I went to Europe’s biggest spa that’s gone viral on TikTok to try a Romanian sauna

I went to Europe’s biggest spa that’s gone viral on TikTok to try a Romanian sauna

I’m sitting in a 90°C sauna. The heat is overwhelming. Around me, dozens of eager people are packed into every inch of the room. They are all, like me, waiting to see the show. The music starts and a man arrives, placing a ball of crushed ice onto hot coals. Then, he takes a towel and begins to twirl it around him, waving it in graceful arcs that thrust currents of red-hot air over the spectators.

This is my first experience of aufguss, a sauna ritual that blends dance, music, heat and essential oils. Aufguss is an essential part of sauna culture in many countries, and you’ll find variations of it across Europe. And where better to experience it for the first time than at the biggest spa on the Continent?

I’m visiting Therme, the sprawling spa resort and shrine to wellness near the Romanian capital of Bucharest. Built on European traditions of mineral bathing, Therme Bucharest claims to be the world’s first fully sustainable thermal spa resort; it was awarded the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum Certification for green building, the first wellness facility on this scale to do so. Therme began in Germany in 1998, aiming to “reimagine thermal bathing”, and there are plans to start work on a site in Manchester as soon as this year.

Since Therme Bucharest opened in 2016, it has drawn millions of tourists who flock here for its affordable luxury and world-class facilities. It’s become something of a viral hit on TikTok — videos posted by tourists and influencers have been viewed millions of times — and many British spa-goers spending less than £100 to visit on extreme day trips. Romania has just joined the Schengen Area this week, so it can expect another influx of spa-seekers imminently.

The 90°C Bavarian sauna in the Elysium wellness area of Therme Bucharest (Photo: Mihai Capsaz)

Therme is more soaring glass temple than your average spa. Stretching over 37,000 square metres across two floors, it has capacity for 4,000 people at a time. Inside there are 10 indoor and outdoor pools, 10 saunas, massage and treatment facilities, the largest urban beach in Europe (open in summer) and a dizzying variety of activities you can join including facials, scrubs, aufguss shows and more. It’s enough to fulfil the wildest fantasies of any spa lover.

Bucharest’s Therme resort is lit up by night (Photo: Mihai Capsaz)

Therme comprises of three main areas: The Palm, Galaxy and Elysium. The adults-only Palm is the heart of the resort, where you’ll find Therme’s spectacular, palm tree-lined pool (star of the show on TikTok – and a favourite spot of “influencers”). Elysium (also adults only) houses the dry saunas, each with a different theme, and treatment rooms. For families, the Galaxy boasts 1.7km of slides and a wave pool. And it all comes at great value: a whole-day pass costs 167 lei (about £29) in the week and 187 lei (£32) at weekends.

I’m here for the day to sample everything Therme offers. I start in the Palm by the main pool, beneath the retractable glass roof. First stop: the swim-up bar. With a waterproof smartwatch you’re given on arrival, you can log any food and drink you buy and pay when you leave (there are three on-site restaurants). Perched on my submerged bar stool, basking beneath a palm tree, I opt for a cocktail to psyche myself up for a long day of testing out all the facilities.

The water at Therme passes through a five-step purification process, killing 99 per cent of bacteria (Photo: Mihai Capsaz)

Armed with a spritz, I sink into the gorgeous 36°C geothermal water. I’ve been reassured as to its cleanliness by Nicolaie Corbeanu, Therme’s technical manager, who has shown me around the extensive filtering equipment underground. The water passes through a five-step process of purification including ozonisation, killing 99 per cent of bacteria. Every four hours the water is completely renewed, says Mr Corbeanu, and the result is sparkling turquoise pools – and no stench of chlorine.

Along with its 10 indoor and outdoor pool,s Therme has some 800,000 plants, including 1,500 palms (Photo: Therme Bucharest)

Next, I explore the paths and terraces around the pool, flanked by palm trees and tropical vegetation – Therme claims it has some 800,000 plants, including 1,500 palms. I pass sun loungers, hydro-massage beds and infrared light beds. I find the cluster of mineral pools and try a quick dip in each: the calcium and lithium pool – an “elixir of youth” said to boost mood, reduce anxiety and strengthen the immune system – regular bathing in lithium apparently increases life expectancy; the calcium and magnesium pool, which, it is claimed, relieves muscle and joint pain; and the Dead Sea salt pool to improve skin hydration.

Next up, it’s time for Elysium, the main wellness area, and my cannabis oil massage. After being told to put on possibly the tiniest pair of disposable underwear I’ve ever seen in my life, I manage to relax enough to enjoy the 60-minute Malagasy massage – with Katrafay extract, hemp seed oil and cannabidiol – said to rejuvenate the skin and relieve anxiety and insomnia.

Two of the minerals pools in the main Palm area of Therme, including the Dead Sea salt pool (Photo: Therme Bucharest)

In Elysium, anyone who loves a sauna will be spoilt for choice. I, unfortunately, do not love a sauna, so am somewhat nervous about what awaits. Therme has no fewer than six dry saunas, from your starter saunas for novices such as myself, to the 90°C Bavarian sauna for the truly hardcore. I feel it best to ease myself in. The 60°C Hollywood spa sounds perfect for an entry-level sauna-goer, with a cinema screen showing nature documentaries. Others include the 70°C Amazon sauna, 50-60°C Himalayan sauna (my favourite), and Provence sauna.

However, only when I have committed to watching aufguss in Provence, sitting on the highest (and hottest) step, several dozen people between me and the exit, do I quite appreciate what I’ve let myself in for. I’m trapped for 15 minutes in temperatures rapidly approaching 90°C.

The Hollywood sauna in the Elysium area features a cinema screen showing nature documentaries (Photo: Mihai Capsaz)

In aufguss, essential oils are infused through ice and distributed through the air of the sauna. According to Cosmin Cîrîc, Head of Wellness at Therme, the best aufguss is a performing art with costumes, storytelling, music, lights, and script.

Mr Cîrîc describes the benefits of aufguss as prophylactic, preventive, and protective of general health. “When we are doing aufguss we can concentrate on heat acclimatisation, skin health, respiratory therapy, detox, muscle and joints benefits or relaxation and sleeping aid,” he says.

This particular ritual uses four types of fresh mint. The aufgussmeister or sauna master ladles the oil over the ice before beginning the dance, twirling the towel around in time with the music, dispersing currents of burning air and the scent of mint. I brace each time, awaiting the searing wave of heat. This feels like an extreme sport. But I am told that by gradually increasing the temperature, adrenaline rises and I will experience a release of endorphins.

The Himalaya sauna, the walls of which are blocks of Himalayan salt (Photo: Mihai Capsaz)

And then, the aufguss is over, the door is open, and a blast of cool air greets me. I make my way to the Himalayan sauna, its walls covered in salt and glowing a soft pink, to recover. Provence might have been too much for me, but in here, I think I might just have discovered what it is people love about sauna.

Find out more about Therme Bucharest here

Admission costs

Whole-day pass to Therme Bucharest (Mon-Thurs): 167 Romanian New Leu (RON) – about £29
(Fri-Sun): 187 RON (£32)

Whole-day pass to the Palm (Mon-Thurs): 137- 152 RON (£24-26)
(Fri-Sun): 152 RON (£26)

Whole-day pass to Galaxy (Mon-Thurs): 115 RON (£20) for an adult; 66 RON (£11) for children aged 3-14
(Fri-Sun): 125 RON (£22) for an adult; 76 RON (£13) for children

Therme is located about 20 minutes’ drive from Bucharest

This trip was provided courtesy of the Therme Group