Spa weekend in Croatia; from the 16th – 18th March 2018, I stayed at the LifeClass Sveti Martin Terme Spa, (Thermal Spa) in Međimurje, a much-needed break in the middle of a long winter.
In general, we are extremely lucky with the weather here in Dalmatia but this winter has felt never-ending. As I write this, it is the 23rd March 2018, bura is raging around our apartment and it has snowed four times this past month which is extremely unusual for Dalmatia. I know Spring is ready to burst to life but this last stretch of winter is really dragging out.
This is what prompted my husband and I to book a weekend away. We needed a break from routine, so we decided to book a spa weekend at the LifeClass Sveti Martin Terme Spa in Međimurje. I had no expectations and was just excited to be getting out of our apartment and have a change of scenery – which is exactly what Northern Croatia provides. The shift in nature and architecture from the Dalmatian coast to Međimurje is dramatic; the A-frame houses, winding hills and wine roads of Međimurje was a lovely breath of fresh air – ‘fresh’ being the keyword, the 10-degree difference was definitely felt.
After a few wrong turns, we arrived at the LifeClass Thermals around 5 pm, a little stressed and ready to unwind (6-hour drive from Split).
Check-in and our apartment
The check-in process was fast and I want to say efficient except for a few lacking areas… For a 4-star hotel, I was really surprised by my first ‘introduction’ to the facilities. While the gentleman was friendly and greeted us with a smile, he barely gave us any information about the facilities, we had to ask all of the questions.
I asked about breakfast and he proceeded to tell me I didn’t book breakfast, even when I pointed it out on my booking reference AND his copy. Minor hiccup. We asked where breakfast was and he waved his hand in a general direction and said it’s in a restaurant ‘over there’. We also asked how everything worked – the pools, sauna, massage… I’m glad we asked because he told us, for massages we would need to book in advance due to limited availability.
Eventually we got all of the information we needed (except wifi which we forgot to ask and had to call later to find out) but I think, if we hadn’t asked the questions, we wouldn’t have known a lot of things, which is not how it should work, particularly in a 4-star hotel.
After we took our keys, we went to the wellness reception to ask about booking a massage and sauna. As it turned out, they only had times available for the following night, so we booked two massages for the following night and decided to spend our first evening in the sauna (which also required booking a time slot).
We found our apartment (we booked the Regina apartments as the hotel was fully booked), which was cute, clean, warm and more than enough space for the two of us; it had a kitchenette, lounge with TV, bathroom (with a bathtub), room with a double-bed and a small balcony. These days, whether you stay at an Air BnB, apartment or hotel, you normally have a few basic items in the kitchen – jug, coffee, tea, sugar, milk, wine glasses… Interestingly enough, the apartment instead had a coffee filter (no hot water jug), with no filters provided (and none in the nearest supermarket) and the only glasses were some Ožujsko beer glasses – which is not what you want to drink a nice bottle of wine from…
The Regina apartments and snow we woke up to on the final day.
After we settled in, we decided to grab a quick snack from Potkova, the pub across the road. This was actually a pleasant surprise, nothing fancy but friendly service, reasonable prices and even a local Međimurje ale to try. After a burger and beer (I know, not the healthiest option), we made our way back to the wellness area and sauna.
Wellness, sauna and spa (€10 entry)
The ladies at the wellness reception were extremely friendly, we were given a towel, sheet and bracelet to activate the gate and lockers and we were on our merry way. No one actually explained how these worked but we figured it out. We got changed into our swimwear in the changerooms and went straight for the saunas, we were about to go into our first sauna before we were stopped and told we weren’t allowed to wear swimwear. I know this is common in a lot of saunas but no one explained this… back to the changerooms to strip down, wrap in our sheet and into the sauna.
The saunas were fantastic, they have four different types of sauna as well as an ‘ice cave’ and dunking pool for cooling down in between. There is a Bio-Sauna with medicinal plants at 60°c, steam sauna at 50°c with 100% humidity, Finnish sauna between 90 – 100°c and a Roman sauna at a mild, dry 37°c.
