The Shape of You (Us)

Elysium Wellness Spa and Resort

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Ask anyone what the most “Dutch” spa experience is, and they will all tell you Elysium. Paired with a City Break to Rotterdam, or adding on to a longer visit, Elysium can be just what you need to relax and unwind.
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Elysium's Kelo Sauna
Be ready to cleanse and detoxify with 50+ Dutch strangers with scented steam.

We’re sitting in a large pine sauna room with about 75 other people. Sweat is streaming down our faces, necks, and arms. Ed Sheeran is singing about being perfect tonight. The scents of rosemary and orange and bergamot are being waved through the air one after the other, and the steam is permeating our skin. There are knees at our backs, backs at our knees, and we’re sitting cross legged to minimize our use of space. We actually can’t see the other people in the room because of the steam filling the air we are breathing. Not seeing the other side of the room, we turn to look at each other: all smiles and sweat, and detoxification. Ed keeps singing, now it’s about love and shapes of bodies. The woman adds more steam to the room, and we can’t see our shapes, let alone the shapes of others, but it’s perfect. Walking out, everyone seeks their shoes and robes, and heads towards the ice baths, lines of people forming to swim through the frigid pool. We’re doing this. It’s freezing. After the sauna, the ice water contracts every pore of our bodies. It is quite simply the most refreshing, freezing moment of time.

Christine: Aiyana might not want to admit this, but I had to convince her to jump in the icy, freezing pool of water afterwards. But, she did it alone on our second visit! 

But, let’s pause and go back to the beginning, because the Kelo sauna was the end. And that 20 minutes provided perfect closure to the day. When we told our Dutch friends that we were going to Elysium, they looked at us a bit askance. We heard many half formed sentences along the lines of, “Don’t forget your robe…” or “Have you been to a real Dutch spa before?…” their words trailing off without quite saying the word. They knew we were American. Americans are funny about that word. They wanted to make sure we knew what we were getting into. But they were too proper to say it. We were going to be really, really… Naked. That’s the word.

We were well warned. And we were ready. We wanted to really fit in. After all, we like to go local wherever it is we visit. We were prepared.

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Elysium has 52 listed spa/sauna options (yes, you heard us right!) on their website, and we wanted to try as many as possible. After changing into our robes we walked through the inside rooms to get a lay of the land, and then headed outside to see the baths and sauna rooms. Inside we went into pools, jacuzzis, and more sauna rooms. We initially opted for rooms that weren’t very crowded, and then worked up our nerve as we got more comfortable. There were so many choices and simply not enough time!

For our hammam and massage time, we got lost… So many rooms, and outdoor spaces, and no watches we were a few minutes late and didn’t get to lay on the marble slab, but the space was magnificent, just like in Turkey. The attendants were skilled, and the scrubbing did the trick, not a single dead skin flake left. However, the overall recommendation for a place like Elysium is to stick with the spa and sauna rooms, and avoid the steady rotation of clients in the massage waiting rooms.

The salt bath was also really incredible, tucked in an open-roofed area, with archways and seats, steam rising off the warm salt water into the freezing air. We didn’t quite plan ahead and went after our hammam, but the stinging salt just added something a little zingy to the experience. We talked about memories of floating in the Dead Sea and tested our buoyancy.

So, let’s go back to the end. Shapes. Bodies. People. We’re not perfect, and we all carry our own baggage of self-criticism. I (Aiyana) gained 10 kilos last year, then lost 6 of them. I forgot to shave. It’s winter, and I don’t have a tan. I’m not perfect. No one has seen me in ages. I don’t even like to look at myself. I (Christine) have scars from c-sections, did, indeed, make sure I was waxed up (ha!) and have issues with how I see myself.  

Have you thought these things? Of course you have. So have we. We still think them. Guess what, no one is perfect. And no one is looking. The freedom to just be in your own skin is liberating. No phones allowed. No pictures. Just people carrying on about their own business. Friends chatting. People reading on chairs. Swimming laps. Floating in pools. Sweating in saunas. Laughing. Seriously, your shape is as perfect as mine, and hers, and theirs.

