After a particularly hectic month, Andrew and I decided to treat ourselves to a day of rest, relaxation and most importantly, some quality time together. After a year of hard work adjusting to a new company, a new country and a new life, we needed a break. So, we thought, when in Belgium, do as the Belgians do — let’s go to the spa.
The Belgians have perfected the spa. And so they should — after all, they coined the term. Since the 14th century, Europeans have been visiting the thermal pools of the Belgian town, Spa. The term ‘spa’ has come to mean any place having a natural water source that has healthy properties — a place of relaxation and rejuvenation.
We didn’t have to travel to the Ardennes to visit the spa, however. We simply hopped on the Brussels ring road and exited at Grimbergen.
In North America, the term spa has deviated from its hot spring routes. Many North American spas have no water treatments at all and are more akin to beauty salons than thermal baths.
At the Grimbergen spa, while beauty treatments are available, the focus is definitely on drowning your troubles in healing water.
We weren’t sure what to expect from our day. Andrew had never been to a spa before and my infrequent spa visits were limited to facials, massages and manicures.
Upon arrival, we were lead to the locker room where we donned bathing suits and bathrobes … (I say ‘the’ locker room because unlike in Canada, it was communal).
We were then served fresh juice, coffee and breakfast while we were told about everything the spa had to offer, as well as the rules and regulations. The most important of these was to obey the clothing rules. The spa has two sections — one for clothed bathers and one for those who prefer to go au naturel. We were welcome to use both sides as long as the clothing rules were obeyed. My Canadian modesty was still intact enough after my European year to know which side I’d be sticking to.
Our spa day package included four treatments — two together and two separate. We also had unlimited use of the many pools, jacuzzis and saunas.
After we downed our coffee we headed for our first solo treatment. Mine was a ‘Crystal Massage’. Having constant back troubles, I am a bit of a massage junkie, but I hadn’t had a massage quite like this before. As the name implies, the masseuse used an egg shaped crystal to rub my back arms and legs. After 50 minuets, I was suitably mellowed.
I then met Andrew in the thermal pool. It was heaven. Half of the pool was indoors and the other half was outside and surrounded by an open patio. While it was still too chilly to lay out on the patio chairs, the 36 degree jacuzzi was lovely.
Our second treatment was a hydro-massage. This involved lying on what looked like a water bed and having high power water jets massage our backs.
We ate lunch in a lovely sunroom and then slid back in the jacuzzi. We tried out the sauna and steam room as well.
It was time for our second solo treatment and I was off to the floating chamber. My claustrophobia had me a bit apprehensive. The floating chamber is a large round room that I entered by myself. It is filled with a foot of heavily salted water. I laid back in the water and instantly floated and slowly began to spin in a circle. Coloured lights were mounted on the ceiling and changed as I spun. I didn’t get claustrophobic or dizzy. However, the 50 minute treatment did leave me a little bored.
Our final treatment found us side by side, covered in mud and wrapped in plastic. It was a strange feeling but we left softened and smelling like rosemary.
As the sun started to set, we were still in the outdoor jacuzzi. We were both thinking of reasons we should head home, but neither of us were making any move to leave.
The remarkable thing was we were surrounded by people of all different ages, sizes, body types and languages. In Canada, the spa is still mainly the domain of women of the middle to upper class. Here, men and women were equally represented and — for only EUR 18 euro — anyone can spend a day in the pools.
While our treatments had been fun, Andrew and I agreed that it was the thermal pools that made the day. We won’t be waiting another year to relax.