The Germans sure know how to take a bath!
In the German town of Baden-Baden, nestled in the foothills of the Black Forest, more than 210,000 gallons of hot mineral-rich water bubble up daily from 12 thermal springs.
Not surprisingly, there are several spas in Baden-Baden. Some are attached to hotels and resorts.
Two of the finest are stand-alone spas in the heart of the beautiful spa town.
There’s the Caracalla Therme (which we cover at the end of this post).
But the best Baden-Baden spa – if you don’t mind getting naked – is its sister operation, the Friedrichsbad. Right next door to the Caracalla spa, the Friedrichsbad elevates the simple act of getting clean into a decadent three-and-a-half hour ritual.
And just like you must go to a Turkish hammam in Istanbul, when in Baden-Baden, you must visit the Friedrichsbad!
The Friedrichsbad, Baden-Baden: History
The Friedrichsbad spa was built at the end of Baden-Baden’s belle epoque as the summer capital of Europe, when Queen Victoria, Dostoevsky, King Ludwig of Bavaria and Brahms would stroll its leafy Lichtentaler Allee park.
Baden-Baden’s famous casino (described later by Marlene Dietrich as the “most beautiful” in the world) had closed, and the town needed a new attraction.
Hence the Friedrichsbad – an enormous neoclassical palace – opened in 1877, dedicated to the art of bathing.
And whether you spend a week or a weekend in Baden-Baden, be sure you set aside time for the Friedrichsbad.
German spa etiquette
Be prepared to leave your modesty outside.
Have you heard of textile-free spas? The Friedrichsbad is one of them. You’ll strip completely (all part of the German sauna culture) and be in a “textile-free zone” (i.e., swimsuits are verboten).
These Baden-Baden baths are also co-ed most days. And even on days when men and women enter separate dressing rooms, everyone still comes together for a couple of stages in the middle.
The Germans are quite used to this. It’s only the tourists who look sheepish.
And we have to admit we felt uncomfortable too for a while at the beginning of our Friedrichsbad bath journey – until we started to relax and enjoy our time.
Friedrichsbad baths: 17 stages of bathing pleasure
You follow a 17-step ritual combining Roman-Irish bathing traditions.
First you get butt naked. Then you walk from one opulent tiled room to another.
The rooms are filled with clouds of steam, hot dry air or pools of varying temperatures.
Signs along the way indicate the recommended amount of time you should spend at the different stations.
You should allow at least three hours for this exclusive bathing treat. And even then, time will fly.
When Mark Twain took to the thermal waters at the Friedrichsbad, he wrote, “You lose track of time within ten minutes and track of the world within twenty.”
Getting squeaky clean at this Baden-Baden spa!
Stage 1: Shower
A white-garbed attendant (and she’s a female attendant in the ladies’ locker room) guides you to the shower room for a strong hot dunk under a showerhead as big as a dinner plate.
Stages 2 and 3: Warm- and hot-air bath
You recline on a teak lounger, first in a vaulted warm room, then in a hot sauna room, while staring up at decorative tiles of peacocks, flowers and lily ponds.
Your body temperature rises, and you begin to sweat.
Stage 4: Shower again
Take another shower under another huge showerhead.
Stage 5: Brush and soap massage
This is the brush and soap massage – lie down on a white marble bed in a white marble room, and a masseuse lathers you like a baby, massages you and scrubs you with a stiff brush.
And, yes, she slaps you on the backside when done.
Stage 6: Shower
Rinse off again. (You’re starting to feel quite clean by now!)
Stages 7 and 8: Thermal steam baths
Then it’s on to a thermal steam room, with massive mysterious-looking copper pipes coiled around exposed rocks.
Grab a clean white fanny pad, and sit on a stepped pyramid-shaped block in the center. The higher you sit, the hotter the steam (48 degrees C).
Move on next to another room for a slightly hotter thermal steam bath.
Stages 9 and 10: Thermal full bath and whirlpool bath
Next stop: Statues of a Roman god and goddess greet you at a warm pool, which is followed by a cooler whirlpool bath.
We half-expected slaves to emerge and feed us grapes.
Stage 11: Thermal exercise bath
Finally, you reach a large swimming pool, encircled by gold columns, with an elaborately painted domed roof (55 feet high) and stucco cupids.
The water temperature is perfect here for swimming a few gentle laps.
Stage 12: Shower
Head back to the shower room again.
Stage 13: Cold water bath
From here, a freezing cold plunge awaits.
Yes, you must do it. And it feels very cold after all those hot-air baths and warm water soaks!
Stages 14 and 15: Drying off and cream massage
The water journey ends with another shower and a gigantic warm corn towel, followed by getting your skin massaged and moisturized with lotion.
The best part of these Baden-Baden thermal baths?
And then the best part – a well-earned nap in a luxurious relaxation room (Stage 16).
“Are you ready for bed?” an attendant asked as we were led to a heavily draped room, where she wrapped each of us up in a warm blanket and offered to wake us 30 minutes later.
Stage 17, the last stage is enjoyable too, as you get to finish with a cup of tea as you thumb through different language magazines in the reading room.
Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish bath
You may hear the Friedrichsbad described as Roman-Irish baths.
Underneath the Friedrichsbad are the ruins of 2,000-year old Roman baths.
The Romans too liked bathing in stages, and the onsite museum has artifacts showcasing their bathing culture, like a strigl, a sickle-shaped tool used for scraping the skin after sweating in the caldarium.
The “Irish” bathing part of this Germany spa is the hot-air bath or sauna component.
Irish hot-air baths were championed by an Irish doctor, Richard Barter, in the late 1800s. He believed that sweating in dry hot air had health benefits, and he was involved in building bath houses in Cork, Dublin for medical treatments.
Hours and Friedrichsbad mixed days
Caracalla, Baden-Baden (not a naked German spa)
We think the Friedrichsbad is the best spa in Baden-Baden.
But if you’re not comfortable trying on the nude German spa experience, the modern Caracalla spa is a great way to get your soak on. Bathing suits are worn here, so it comes without the gawk factor.
The Caracalla is ginormous.
It offers more than 43,000 square feet of space to splash about, including steam rooms (with aromatherapy infusions), a hot water grotto, cold plunge pools and a brine inhalation room plus a swim-through passage to outdoor pools in the gardens.
There are no “stages” like at the Friedrichsbad – you move about as you please. Many people enjoy this freedom.
Where to stay in Baden-Baden
We bedded down at the lovely Hotel Belle-Epoque.
A villa built in 1874 and now a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it has 20 rooms and suites decorated in Louis XIV, Victorian and other different styles.
That wraps up our guide on the Friedrichsbad spa, Baden-Baden!
Both the Friedrichsbad and Caracalla are two gorgeous Baden-Baden spas. You can’t go wrong whichever you choose.
But for a completely different experience, pick the Friedrichsbad.
Would you be comfortable bathing nude at co-ed baths?
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