Salus Per Aqua – Health Through Water


The Swedish Ice Castles have been the scene of sins and orgies, burned and blown away, and torn and rotted at root. Today though, the Swedish cold baths are filled again with naked bodies and a belief in the future.

West coast storms have devastated the buildings and bathhouses which have been in fashion in terms of health and water over the years. Today Varberg has the most Spa facilities in the country.

Each day throughout the winter hundreds of Swedes throw off their clothes and have no inhibitions to nurture body, mind and socializing around icy swimming holes. The cold bath in Varberg fortunately brings our minds to warmer latitudes.

The history of Varberg
A health resort tradition has existed in Varberg since the 1800s.  The large range of facilities and  proximity to the fresh salty sea has led to the town becoming the municipality with the highest density of spas in the country.  Over the years bathhouses have been built and equipped with the latest developments in water and health treatments.

Varberg’s first hot bathhouse was built in 1823 between the present customs house and the cold bathhouse.  Initially the bathhouse only comprised five bathrooms, but as the number of guests increased, the building was extended and by 1860 it had no less than twelve bathrooms.  The guests were served by six female bath attendants. The town was gaining an increasingly solid reputation as a health resort.

1852 was an important year for Varberg as steamer traffic began along the coast from Göteborg to Malmö increasing the desire to travel to Varberg. The town’s authorities also realized that this pressure would mean that the seaside resort would need to be developed.

The Varberg of today, with its health- and spa facilities, has so much more to offer.  Since the 1920’s Varberg has been a seaside and health resort for everyone, as the old health resort concept is moving more and more over to the Spa concept – “Salus per Aqua” from the Latin, “health through water”.

Salt Sea Bath
The first meeting regarding a new bathhouse in Bjerred was held in September 2001. Two and a half years later the new building, located 600 meters into the Lommabukten (Lomma Bay), was inaugurated.  In April 2014, the Bjerreds Saltsjöbad celebrated its ten year anniversary.

Most of the approximately 50 cold bath houses along the Swedish coast are experiencing a visit bonanza.   In recent years, tens of millions of Swedish kronor have been spent to renovate the elegant seaside houses of Varberg and Malmö to their former glory.  Nowadays, when the warehouse giant IKEA wants to show the world its roots, posters of the now ten year old  Bjerreds Saltsjöbad are printed

The news of this futuristic, functionalist house hovering weightlessly like a flying saucer above Øresund struck like lightning in Sweden when it opened. For the first time in a very long time a new cold bathhouse was built and that in an embodiment which honored  historical heritage and at the same time showed the way toward the future. Since then a small forest of modernist seaside bath houses has grown up along the west coast. Once again people are recalling the frenetic old days.

Ribersborg Coldbath House

In June 1898 the new cold baths at Ribersborg in Malmo were Inaugurated.

Frozen lips distort a strange dialect over to pure babble.  Bicycle chains freeze and even the ocean gets a cover. This hibernation is broken behind the elegant façade of the Ribersborg Coldbath House as splashing, gasping and lustful moaning rise towards the heavens.  Nary a piece of cloth is to be seen, but when so many people are bathing naked together the sexual aspect somehow disappears.

The initiative for this was the cane factory CA Richter, which bought the building from the old cold bath house at the entrance to Nyhamn.  The Scandinavian concept of cosiness has long been the key to surviving bleak, dark winters, and the inviting little café in the Kallbadhus epitomises this ideal.

Ribersborgs Coldbath House is named after the district Ribersborg.  In 1902 a storm called “the Christmas hurricane” in western  Sweden destroyed the bath.  Reconstruction was made, and today large picture windows face out to sea, providing a much more calming view than the blasé nudity of the Swedes.

Whereas nouveau rich Norwegians check into spa hotels to pamper well-fed bodies in mud baths, chocolate mousse and spring water, the Swedes are swept with an opposite epidemic, “coldbath”, a physically and mentally ice cold dip in salty minus degree water, always followed by red-hot sauna.

Finnish researchers have concluded that the combination of sauna and ice swimming frees the body’s stores of the stress hormone endorphin.  Overdoses of nature’s own morphine are why the cold bath houses smile when they should have been crying.  They are high on the sea.

Text: Tor Kjolberg

Feature image (on top): Shutterstock