A few of the sauna rooms that we really enjoyed were:

  • Heksensauna 75°C- a Hansel and Gretel themed sauna house that fit about five people laying down, more seated in a tiny little wooden hut where you could add steam.
  • Pakistaanse Zoutsteensauna 70°C with large himalayan salt crystals throughout the room. The salty steam felt so cleansing!
  • Marrakech Sauna 80°C – beautiful copper and tile embellishments that invoked the feeling of Morocco
  • Panorama sauna 75°C – true to its name, the large windows let you see over the landscaped grounds. It was lovely on a grey skied day with bare branches, but is probably stunning on a spring or summer day.
  • Havana sauna 75°C – the wooden room is standard fare, but the rumba music is piped in and boat lanterns are hung from the rafters. One woman did a little dancing shimmy as she walked in.

Etiquette

The changing rooms are coed, and so are the facilities, but toilet areas are separate. Bring your own flip flops, and a nice big towel as well as a robe. While you can rent the towel package, try being like a local. Use your towel to sit on or wrap loosely around you in the steam/sauna areas, and wear your robe in all walking and dining areas. If you are in a pool or steaming, leave your coverups and shoes at the provided racks, and clothe yourself again as soon as you exit. You can eat at any of the restaurants or get a package that includes the lunch buffet. Bring a water bottle so you don’t have to keep buying water there, and if you have a bit of prosecco at lunch like we did, make sure you compensate by hydrating a little more than usual.

Traveling there

Elysium is in Bleiswijk, outside of Rotterdam. The easiest way to get there is by car (their website has really specific directions by car). However, we, being the adventurers that we are, took a train to the Centraal Station, and then got an Uber to the address which was about €25 each way. Keep an eye on Elysium’s website for deals on daily entrance or massage packages, normal fees are €33.50 for the day, but we booked ahead and got in for €15.90 each.

Why travel there?

Erasmus Bridge at night
Just down from the Dr. is the iconic Erasmus Bridge

Rotterdam is a wonderful city in the Netherlands. From the Erasmus Bridge to the Old Harbor, to a wonderful music, performance and restaurant scene, you won’t regret it. On our first trip, we had intended to stop at the Dr. afterwards for a speakeasy experience, but we didn’t make reservations soon enough. Next time Rotterdam, next time…

…And guess what? We made it! For our second adventure out to Elysium, we paired it with a real Rotterdam City Break. If you want to see the famous Cube Houses by Piet Blom, go one stop past Rotterdam Centraal on the train to Rotterdam Blaak and just walk off. One of the houses has been turned into a mini-museum and for €3 you can walk right inside. Sadly, your Museumkaart won’t work here, but trust us, the few minutes is worth it. Right next door is where they hold the Saturday Market. Many of the stalls have vintage clothes and antique collectibles, plus there was a whole fabric alley, but we have to say that Leiden’s market is still tops in our books. We did enjoy some frites wandering around in the bitter cold before heading off to the Spa.

Our X-Ray from the Dr.
You can order a polaroid X-Ray to commemorate your visit

The Dr. is cloaked in speakeasy mystery – an ‘appointment’ must be made in order to gain entrance to visit the Dr. and only then will the location be shared. It is quite the event to search for the medicinal brass plaque in the dark and, on this occasion, freezing wind! Once the door is open, and the ‘password’ is given, you will be ushered into an entrance ‘waiting’ room in which the House Rules are shared by a sexy man in a doctor’s lab coat. After you agree to the rules including the phone and photo ban, you are ushered through a curtain into a small bar with seating that feels like a cozy, dimly lit living room.

Cucumber and mint water is immediately served in order to keep you hydrated during the ‘treatment’. The creative cocktail menu is always changing based on themes; the theme at this time was ‘The Best Of’ and we had a number of choices. Aiyana started with the surprisingly bright blue house punch and Christine with the Rummy Manhattan. Yum all the way around! Several more with a conversation and laughter brought our Rotterdam day to an end.

A restaurant near the Dr. to try is Z&M, an “urban kitchen”. The restaurant prides itself on its daily changing menu based on the freshest and most in-season ingredients. It is located near the Dr., but if you simply want a fabulous eating experience, Z&M offers wonderful wine pairings and suggestions, as well as a wine tasting experience and even a high tea.

***As always, pictures from inside the spa itself are taken from the Spa or taken with permission, we would never break the no camera rule inside a spa.

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