Thursday, December 29, 2011

Horror sauna

The days between Christmas and New Year are wonderful. A full week off, time to relax, and I always try to go somewhere special. I happened to come across a website called – which you can translate into “purifying spa” – promoting a new large wellness center in Amsterdam. Now, if you know me, I love saunas. So I rejoiced by the hope that finally German style wellness made its way to The Netherlands. I convinced a friend, Mr. K., to accompany me on this epic quest to the ultimate Dutch sauna experience. Off to Amsterdam it was.

 Well, at least I have some nice slippers as a souvenir.

Google Maps' directions were pretty straightforward – no need to take the Tom-tom. Of course, Google's suggestions might have been the shortest route, but were by no means the most efficient to get to the Zuiver wellness center. So, after leaving the motorway we soon go stuck in traffic, and following the Zuiver signs on streetlamps it was clear that Google Maps also overlooked a couple of streets that meant a shortcut to our destination. Arriving there, in the Amsterdam Forest, the car park was full with hundreds, if not thousands of cars. “Surely these people are not all visiting the spa,” Mr. K. said. “There are many sports activities possible here.” But once inside, after walking through a corridor past an indoor tennis hall that welcomed us with that unmistakable smell of indoor activity sweat, we soon concluded that most of the car owners indeed were at the spa.

But where to start describing my impressions of this wellness center? In the locker room, that's only logical. That's where I was confronted with a broken strap of the wrist watch-like electronic coin, that will register whatever you buy for refreshments or special beauty treatments and massages if so desired, or necessary. It had to be fixed by a staffer, but it was not a good start. What should I mention next? The depressing tomb-like ambiance in the center atrium with pool, like a mausoleum without a coffin, but with people swimming in the nude? Black and grey granite everywhere, and the dreary December light did not help here either. Neither did the lack of illumination. The steam bath, where temperature was just too low? The hamman, that was only available to you if you made a reservation for a Turkish massage? The annoying music in the sauna, that to everybody’s relief was switched off soon. Maybe the lack of cold cooling off dip baths, essential to the sauna experience? Most sauna amenities were located outside by the way, which required a walk through the cold late December air. But still, at this point we kept our hopes on some kind of relaxation – because isn't that what the website says? “Get away from it all, find relief for stress in an environment that offers you peace and quiet?” But in the relaxation room every single ugly white lounge chair was occupied with that special kind of people who looked like they regard Nespresso as the optimum in coffee experience and are snobbish enough to transport their kids in an expensive cargo bike through the streets of Amsterdam. This provided us with serious problem. There was no way we could have any refreshment here. And you surely need that after a sauna session. Snacks were off limits any way, due to the exorbitant pricing for even the smallest and most modest sushi dish. Sushi, what else, I would almost add. Mr. K. was longing for some soup, so maybe the restaurant could help us out then? Only by reservation, but there were tables free despite the number of visitor at the spa. One glance at the menu explained why though. Ordering something to eat here would result in a negative credit rating by Standard & Poor.

The website makes it all look so beautiful - with perfect lighting and no other visitors...

So, there was nothing left for us than to sit on a small bench that provided a view to the center pool. It also gave us a view to hundreds of buttocks, breasts and penises belonging to all kind of people between the age of 18 and 80. The concept that humans are the pinnacle of creation soon bewildered me. After seeing two anorexic ladies in their late sixties wearing nothing but towels on their heads, a very well endowed guy who obviously spends way too much time in the gym than is good for him and an older fat man accompanied by a beautiful slim girl in her early twenties, I was convinced that it was time to leave. If I want to visit a nudist resort, I'll go to a nudist resort. Mr. K. desperately needed his soup by now anyway. So, we headed to the locker room for a premature exit. Of course, there were no mirrors in the locker room, making it impossible to even address my coiffure.

“Was everything to your wishes, gentlemen?” asked the reception girl where we had to pay our debts to Zuiver. “No,” I replied. “This was a horror sauna experience.” This obviously shocked her. “But you visited us on the busiest day of the year,” she said. “Are you sure you would not want to come back on a quieter day?” Yes, we were sure about that. In her defense, she did subtract one hour admittance of the two were were supposed to pay. So we left, convinced that Aachen's Carolus Thermen, Baden Baden's Caracalla Thermen and Bad Kreuznach's Baederhaus did not find their equal in The Netherlands. The next unknown wellness center to explore would certainly be in Germany again, so much was clear. Spa7 in Bad Bentheim maybe. The irony will be however,that we will promote the Zuiver spa for times to come – the pool slippers we had to purchase proudly wear a Zuiver logo. That will trigger interesting conversations when visiting other saunas.

Once outside we spotted a Grand Café overlooking the 1928 Olympic rowing rink in the Amsterdam Forest. Inside, enjoying a good Latte Machiato and a great apple pie, while Mr. K. enjoyed a tasty chicken soup, we finally found our wellness.


  1. Cornelius KoelewijnDecember 31, 2011 at 7:06 PM

    Spa Zuiver is a clear example of how deceptive a website can be. On the website there are only two models. All the pictures are detail shots, that clearly don't show the vastness of this facility.
    Spa Zuiver is a big facility. Styling is over the top. The grey interior gives you the impression you're walking around in a dungeon or some recently discovered caves in Africa. Not a nice place to visit.
    And then there are some weird things. You have to make a reservation to get in, to visit the restaurant or to use the hamam baths. Not very "visitor friendly". There are no proper resting rooms. The interior of the bar atop the sauna area probably was inspired by a sexclub. You can't even get a decent cup of coffee or a glass of cold mineral water. Trendy fruit juices and extremely expensive Japanese sushi snacks are all that's on the menu list.
    It was a mistake to go to Spa Zuiver - I won't go there again...

  2. I feel sorry for the bad experience you went through. I hope this doesn’t change your perception of sauna houses. It is possible that it was their busiest day, but they should’ve exerted extra effort to accommodate and give the service that you deserve. There may be other places which you can visit, so you can enjoy your sauna experience to the fullest.

    Neil Dalby

    1. I visit saunas since the 1980s, and this experience will not keep me from going to other saunas. There vare many fine saunas around, and e.g. German saunas prove how you can offer a great time even on busy days. You might like to read about a more recent visit here:

  3. I have to disagree with this post most vehemently, and assure any others reading it that Spa Zuiver is (to my mind) an absolutely exceptional experience! Clearly, those who are a tad on the prudish side may be offended, but for me there is no comparison. I have been twice now (both times in the depths of winter), and looking forward to another trip as soon as I'm back in the Netherlands. The relaxation areas, steam rooms, saunas, pools and jacquzzi's are all well looked after and always at the right temperature, and (apart from Tuedays when you have to wear swimming trunks), it is rightly like being at a nudist resort, and that only adds to the experience!

    1. When staff allow more people to enter than the capacity of the facilities can handle, pricing in the restaurants is strathospheric, and top of all the other inconveniences there, Spa Zuiver had a problem. We were not the only ones complaining at the front office when we left, and since my visit there I have heared from more people that they will never return there.
      Furthermore, a sauna like Spa Zuiver or the great German sauna/wellness centers have nothing to do with nudist resorts. You do not do these facilities any favour by comparing them with resorts like that.