At Switzerland’s Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, home to Sauna World, one of the earth’s most extensive wellness outposts with nine diverse saunas, I’ve spent a ton of time heating up. I’ve been in the Finnish Sauna, the Bio-Sauna, the Latvian Perts Sauna, and the aromatic Kelo Infusion Sauna. In the latter, I’ve just endured 15 hellishly stimulating, multi-sensory, gloriously detoxing minutes of an aufguss ceremony under the guidance of a sauna master (saunameister) whose job is to increase the room’s heat. Generally this master will pour water and essential oils on the hot rocks, then whip the steam and vapor around with a lassoing-like movement to boost the ritual’s effect. Often the sauna master also relates anecdotes, sings songs, or gives pep talks. After the session, I stumble out, sweaty, light headed, and victorious. But, there’s a final step: the mandatory cold plunge, a deep dive into freezing water to seal the experience. I don’t dilly dally. There’s only one way to submerge in icy water — fast. I dunk quickly, trying to keep my Edvard Munch scream inside but, nevertheless, an otherworldly utterance escapes, something between a joyful outburst and a cry for help. Staying as long as possible in the freezing tub (I aim for two minutes), I pour more cold water on my head from a rope-pull bucket that swings above me. When I can’t stand it any more, I scramble out, thoroughly pumped up — renewed, shivering, and elated.
More About Cold Plunging
Cold plunging, a tradition that dates back thousands of years is said to slow the heart rate, contract the blood vessels, and release endorphins — besides cooling our body temperature. It is the key (and final) step that must be completed to receive the positive effects of warm-wellness rituals from saunas to hammams. The therapy is also used as part of contrast bathing, where the wellness seeker alternates between a pattern of hot and cold in a series of infusions. Cold plunging can be rustic or fancy, done quietly or with gusto, completed solo or with a group. It may involve bodies of water as diverse as cold lakes, rivers or oceans — or simply be a tub of icy water or ice cubes, a snowdrift, an ice room, or a freezing shower. Recently trendy for athletes seeking recovery after intense exercise, ice baths, or cold plunging, sometimes called cryotherapy, purportedly bolsters the immune system, reduces stress, eradicates belly fat, and boosts libido.
Ready to get chilly? Here are some of our favorite icy hotspots. Plunge away.
It’s easy to imagine a bygone Viking catapulting courageously through a frozen lake in the quest for a cure. Be that Viking at Eleven’s remote Deplar Farm in northern Iceland’s Fljót Valley on the craggy Troll Peninsula when you leap into the chilly pool or roll in the snow after a session in the rock-clad, outdoor Viking Sauna. A far-flung hideaway from urbanity’s illumination, the luxuriously appointed, converted sheep farm turns ordinary cold plunging into a visual spectacle when lucky bathers (in season) catch a jaw-dropping glimpse of the astonishing Northern Lights from the water.
The Danes are cold plunging in greater numbers than ever before. Call it a form of hygge, that cozy Danish concept of conviviality. After all, many Danes cold plunge as a social activity. What could be more fun? Winter bathing clubs abound throughout Denmark, with 70,000 members in 184 clubs, with numbers ever growing. In Copenhagen, swimmers dip into both the waters of the nearby Oresund sea and the city’s buzzy harbor, which holds myriad bathing beaches, enclosed pools, and platforms from which to cannonball. Some sites also feature saunas for pre-plunge warming and coffee trucks for your after-plunge reward.
Nothing like a gambol in the Irish Sea to reverse the effects of a few too many pints. From their forefathers Dubliners inherited an indifference to cold weather and a fearlessness for the temperatures of the water that wreathes the island nation. In keeping with that tradition and to support guests who seek enhanced health, Anantara The Marker Dublin created the Wild Swimming experience led by the hotel’s Swimming Guru. Water lovers of all levels combine, exploring hidden beaches with salubrious cold plunges into the sea. You’ll dog paddle with the porpoises beneath the jagged rocks of Hawk Cliff or maybe immerse like the characters of Apple TV+’s Bad Sisters at Forty Foot.
Make like a polar bear — if you dare. These frigid water-loving beasts follow their instincts, cold plunging into the brisk sea. Follow their lead while on a luxury cruise to Antarctica with Silversea Cruises. Strapped to a harness for safety, plungers can careen from the side of Silver Endeavour, soak for a bit, feel the freeze, then be heaved back on board by staff. Warm towels, fluffy bathrobes, and flutes of Champagne await. High fives will happen all around.
Turks & Caicos
A villa with its own cold plunge? Believe us, Amanyara knows how to please wellness aficionados who like their privacy. The soulful resort, positioned on the shores of an 18,000-acre nature reserve in Providenciales, unveils a quieter layer of Caribbean life, one envisioned to impart peerless tranquility. Its crème de la crème bolthole, The Artists Villa, not only boasts a personal cold plunge, but it has a private beach, steam room, high-tech gym with Peloton bikes, a complete TRX system, a Pilates Reformer machine, and a multi-station weights.
Two hours from Montreal in Quebec’s pastoral Eastern Townships, family-owned, lakeside Manoir Hovey, a Relais & Chateaux property, attracts travelers with a penchant for characteristic villages, timeless country inns, incomparable nature, and show-stopping, terroir-driven gastronomy. Just launched, the haven’s Le Spa spans 9,000 square feet on three floors facing the water. A collection of restorative alcoves, Le Spa vaunts — among other things — places to plunge pool, a sauna with windows framing views, fire pits, a hammam, and a salt scrub experience area.
There’s an under layer of John Muir, the father of our national park system, everywhere we look at The Lodge at Blue Sky, Auberge Resorts Collection, an intimate eco-ranch born from the owners’ love for their land. Located near Park City, the resort looks to nature for its wellness repertoire, ever encouraging (and supporting) guests to pursue their own dialogue with the terrain. Guests delve into that metaphysical conversation at Edge Spa, where a variety of intuitive treatments bring clarity. Try the cold plunge experience led by a Wim Hof-accredited instructor. It incorporates both a state-of-the-art Scandinavian sauna and submersion in tubs filled with chilly spring water from the creek.
Cover image courtesy, Eleven Deplar Farm