We moved between all of the saunas and cooling areas, before finishing in the thermal pool and jacuzzi. The pools are open for late night swimming on Fridays and Saturdays and the thermal pool opened up to an outside area. It was a refreshing way to end the night, in warm thermal water with our faces exposed to the crisp, night air, underneath the stars. By the time we got dressed and left the sauna, it was 20.45 – so yes, it is possible to spend almost 3-hours in the sauna and pool.
Credit: Official Sv. Martin LifeClass website
Being that it was winter, there was less on offer in terms of activities, but they still had a few excursions available: a trip to a deer farm with a visit to the Hažić Winery or visiting the nearby towns of Čakovec and the baroque town of Varaždin. We contemplated visiting the winery on Saturday but decided to go at our own pace rather than join an organised tour.
Saturday morning, we had breakfast which was held at the Vučkovec Restaurant on-site. The breakfast was a typical, hotel, continental-style buffet breakfast – cereals, yogurt, fruit, hams, cheeses and a hot offering of eggs, sausages, French toast etc. To the staffs’ credit, the restaurant was clean and the team continued to clean, clear and top-up the breakfast efficiently throughout the morning.
LifeClass Terme Spa (free access for hotel and apartment guests)
We spent the morning at the LifeClass Thermal Spa (which is separate from the hotel thermal spa), this is the area that is free to use for all hotel and apartment guests (as opposed to €10 for the sauna and pool area). As you can imagine, it was packed. After we found our way through the oddly laid-out changerooms, we nabbed ourselves lounge chairs, my husband got straight into his book and I just took in the scene.
I could have spent the whole day people watching; there was the token old man in the see-through, skin coloured bathers, a voluptuous baka with a bedazzled bucket hat, a young couple canoodling in the corner, a group of old men cracking a beer and playing cards in the café area, parents stealing a quick kiss in between squealing-splashing children, a son lovingly lowering his father into the thermal waters, a mother and daughter with broad smiles after purchasing an ice cream at 10 am in the morning – because why not? The spa was alive with all-sorts and it was honestly really sweet to see so many different people and ages, all there for the same reason – to relax.
The pool area had one large pool, one smaller thermal pool – which again, led to the fresh air outside, and three jacuzzies. Pro-tip for the jacuzzi: don’t be polite and wait for the perfect moment to slink into one because it will never come. Follow the oldies and if you want in, you hustle and find a space.
The café on-site is very basic – with an offer of coffee, tea, soft drinks, juices, cold sandwich, ice cream, beer and even a 12 kuna gemišt (wine mixed with sparkling water). I would have expected a larger range of health products but in reality, most people come to the thermal spa simply to relax and enjoy, rather than thinking about the gastronomic offer (occupational hazard after a decade in the industry).
Majority of people at the spa were Croatian or Germans which is obviously their main clientele as all of the signs were only in Croatian or German, not English.
Restaurants and Gastronomy
Putova Pub There are a variety of restaurants available on-site. As I said, the Putova pub offers reasonably priced pub food, like burgers, pizza, calzones, salad… If you are after a cheap and cheerful place, this will do nicely.
Restaurant Mira is a buffet restaurant on the 2nd floor of the hotel, it is 100 kuna for the buffet and a glass of wine. We decided not to eat here, but I looked at the spread and there was soup, pasta, chicken, salads, vegetables and a dessert stand. It wasn’t by any means a gastronomical delight but it looked reasonable, if you are hungry and want to fill up, it is a good option.
Vučkovec Restauant is another buffet-style restaurant with local cuisine on offer.
Le Batat Restaurant the menu and food here looked delicious from what I could see from the website, a range of healthy and interesting dishes, unfortunately, it was closed while we were there.
And, there are two bars, one in the thermal pool area and another called Ion in the hotel lobby which offers a selection of beers, wine, coffee, tea and fresh smoothies and juices.
Mala Hiža; However, if you really want something unique, I would recommend driving around the region. Međimurje has a fantastic wine road and the surrounding towns have some exceptional restaurants. We decided to drive just out of Čakovec to a highly recommended restaurant called Mala Hiža. It did not disappoint. From the moment you walk in, you know it is going to be something special; we were greeted warmly by the waiter and shown to our table, looking around, it felt as if we could have been in an antique shop, details catch the eye at every turn.
