Why Urban Bathhouses Are Opening Everywhere

We explore the bathhouse revival, its origins and the benefits of the modern bathhouse for busy clients.

Main image: Sense of Self

Modern wellness has long taken cues from ancient techniques for healing, and the latest trend — the bathhouse — is no different. Water has been harnessed as a source of cleansing and healing for centuries, dating back to natural springs in ancient China and the infamous communal bathhouses across Europe and the UK.

But now, bathhouses have morphed into chic, oasis escapes in the centre of cities, allowing clients to immerse themselves in healing blue spaces that imitate those found in nature. Bathhouses are part of the wellness tourism and thermal springs surge and the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has predicted an annual growth rate of 21 per cent for wellness tourism and 18 per cent for thermal and mineral springs through 2025.

Melbourne-based wellness centre Sense of Self is just one of the many new bathhouses tapping into the demand for urban wellness escapes. The bathhouse offers both communal and solo experiences with a 40ºC hot mineral pool, a 10ºC cold plunge, an 80ºC traditional Finnish wood sauna, and a 46ºC hammam (a Mediterranean-inspired humid steam experience set in a terracotta room), as well as a massage studio with a minimalist menu. The space itself is inspired by ancient Greek, Roman, and Moorish bathhouses, fusing simple structures with ornate details and Mediterranean tones for a sun-soaked indoor experience that delights, cleanses and heals.

“We wanted to bring a neighbourhood-style bathhouse to Melbourne because we saw the impact of what communion and relaxation does for people in places around the world,” says co-founder Mary Minas. “We thought it could be an antidote to our modern lives, plus a way to democratise the wellness industry so that more people could enjoy it. We wanted to give people permission to take time out and focus on nurturing their relationship with themselves and their bodies, without any expectations, in an environment that is playful and rich in textures.”

A self-proclaimed “bathing enthusiast”, Minas had been dreaming up what she calls her “bathing odyssey” for eight years. And what better time to bring it to life that in the post-pandemic world.

“People are really frazzled at the moment because they’re experiencing a loss of normalcy and a loss of connection given all of the enormous world events happening to us and around us,” says Minas. “I think spaces where people commune are vital to our survival and ability to thrive, because people need opportunities now more than ever, to connect with each other. Also having space where we can dream, idle, switch off is vital to us given our nervous system is so overactive right now. It can feel dangerous to stop in this performance culture, but idleness is essential to activity.”

Sydney’s newest bathhouse, The Bathhouse at Douglas Park, offers a more modernised space with a retro Palm Springs-style aesthetic. “We decided to theme the Bathhouse as a ‘holiday destination/resort vibes’ so clients can feel like they’re on holidays,” says founder Ashlee Hartney. “I felt that bringing that ‘holiday’ feel back into our clients’ lives would make them feel like they’re experiencing that getaway feeling again.”

The Bathhouse is a reflection of all things fun, from the pastel palette to the luxurious daybeds, cocktail-inspired scrubs and communal mineral plunge pool. It also features hydrotherapy spas, two float pools, Vichy showers, a steam room and sauna, meditation garden, mini-bar and multiple treatments so visitors can treat themselves to two-hour or full-day bathing packages. “While most day spas are calm and use soft colours, The Bathhouse vibrates and is full of energy,” says Hartney. “I felt it was necessary to build a fun sanctuary where clients can leave their stresses and emotions at the door and just forget about all the negative factors, the time they’re here.”

As we move further away from pandemic restrictions, bathhouses are set to thrive. “We think public bathing and versions of bathhouses are going to become much more prevalent in our lives in the future,” says Minas. There are communities of bathing enthusiasts all over the globe who are welcoming more people into their ranks every day.

In fact, western communities are starting to bring bathhouse designs to residential housing, as the likes of Japan already do. Minas is excited to see the next iteration of modern bathhouses, which she believes are just around the corner: “I think we will see more and more heightened versions of the bathhouse, leaning into different weird and wonderful ancient traditions that are being revived by different communities, enthusiasts, and business owners around the world.”

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