The words ‘spa’ and ‘kids’ are rarely seen in the same sentence. And for good reason, spas are places where you go to relax – and to escape the kids!
Sweden, however, has a far more progressive attitude to children and families than many countries and, on a recent work trip to Stockholm, I was fascinated to discover the various programs offered specifically for kids. The majority of museums, for example, have activities and exhibits designed especially for children. Kids, it seems, and their needs are considered to be as important as those of their parents.
It makes sense, therefore, that Stockholm also has a family-friendly spa. As I was visiting Sweden’s capital for TBEX (a travel trade event), I was invited to spend the day at Yasuragi Kids, a Japanese-inspired spa that welcomes children during the summer months. During my short stay in town, I didn’t have my kids with me. Nevertheless I was intrigued by this notion of a parent- and child-friendly spa and decided to check it out.
What is Yasuragi?
Yasuragi, meaning ‘inner peace and harmony’ is a hotel and spa that aims to provide guests with a complete holistic experience. However, you don’t have to stay overnight at Yasuragi to enjoy the serene services. There are a number of day packages on offer too.
The spa describes itself as a “sanctuary for the inner self” and is known primarily for its relaxing Japanese baths, designed to soothe the body and clear the mind. It’s located on a hilltop overlooking Stockholm’s beautiful archipelago and, despite being only 20 minutes from the city centre, the pine forest and zen-like architecture makes you feel like you are far, far away from modern day life.
For 10 months of the year, Yasuragi is open to visitors aged 16 years and over. However, during the summer months Yasuragi opens its doors to children of all ages. This period is known as Yasuragi Kids.
What is Yasuragi Kids?
Yasuragi Kids was developed to offer families the opportunity to spend quality time together in relaxing and peaceful environment. I was told during my visit that it’s important for parents to understand this concept. Yasuragi Kids is not glorified kids’ club where you can leave your kids while you go off for a massage. Nor is it one of those Barbie-style makeover spas for kids – thankfully!Instead, Yasuragi Kids is a place where you can spend some time simply being with your children. A place that aims to help children slow down and reconnect with themselves and to help families unwind together. There are no childcare facilities and parents are responsible for their children at all times. Parents are also expected to participate in activities together.
Upon arrival, all guests over two-years-old are given their very own yukata, a cotton robe, to wear throughout their stay; to the Japanese baths, during activities and also at mealtimes. Guests over 13 years are also given swimwear (a black swimming suit for woman and shorts for men) and slippers. Kids under 13 are required to bring their own swimming kit (including swimming nappies for babies, should you need them, although these are also sold in the shop) and slippers or flip flops. The yukata is decorated with Japanese symbols meaning ‘good luck and happiness’ and ‘true joy’ and is yours to keep and take home at the end of your stay.
If you really want to get the most out of your Yasuragi Kids experience, I would encourage children to wear one-piece suits in neutral or calming colours (rather than fluorescent pink Peppa Pig bikinis!). Although this is by no means compulsory, the setting is so very peaceful that anything not Japanese-esque seems to jar with the surrounds.
The Japanese Baths
Most families visit Yasaragi Kids to experience the Japanese baths. These include a number of hot springs (both indoors and outside under the pine trees), saunas*, a 25m long indoor pool, a tearoom, quiet zones and ablution rooms. Before getting started, adults and children are taught a traditional cleansing ritual to ‘wash their worries away’. This involves sitting on a little wooden stool in the ablution areas and pouring warm water over yourself with slow and repeated movements.
*Saunas with kids: Yasuragi recommends that babies and very small children should not go into the sauna as they cannot regulate their body temperature as well. It’s important that children are old enough to say when they want to leave the sauna. One member of staff at Yasuragi told me that her four year often goes in with her but only stays a few minutes. Of course you should never leave a child alone in the sauna.
Spa Activities for Kids
In addition to the Japanese Baths, Yasuragi Kids offers an extensive range of activities from quiet mediations and sound therapy to fish pedicures, mindful colouring-in and sushi lessons. Activities include:
Sushi School for Kids
- Kids are taught to make a maki-roll which they can share with their family at the end of the class
- Yoga for the entire family. Re-energise and have fun together.
Journey of Sound
- In this deeply relaxing mediation the instructor takes participants on a ‘journey into the world of imagination’ with a series of Tibetan singing bowls. When I visited, the session was conducted in Swedish so I didn’t understand any of it! BUT the instructor’s sing-song voice was just as soothing as the Tibetan singing bowls. It was so relaxing! There were lots of kids in the class (aged approximately eight years and above), and I was amazed by how still and silent they were throughout the 30 minute session.
- Aimed at young children, this area is filled with toys inspired by Yasuragi. Here kids can draw or look at colourful books. There are mindful colouring-in worksheets – from small mandalas to huge wall murals – and an activity where kids can make Japanese dolls from toilet rolls!
