Wellness. A modern word with old roots. It means something along the lines of a state that is achieved through a combination of emotional, environmental, mental, physical, social and spiritual health. Wellness also means a state of good health that minimises illness, and the concept is associated with a number of age-old medical and cultural traditions. A sophisticated appreciation of maintaining good health has been part of the culture in countries like Japan, China, India, Greece, France and Italy for centuries. It prioritises balancing the body and mind, which is achieved by using different methods for attaining a sense of well-being. These include relaxing in and using natural settings for thermal baths, being massaged with warm stones, hiking in fresh air, stays in natural recreational settings with wildlife and lovely views, and more.
The unique Bornholm countryside with its rugged rocky coastline, vast tracts of woodland and long sandy beaches is not found anywhere else in Denmark. Many Bornholm natives have childhood memories of playing on the rocks at the water’s edge, hiking outdoors for hours, or perhaps recall their grandparents sauntering down to the sea wearing bathrobes for a dip in the early morning hours. The sea, the beaches and the woods have great recreational significance to both local residents and visiting tourists – and they use these areas all year round. Here you will also find many who are calmed by the sound of wind in the treetops or who seek to improve their fitness rating and muscle mass by actively engaging with nature. And once you’ve tried a bit of spontaneous outdoor fitness (push-ups from a lying tree trunk, zigzag runs across a waterway or interval training on the beach), it’s hard to return to an indoor fitness centre. The island’s many hiking routes are also popular, due to the meditative mental state provided by walking, such as on the 67-km-long High Heath Trail, transecting the middle of Bornholm through remote areas, or along the Coastal Path around the entire island: 120 kilometres of coastline with magnificent views of the sea. Also, no less than ten shelter sites with views of the sea have been established in undisturbed natural settings, and Bornholm’s wilderness is a popular place to find space for reflecting and bringing body and mind into balance.
With such natural diversity as the starting point, it may come as no surprise that Bornholm has notably developed a wellness culture based on fundamental values. French-born Alea Claire Byder – massage therapist, coach and teacher – is one of the people who has helped create these unique offerings of wellness on Bornholm in recent decades, and she currently runs Alea Wellness at Hotel Griffen Wellness & Spa in Rønne. She has been involved in wellness and massage in many contexts on the island since 2003, and has closely followed the development and offering of wellness activities. Like other experts in the field of health and wellness, she is convinced that there is a rising interest in wellness experiences, internationally, nationally and locally on Bornholm. Bornholm has something that is particularly suited for wellness experiences, which she describes quite simply: “Bornholm’s uniqueness comes from its unique biotopes, flora and fauna, which are not found anywhere else in Denmark. They provide special conditions for relaxing and letting go of the stress of daily life. In places like Døndalen, Ekkodalen and Opalsøen, you feel like you’re on an exotic journey, instead of on an island in Denmark. Bornholm has a wide variety of biotopes – beach, rocks and woods – within a small radius. This also explains why many Bornholm wellness centres have found it important to integrate nature into the treatment experience.” Alea Wellness is the first place in the world to offer treatments on a rocking massage bench made of Bornholm granite, and a quick Google search reveals that a handful of other interesting, diversified wellness experiences use nature as their starting point. The sea and its proximity seem to have a special place on Bornholm. Several localities have special facilities for sea bathing and winter swimming with saunas. Such as in Hasle, where Hasle Havnebad is a popular bathing and sauna club for locals and visitors alike.
It’s hard to say ‘wellness’ without saying ‘spa’, and perhaps ‘sauna’, too. Where did this interconnection come from? And what is a ‘spa’, by the way? The word ‘spa’ derives from the Latin phrase salus per aqua, meaning ‘health through water’. According to Alea, water has a unique relaxing effect, physiologically and psychologically. Water relaxes the muscles and cleanses the body – and cleanses the mind of stress and
discomfort: “As early as the 6th century, the Japanese used hot springs as part of a common bathing culture, and a Turkish bath is based on age-old traditions, too. For ages, there has been a tendency to connect water to relaxation and well-being in various cultures around the world. Massage also helps relax the muscles and the body in general, which is probably one reason why both water and massage can still to this very day help improve your well-being if combined,” Alea explains. Spa is also the name of a town in eastern Belgium that has been a popular health resort since the Roman Empire, due to the thermal springs in the area. Therefore, we have the Romans to thank for giving us this concept, which has gradually expanded our ideas to include whirlpool baths and the classic jacuzzi: a large round bathtub which massages the body with jets of water from underwater nozzles. Today, it is not uncommon to find home spas and outdoor spas in the flyers for DIY centres. Spa and wellness have found their way into our homes, and Alea is experiencing a rising demand for wellness experiences in general. “Wellness is less and less considered a luxury item, quite the opposite: wellness is viewed as a treatment that can enhance general happiness and reduce stress. And to many, a facial treatment can provide the same type of satisfying feeling of well-being previously associated with full-body massages, for instance.”
The inclusion of something as simple as a facial treatment in wellness is also revealed in our consumption of natural products for personal care in the home. Soaps, shampoos and creams are not only daily necessities but products that can enhance our feeling of well-being. Aromas and textures stimulate our senses, and an awareness of the products’ properties and method of production is also important. Today, there are several Bornholm producers of natural products for home use, and these producers focus not only on well-being but also organic production and sustainable values that can deepen the sensation of physical well-being. It is notably our psychosocial well-being that is the object of keener focus in times when many people’s daily lives are marked by rising performance demands and the feelings of stress that often follow in their wake. According to Alea, the Covid pandemic in particular has intensified our reflections on our own well-being. “The pandemic helped stimulate an interest in wellness among a wider segment of the population. As a result of the stressful situation we’ve all experienced over the past few years, I’m experiencing a keener focus than previously on maintaining the balance between mind and body. It seems to have become easier for people to give higher priority to pampering themselves.
On Bornholm, you fortunately don’t need to restrain your urge to pamper yourself – whether you prefer wellness and spa treatments, pampering yourself at home with sustainable products or just have the urge to watch the sun set from a peaceful hilltop, alone. Bornholm has it all – wellness and wilderness.