I can’t honestly recommend a weekend or even a long weekend stay at this hotel and spa, not because there is anything wrong with it – on the contrary, chances are you won’t want to leave. Just yet. Can you enjoy an average of seven pools a day? Thought not. To get the most out of this world-class health spa, hotel, resort and wellness emporium with 217 rooms and 22 pools, you will need more time. Not least for the Arabic baths in the Hamam, with its wonderful, secluded atmosphere.
Or the spa section, a spacious, light-filled area with its own “sauna world”, where the rose sauna is just one of several varieties; another is the tropical fun bath. On the massage menu we found not only the usual (eg Thai) but also the unusual options, like the one where they drip oil onto your head for starters, then massage you into bliss.
It’s called Ayurveda and is a complete treatment “with traditional oils and methods to help create a dynamic balance between the individual’s physical, mental, and spiritual being and their surroundings.”
But I am jumping ahead. This oasis of luxury and health is on the outskirts of Sárvár, a country town (population about 16,000) in the middle of Hungary’s western half. Actually, not quite in the middle – it’s nearer Vienna (130 kilometres west) than Budapest (160 kilometres east, three hours by train, but most people drive here).
The name translates as Mudcastle, and it does indeed have a castle, though not of mud. The Nádasdy Castle (after the Nádasdy family) played a significant role in Hungary’s culture in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Unlike other great thermal spa hotel complexes such as Evian, the Spirit Hotel is ultra-modern (opened in 2008), but not stark or clinical. Entering the lobby we are instantly calmed by the generous space, the five-storey atrium, the endless open space that embraces a bar (limoncello fizz on special at HUF 1100) and leads seamlessly to the lounge.
It is so inviting we invite ourselves to an excellent coffee while taking in the tasteful, low-key grandeur of the decor. We also note that the staff are all rather lovely or handsome, polite, friendly, and healthy of course. There are some 300 of them, 10% or more of them working in the wellness centre, including three specialist doctors.
So we go looking for the blemishes, the flaws, the disappointments … no place can be so calm, so cool, so smooth. We try the Oxygen Bar. I won’t say it takes our breath away but it is impressive, as spacious as every other area of the Spirit, with a serving bar (not limited to health foods, by the way) and tables to relax at.
It’s casual, a favourite drop-in for guests who want something between pools, between massages, between saunas or between sleeps. They serve a good range of meals, from BBQ chicken to steak tartar and grilled salmon. And it’s very relaxed.
Half the guests are Hungarians, a quarter are Austrian and the rest from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Russia, mainly. All the guests are in the AB socio-economic demographic, we are told. Many keep coming back.
It doesn’t take long to get used to white-robed couples gliding around like initiates in some other world… it’s almost ethereal. All they need is some heavenly music to transport us to a wellbeing nirvana.
This impression is enhanced when we stroll into the designated relaxing area (they are all relaxing areas!), which is positioned under a high, domed skylight, with tastefully decorated twin day beds arranged around the central circle. Couples laze about as if they were in an opium den. I daren’t ask …
But hey, this is a hotel, let’s check out some rooms. We are shown room 541, the King Suite (from EUR 436 per night, half-board) so called because it has its own jacuzzi, not hidden away in the bathroom but in the living room – with a view.
The bedroom next door features a king bed, too. A standard suite has no jacuzzi, and given the place has whirlpools, saunas and whatever else, you may not miss it. Although the privacy aspect is appealing. The mini bar is almost within reach …
What about something a little exotic? We are shown 534, the Oriental Suite (from EUR 256 per night, half-board) notable for its circular bed and promoted as romantic, ideal for honeymoon couples and wedding anniversaries. There is no manual for using the bed; each to his/her own.
All the rooms are a bit different but one thing they all have is a balcony, with open views; the boating lake glints through the trees …
There are plenty of activities other than getting massaged and beautified, notably the night bar with billiards and indoor bowling, the squash court and the two clay tennis courts.
Breakfast and dinner are served as extensive, eye-pleasing designer buffets, all included in the half-board rate, and lunch in the elegant chandeliered dining room is available a la carte. The menu has good variety, including two different duck dishes, lamb chops and mangalica pork (unique Hungarian-bred pork), among other items, at prices from HUF 3100-5200. A good red for about HUF 6000 will wash anything down.
The raison d’etre and heart of the Spirit Hotel is its dedication to health and wellness, thanks to the hot mineral spring waters (46 C) that bubble up from over 1000 metres below. With its unobtrusive alkaline and sodium-bicarbonate content, this is the source of the daily refill of each of the pools, free of any additives or chemicals.
It is not only pleasant (I could have doused all night) but ideal for treating chronic movement disorders, for muscle relaxation and post-operative rehabilitation. I didn’t test it as a cure for a hangover.
The range of medical treatments that are associated with the thermal spa is extensive and includes remedial gymnastics, underwater traction, electro interstitial scan and a non-invasive diagnostic device, among many others.
Likewise, the range of medical spa treatments and massages is dizzying, from salt chamber and oxygen therapy, magnetic therapy to whirlpool with extra neck massage.
Needless to say, there are plenty of beauty treatments and hairdressing services.
So no, don’t go just for a weekend. Stay a while and be spirited away.