The Germans sure know how to take a bath!
In the spa town of Baden-Baden, one hour west of Stuttgart, 800,000 litres of hot mineral-rich water bubble up daily from 12 thermal springs.
It’s here that the Friedrichsbad elevates the simple act of getting clean into a decadent three-and-a-half hour ritual.
The Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden
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.
Friedrichsbad baths: 17 stages of bathing pleasure
Today, bathers follow a 17-step ritual combining Roman-Irish bathing traditions.
First you get butt naked (swimsuits are verboten); 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 time to spend in each room.
German spa etiquette
But leave your modesty outside.
These Baden-Baden baths are 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 (one of the things you’d learn quickly if living abroad in Germany). It’s only the tourists who look sheepish.
Getting squeaky clean at this Baden-Baden spa!
Stage 1: Shower
A white-garbed attendant guides you to the shower room for a strong hot dunk under shower heads as big as plates.
Stages 2 and 3: Warm- and hot-air bath
You recline on a teak lounger in a vaulted warm then hot sauna room, while staring up at decorative tiles of peacocks, flowers and lily ponds.
Stage 4: Shower again
Take another shower under those huge shower heads.
Stage 5: Soap and brush massage
This is the soap-and-brush massage – lie down on a white marble bed in a white marble room, and a masseuse lathers you like a baby 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, statues of a Roman god and goddess greet you at a warm pool, which is followed by a cooler whirlpool bath.
I 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 this Baden-Baden spa?
And then the best part – a well-earned nap (Stage 16).
“Are you ready for bed?” an attendant asked as I was led to a heavily draped room, where she wrapped me up in blankets and offered to wake me 30 minutes later.
Stage 17, the last stage is enjoyable too, as you get to thumb through different language magazines in the reading room.
Friedrichsbad Roman-Irish bath
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” part of this Germany spa is the hot-air bath or sauna component.)
Modern Caracalla Spa (not a naked spa)
Steps away, there’s also the modern Caracalla Spa, with more than 32,000 square feet of pools, including an outdoor area in the gardens
But it’s without the gawk factor – bathing suits are worn there.
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.
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