a beautiful view over Norra Loken. If you feel like it, you can also take a swim in the lake. As visible here, “infinity” edges were common in the pool architecture.
In addition to the Water Salon and Spa, Loka Brunn is also trying to offer physical activity for their guests. Indeed, some weekends are sold as various types of “fitness” or “exercise” events where they make use of the running and biking tracks in the forests around the spa, as well their gym and rather large gymnasium.
Food and Service
The service and food offered was (mostly) excellent. Service was professional and effective, even if it would have been nice with some system to tell the cleaning staff when to clean our room. In a place like this you cannot really make any assumption as to when a room will be vacant – you are there to just hang around all day after all – so a way to signal the staff to “please come and clean now” would have been nice. Considering the distributed nature of the facility, it is not possible to have the staff move around looking for rooms that are ready to be cleaned.
On the food side, the included three-course dinners were really excellent. Interesting mix of tastes and a very clear effort not to repeat anything. They did an excellent job with providing for allergies and food preferences like vegetarians – the chefs definitely made an effort to make “special” food just as interesting and creative as the standard menu.
It seems that drinks are extra in most packages, which is fine. They actually had three sets of recommendations for each meal: one with wines (as could be expected), one with beers (that is not as common), and one with non-alcoholic beverages (which is really quite rare). They really put in quite an effort!
There was a herb garden right next to the building we stayed in, and one afternoon we found one of the chefs there collecting herbs for the evening meal! A rather nice touch we thought. Truly fresh herbs!
The afternoon “fika” was not overly impressive – I have seen better in most other similar places I have been. Breakfast was rich in choice and featured freshly baked sourdough bread.
Lunch featured a few selections for main course, plus salads. Pretty OK, but they had to cook up some special to cater for our allergies. Ideally, they would have had some fish-based alternatives as well.
Loka Brunn is owned by the Spendrups family, who acquired it in 2007. The “Loka” brand mineral water was owned by Spendrups since the mid-1990s, and by acquiring the actual facility they ensured their continuing access to the spring. At that time, Loka Brunn was owned by a foundation that was not doing terribly well, and it seems that the Spendrups ownership has turned the place around.
A side-effect of the ownership is that the beers served at Loka Brunn all come from Spendrups. The selection is actually surprisingly broad, and the bar had an impressive set of beers on tap:
In particular, a rich selection from Gotlands Bryggeri. Sorry for the out-of-focus picture, seems the camera got a bit tipsy or something.
So overall, this was an excellent weekend away from the kids. Good quality, generally relaxing, nice environment.
Still, I feel that they could have done a bit more with the historical angle. I think there is a missed opportunity here. After all, back in 1761, Kind Adolf Fredrik got his migraine cured by a few weeks at the spa. There is an inscription on a stone that was raised in 1769 by his queen, commemorating the event:
Couldn’t they offer the “Royal Cure”, for those interested in how a “Kur” worked in the old days? This one apparently hinged on drinking 6 to 8 liters of water per day – which if done over a day is not likely to be very harmful. I would find it rather entertaining to have some kind of daily schedule where you go to drink water all the time. At least for day.
It is also a bit weird to have Loka water served in bottles at Loka Brunn. It feels like a strange detour. They should really have a couple of finely crafted taps in the main dining room where you could get your own Loka water straight from the spring – that would fit better with the theme and also be a bit more ecologically friendly. Indeed, Loka is trying to show off its “eco” ambitions all over the place, but kind of fall down a bit in the ultimate follow-through. Such as serving ultra-local water bottled up in plastic bottles via a bottling plant.
This piece in the water salon is a recreation of a traditional cure: walk on an uneven rocky bottom, first in a hot pool and then in a cold pool. Repeat ten times. Good for “circulation” supposedly.
They do have some spa treatments based on the black clay that has been the hallmark of Loka going back centuries. But I think they should have had a generally available puddle or something in the water salon – that would have been both interesting and likely good PR for the treatments…
I must comment on the Spa treatments though… this is a fantastic home for pseudo-scientific nonsense. A facial treatment sure feels good and a massage that is well done is great. BUT – some of the health claims and “theories” behind certain treatments are cringeworthy. There is a lot of “detox” silliness being bandied around.
Scientifically proven results are not likely to be found anywhere near this place. Even so, Loka Brunn was run as part of the public health system as late as the 1970s, and there was a dwindling rehabilitation business going on until it was sold to Spendrups in 2007.
It should be noted that as far as I understand, in Germany it is still common to have “Kur” stays being covered by normal health insurance. A bit old-fashioned and kind of cute, but not really all that scientific. But then again, the benefits of spending a week just taking care of yourself in a place like this should not be underestimated. Never forget the Placebo effect.