It has been a long time since I have been surprised and overwhelmed by a setting and menu – I could have eaten everything! My husband started with a pheasant soup, I had an entrée of foie gras, in cognac and pomegranate sauce with handmade ravioli filled with pancetta and cheese. For mains, Mirko got the house roasted pork fillet and I got the lamb cutlets in a pistachio, hazelnut and almond crust. It was all divine and they have a number of accolades to attest to this. I could write an entire article just about this restaurant but overall, it was a beautiful dining experience with impeccable service and I highly recommend. It is not the cheapest restaurant by Croatian standards but for two persons, with entrees, mains, 4 glasses of wine and coffee, it came to €100 which I believe is still very reasonable.
After a quick afternoon nap (food coma), we were back to the wellness area for our massages. I booked the Sv. Martin massage for Mirko which was 80-minutes (€60) and an Oriental Massage for myself, 60-minutes (€40). Again, the ladies at the reception greeted us warmly and showed us to our change rooms, where robes and slippers were waiting for us.
A heady mixture of aromatherapy oils filled the air and I was ready to relax. The massage was wonderful, maybe a little ‘softer’ than I would have liked – I am used to sports or Thai massages where they really dig in but, for a relaxing massage and environment, it was perfect and an hour disappeared in an instant. So, if you have the time, opt for a 60-minute massage, I think 40-minutes would have felt too fast.
After the massage, once again, we finished off in the sauna and jacuzzi; the lady at reception only charged us a half-rate because we didn’t use the full time (which was a very nice touch). Completely wiped out, we were back to our apartment, the couch and our wine in Ožujsko glasses by 9.30 pm.
Two things I never thought I would see in the same picture, Ozujsko glasses and Stina Majstor…
Breakfast, one last swim and it was time to check-out (11 am). Again, the process was easy, we handed in our key and bracelets for the spa, were told the total (all of our ‘extras’ were charged to our room), I paid, was handed the receipt and that was it. Not an extra word was spoken, no “how was your weekend”, “thank you, hope to see you again…”
Overall, it was a great weekend, just what we needed. The facilities were fantastic, clean and well-kept, the sauna and massage area were absolutely perfect and the staff were all friendly and polite. If you need a relaxing weekend, whether as a couple, group of friends or family, this is a great idea and in summer they have even more available in terms of activities (horse riding, quad safari, outdoor aqua park, picnic, wine tastings…), making it a rich offer, particularly for families. The entire weekend – 2 nights accommodation with breakfast, 2 nights in the sauna and 2 massages cost us around €300 (2,200 kuna) which I think is a steal for a spa weekend.
Credit: Official Sv Martin LifeClass Terma Page, Aquapark in summer,
It’s just a shame that they missed a few opportunities to turn a great weekend, into an exceptional experience; details like a proper introduction to the hotel and facilities, apartment stocked with a few more items, better explanations at each of the areas (wellness, spa, sauna) and, the final touch – the farewell. After working in hospitality for more than a decade, I am all too aware that the devil is in the detail. Or maybe I am just a harsh critic and most people wouldn’t notice these minor details; regardless, it was still a fab weekend and I would recommend it to anyone.
Just a few extra notes to make your stay that touch better
- Bring a towel: you will be provided a towel in the sauna area but not in the main thermal spa, we had one towel provided in the apartment but you don’t want to use the same towel swimming and bathing for an entire weekend.
- Flip flops/sandals: for walking around the pool areas
- Apartment: I am actually glad we stayed in the apartment, it meant our own space and if you want to save a few kuna, you can buy food from the market and cook your own meals
- Breakfast: if you don’t include breakfast in your stay, then you will need to buy all of your basics – coffee, tea, milk etc. there are mini-supermarkets nearby.
- Wine glasses: ok, you are probably not going to bring your own wine glasses, but if you like a nice bottle of wine like we do, you may want to bring some along, or ask at reception.
- Book a massage or sauna times upon arrival (or even in advance) to save any disappointment or missing out.
- Turn your phone off and enjoy!