Whenever I travel to Scandinavia, my first move is to find a hot spring, stat. Not only is it super relaxing and a fantastic weapon against jet lag, it also puts you right in the middle of a true cultural experience. On a recent trip to the Swedish Lapland—my first—I discovered a spa that I will surely be visiting again as soon as possible.
On the outskirts of Kiruna, a town in the north of Swedish Lapland known for sitting on top of Europe’s largest iron ore mine—you’ll find Camp Ripan, a hotel in the form of onsite cabins and restaurant with a wonderful little secret: The Aurora Spa. Stick with me; I don’t compare the Aurora Spa to the Blue Lagoon for its similarity in insanely blue water or Instagram opportunities; more so for the cultural insight and true relaxation it offers. While you will find your share of travelers inhabiting saunas and hot tubs—it is a hotel, after all—you’ll also find a handful of locals looking for a relaxing dip.
The spa offers outdoor and indoor pools, a mineral sauna, an aroma sauna, a cold water shower, relaxation lounges, and a refreshment bar. But you would be truly mistaken if you didn’t take advantage of the Aurora Spa Ritual Stävan.
Aurora Spa makes its own special scrubs and oils, which are used in the 14-step spa ritual. Among the steps, you’ll use a homemade coffee mask, juniper berry salt, birch leaf scrub, body oil, and iron ore from the nearby mines (to be used as massaging elements for a relaxing foot soak). You can read more about the homemade treatments on the Aurora Spa website. All of these treatments come in a bucket with a pamphlet walking you through the proper steps of the ritual—follow them closely for the ultimate end result (incredible skin and sleep-like-a-baby relaxation).
You start out by taking a quick shower in the locker room, hopping in a swimsuit (which are required at this spa), and walking through the “mountain stream,” a rush of cool water in the form of a stone walkway out to the main spa fed by a constant push of water that actually does feel like a mountain stream if you close your eyes and dream a little. From there, your next stop is the aroma sauna, which features a pine oil scent that you can really feel as you breathe deep. Next, you get to use the first product in your bucket: a homemade coffee scrub mask that you leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing off in the Torne Valley Shower.
After your shower, step aside to the ominous bucket hanging near the ceiling. A push of a button will fill it with ice cold water and dump it over your head for a rush of adrenaline (it’s said to stimulate growth hormones—this is an important cultural part of the ritual). From there, you’re to step into the mineral sauna, which is full of calcium-rich gabbro stones. I won’t give it all away, but you’ve also got a steambath, footbath (with the iron ore pellets), and birch leaf scrub on your itinerary.
A visit to the Aurora Spa for the ritual is a true treat to yourself—and not only for the health benefits. The outdoor pool is the perfect front-row seat to the Northern Lights that the spa is named for. On my visit—late on a Monday night—the aurora was easily spotted on the horizon.
The only thing I regretted about my visit is that it wasn’t immediately after I stepped off the plane. I woke up the next morning—a mere two hours before my 6 a.m. flight home—with glowing skin that would soon be ruined by the dry air of an airplane cabin.
On the topic of cabins, I have to give the accommodations at Camp Ripan a proper shout-out. In a world of box hotels and uninspired design, the cabins were a refreshing blast of air. Private enough to feel like your own little paradise in the Arctic, but close enough to the restaurant and spa for socializing. Each one is a perfect example of why minimal Scandinavian design is still the coziest way to outfit a home.
You can purchase the necessary treatments and instructions (which includes entry into the spa) for around $64 per person. Certainly sounds like the right way to start off your adventure in the Swedish Lapland, right?
Read more about Camp Ripan and the Aurora Spa here.