If you’ve looked at my profile, you’ll see that I am on a world tour of nudie spas. Well this is the place that kicked it all off.
Even if you think that you are too shy or too prudish to go, bear with me (or is that bare with me?) and I will try to convince you to cast your cares aside with your clothes and enjoy some utter relaxation.
The Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden is an absolute treasure. It is styled as a Roman-Irish baths, the Irish being the first stages of large rooms of hot air, followed by the Roman baths in natural thermal waters. The building itself dates from 1877 and has clearly been restored fairly recently, but done cleverly so that the original tiling features and huge mosaics blend perfectly with some trompe l’oeil painting on the walls in an approximation of an original Roman style.
The best way to describe the sensations on offer is to relate the strict 16-stage regimen that you will experience.
Initially males and females have their own entrance and changing rooms. In here you will be expected to strip down to nothing and present yourself to the attendant who will issue you with a cotton sheet and a pair of plastic sandals. This will be the most you will be dressed for the next 3 hours or so.
At each stage of the process there are clear multilingual instructions on the wall detailing the instructions and precise duration of each part. The attendant will accompany you to (stage 1) a deluge shower where you get yourself properly clean for the imminent regime. The sign on the wall says 5 minutes, but no-ones keeping a clock on you. I could stay there all day though. Following the arrow you come to (2) a warm air bath at 54c (129f) in a large room where you lay on your sheet on a wooden day bed. In here the heat comes from through the tiled floor which explains the need for the sandals, after 15 minutes you move into (3) a similar smaller room at 68c (154f) for just 5 minutes. There are drinking taps throughout by the way. Onto (4) a deluge shower to wash away the impurities that are starting you leave your body. The next steps are optional and cost a little extra (€8) but well worth it.
There a may be a slight wait (5) as a masseur becomes available (always same sex) to deliver a soap and brush massage. This is the most astonishingly invigorating thing, a good quality deep massage head to toe in soap followed by a going over with what feels like a scouring pad. I cannot begin to describe how good it feels as your skin, fresh from the heat tingles all over. This is the point at which you will leave your sandals and cotton sheet behind. If you’ve opted for the massage it will be covered in soap and saturated anyway. As you stand in the (6) shower again you feel reborn, and for the rest of your visit you will be as naked and fresh as the day you were.
Through the door lies (7) the first steam bath at 45c (113f) and then (8) a further one at 48c (119f). Although nominally this section is still single sex, men will often find that women will join them in this room. I am reliably informed that it is better than the ‘women’s side’, which at this stage is definitely not co-ed. Both rooms actually have one wall as the hillside, and the thermal waters feed direct in to the room and down the walls.
Into the thermal baths proper, for the men this will always be mixed, although for ladies this can be experienced single sex on some days. The next stage (9) is a large Thermal bath, 5 metres long and 36c (97f) which is gorgeous. This is normally where I meet up with my partner again, around a hour in to the treatment. Onwards to (10) the aerated thermal bath at 34c (93f) and 8m by 6m. Although silence is encouraged at all points around the treatment, here there tends to be a great murmuring as reunited partners discuss how fabulous it all is. Up to 30 people tend to share this bath at once. Sometimes you can even see it occur to people all of a sudden – ‘we’re all nude!’
I promise you, you will have hardly noticed. It is so germane to the process and the process develops so organically, that even if you do feel even slightly self-conscious initially, this disappears very quickly. You will see all sizes and ages all together in the altogether, and it’s fine.
The final shared experience is in the most spectacular room of all (11) the superb cold, well at 28c (82f) it seems cold after all that heat, 7m diameter circular Kino therapeutic bath below a fabulous domed ceiling. This feels like how it must have been for the Romans. You half expect a eunuch to be waiting at the side to feed you grapes.
You are given between 3 and 3 ½ hours at the Friedrichsbad, depending on whether you have had a massage, and my partner and I tend to repeat stages 7 to 11 a few times because a) you can and b) it’s so damn good. I could stay there all day, wallowing in the warm water, floating, relaxing and feeling really, really clean.
When you have had your fill it is back to the (12) deluge shower to clean away any stray minerals and then into the ultra cold immersion bath (13) to close up all those pores. Only for the brave that, I see many people skip it. Then onto the pampering - warm towels (14) and (15) moisturising in front of full length mirrors followed by the coup de grace. You will feel like you can’t get any more relaxed when you are (16) wrapped in a warm blanket and lain on a bed in a pitch black room where you rest for 30 minutes. There is much oversleeping going on in here. It’s my partners favourite section and really does top off the relaxation aspect. I can never fully relax in there because you have to lay on your back and I worry too much that I’ll snore.
Anyway, it is my favourite thing in the whole world.
Forget any inhibitions you may have. Just do it.