Japanese Arts & Crafts
- Slightly older children can learn to make a Japanese dragon, fold their own origami crane or try to draw a manga comic figure. For every crane made and hung on the wall, Yasuragi donates 10 SEK (about 1 EUR) for each crane to UNICEF. Children are also invited to draw a picture “of their soul”. Every year Yasuragi selects a “soul portrait” that, in a creative way, interprets the soul.
Trail of Senses
- This outdoor walking trail aims to help children be present by simply enjoying the moment.
- This activity combines fun and tradition. It’s a challenging physical activity but also one that is guaranteed to get the family laughing. Participants learn something of the origins of sumo and the sports status in Japan – as well as being given the opportunity to tackle their mum or dad!
Qi Gong with Chiball For families
- Families are taught the gentle art of Qi Gong using a soft scent ball. The ball makes it easier to find the right moves as well as allowing you to be aware of your body and its movements.
Note: With the exception of the sushi class where parents watch from the the sidelines, parents are expected to participate in all of these activities.
Spa Treatments for Kids
There is also a spa menu for kids aged 8-12 years, which includes:
- Shiatsu – soft pressure massage (children wear their yukata)
- Wellness Air Massage
- Head harmony – scalp massage
- Face harmony – facial. Gentle cleansing with massage
- Fish spa – fish pedicure. Garra Rufa fish remove dead skin particles.
- Treatments are approx 25 minutes and parents can be present.
- Children over 13 years old can use the adult spa menu. Treatments for adults include massages, facials and infrared heat therapy. For more details see here. Spa treatments are tailored for pregnant woman (after 12 weeks)
As you might expect from a place so focused on wellbeing, Japanese food features strongly at Yasuragi’s four restaurants (two of which are open during the summer months). They include:
- Tokyo Lounge Bar: Home to Sweden’s largest selection of sake. Yes, sake is also good for wellbeing!
- Tokyo Restaurant: This restaurant, overlooking the archipelago, offers a fusion of Japanese and Swedish cuisine.
- Kyarabi: A spa lounge serving raw food.
- Teppanyaki: chefs prepare dinner on a flat iron griddle in front of you. In the summer months they serve a dinner buffet here.
I enjoyed a delicious salmon-sushi lunch in the Tokyo restaurant overlooking the tree tops of the pine forest below and the waters of Stockholm’s archipelago beyond.
For kids, the lunch buffet includes sushi, spaghetti with meatballs and fish or meat from the grill. For dinner, there is a large buffet, for both adults and children. This includes sushi, gyoza, noodles, okonomiyaki, fish and various meats cooked on the griddles in Teppanyaki.
Tea and a fruit buffet is available throughout the day in the spa lounge.
You can either visit Yasuragi Kids as part of a day package, or as an overnight stay. There are 191 Japanese-inspired rooms in total, spread across seven categories. Rooms can accommodate up to five or six people, which works well for larger families, and interconnecting rooms are also available.
Yasaragi Kids is located about 19km from Stockholm Central Station and can be reached by bus (35 mins + 10 minute walk), boat (30 minutes + 10 minute walk) or car (20 minutes). See here for more information.
What to Bring
- Swimming nappies/diapers (although you can also buy these in the Yasuragi shop)
- Personal toiletries such as face cream, comb/hairbrush and deodorant
- Swimwear & slippers (or flip flops) for children under 13 years.
- Yasuragi provides: Swimwear & slippers (for 13 years and over), yukata robe, towels, conditioner, soap.
When is Yasuragi Kids Open?
Yasuragi Kids operates during the summer months (approx. last week of June to first week August. See website for exact dates).
My Experience of Yasuragi
I’ll admit that I was somewhat sceptical of a parent and child-friendly spa. I was looking forward to a day of pampering and maybe a good massage but two things surprised me at Yasuragi. The first was how I felt. It took me almost half a day to unwind but by the afternoon I really did begin to feel different; more energised, happier and rejuvenated. Granted, this could be simply to do with the beautiful surrounds and soothing baths. But there’s something different about Yasuragi, the whole experience is so spiritual that I really did find myself taking time to just reflect. It also made me realise how important it is to take time out periodically.
The second thing that I was not expecting, was that Yasuragi Kids really works. I thought it was a nice idea, but I didn’t expect to see quite what a bonding experience this is for families. In a world where kids are constantly busy, where pressures are greater than ever before and electronics are all-prevalent, it was so refreshing (and really touching) to see parents and children spending actual, proper time with one another. As with many mums, I always feel like I’m rushing from one thing to the next and that I’m not often ‘present’ with my kids. Yasuragi Kids offers parents and children that opportunity, whether it’s wrestling in a Sumo match or walking through the gardens. I really believe that we could all benefit from a family holiday here. I think it’s a wonderful concept and I can’t wait to return.
For more information on Yasuragi and Yasuragi kids, take a look at their website.
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In 2017 Yasuragi Kids will not be open during the summer months but during the following dates instead: 24 February – 5 March and 13-23 April
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