Two years ago, after Thomas Rode left his position as head chef at the Michelin-starred Kong Hans restaurant in Copenhagen, he found himself in Skodsborg in North Zealand.
Just 20 minutes outside the city, the area – bordering one of Denmark’s most beautiful nature reserves – is a world away from the sleek, urban life he was used to: with big skies, forest walks and ocean views. Here, in pursuit of ‘the good life’ Rode, famous in Denmark for his cookbooks and haute cuisine, joined a dynamic team who were involved in revamping a historic spa hotel and who were open to his innovative ideas about healthy cooking.
Despite flashes of modern architecture, Kurhotel Skodsborg actually dates back to 1898, when it was a sanatorium founded by Dr Carl Ottosen, an expert in physiotherapy. The place became renowned for its healthy living mantra and – for its time – revolutionary wellbeing approach to health. Offering retreats, based around his philosophy of light, air, nutrition, water, rest and exercise – it became renowned as one of Denmark’s first spas.
Eventually, however, it fell out of fashion, and after a period lost in the wilderness as a conference hotel, it came to the attention of hotel management expert, Mai Kappenberger. Now CEO, she has spent the last few years returning the hotel back to its former glory and developing Ottosen’s principles for a modern-day traveller, showcased in a new, stand-out destination spa.
Designed by Henning Larsen Architects, the minimalist mega-spa is at the heart of the hotel’s offering. A central glass atrium means light streams throughout the white cube-like structure. It’s vast – spread across three floors with state-of-the-art facilities in a major gym area (this alone attracts 1,800 Danish members). The highlight is the central space which has 16 different cooling and warming experiences, including a 100m² hydrospa with grottos and massage showers, an outdoor Jacuzzi, infrared beds and a 21m swimming pool. As well as yoga rooms, designed so that practitioners can see the sunset and sunrise, and an outside garden with stylish sunbeds, there’s also a glamourous, beauty treatment area. Here you can book in for one of the therapies on offer by Swedish spa brand Kerstin Florian. There’s also advanced facials by BioEffect and just introduced is the new cosmeceutical label iS Clinical – ask for the signature Nordic facial treatment Fire & Ice for a Danish take on a red-carpet-ready complexion.
A must is the signature SaunaGus – a sort of extreme sauna experience (jazzed up with aromatherapy oils). You are led through the process by a Gusmester who talks you through what essentially is an endurance test (temperatures can reach 120°C) while working the sauna oven with special blends of aromatic oils. In case the heat of the oven wasn’t enough, each Gusmester also has their own techniques for whipping the air around you with towels to increase the heat sensation. After two back-to-back sessions, it’s cool down time – which is a toe-curlingly-cold jump into the Baltic Sea. By the time you’ve headed back down the jetty for the final sauna session – the temperature feels positively lukewarm.
When you’ve acclimatised again, you’ll notice that the pared-back feel of the spa is echoed in your bedroom (there are 85 in total). A white-on-white palette is cosied up with dove grey carpet and velvet textiles. Sleek bathrooms are huge with stand-alone tubs and curvy sinks. Best of all is the attention to detail: warmed hot water bottles tucked into your sheets at night, fresh ginger and lemon waiting in a teacup and a mini kettle for your hot, night-time drink, in-room products by Kerstin Florian are aimed at spa use – so expect body brushes, massage oils and konjac sponges.
Food is another passion at Skodsborg, with seasonal Nordic cuisine under the spotlight in the main eaterie, The Restaurant. While you might have expected maverick chef Thomas Rode to be at the helm, you’d be wrong. Instead his previous protégé Erik Kroun is head chef. Deceptively simple descriptions of dishes belie the complex techniques at hand. The Five-Course Tasting Menu is an extravaganza of fresh, Danish produce turned up a notch so that the individual components are almost unrecognisable – Pollack, Radishes, Lemon and Dill; Bresse Chicken and Danish Black Lobster were two stand-out dishes that are memorable even now.
For a more-laid back experience – head to the third-floor The Brasserie – with views over the ocean. It has a buzzy, cool vibe with a focus on seafood and traditional Danish dishes. Breakfasts are a healthy feast with freshly-made beetroot juice, ginger shots, paleo bread piled with avocado and homemade granola.
From Nordic Noir literary evenings with Scandi crime writers to the just-launched three-day retreats, Mai Kappenberger prides herself on an inventive seasonal programme of events. From stand-up paddle boarding to mindful power training, running workshops to classical music recitals – the offering is a holistic one, catering for mind, body and soul.
And Thomas Rode? Well, he can be found presiding over Kitchen Rex, a show kitchen located in Villa Rex, a former palace belonging to King Frederik VII, in the grounds of the hotel.
Having reinvented himself as Functional Lifestyle Mentor at the hotel, he offers motivational cookery and fitness lessons (he’s an expert in CrossFit) and special culinary events. “I’m a passionate supporter of – and spokesperson for – a functional lifestyle,” says the former Michelin-starred chef. “The functional lifestyle concept is incredibly simple: the aim is to go back to basics. Cut out anything processed and live like we were intended to live. I have experienced the transformation of my own body, and it is life-changing.”
If you are looking for a slice of the good life, like Rode, you know where to come.
A double room at Kurhotel Skodsborg costs from £161 per night (based on two sharing). For more information, visit www.skodsborg.dk.