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Spas

The restorative powers of a good soak in a hot pool or sweating it out in a 190-degree sauna are the cornerstones of the German notion of physical and mental wellness and relaxation. The concept of Erholiung (regeneration) is taken seriously.

Endowed with mountain air, salty coastlines, and natural thermal springs, Germany has long enjoyed a spa tradition. Seeking relief from the pains of battle, the Romans erected baths here almost 2,000 years ago, and the 19th century saw spa towns across the country flourish as Europe’s upper classes began to appreciate the soothing effects of fresh air and mineral waters. These days there are hundreds of facilities throughout the country ranging from huge, sophisticated resorts offering precious stone massages and chocolate baths to smaller "wellness" hotels with not much more than a sauna and a relaxation room. There are also plenty of public spas, where a day’s bathing won’t set you back much more than the price of a movie ticket.

Drinking It In

Taking the waters in a spa town often involves imbibing some as well. Bad Mergentheim and Baden-Baden are renowned for their drinking-water springs and the healing properties of the mineral waters that spill from them. Used for everything from the stimulation of the pancreas to curing a sore throat, they are drunk by thousands of visitors every year.

Spa Etiquette

Nudity

Sitting naked in a dimly lit, scorching-hot room or floating au naturel in a thermal pool among a group of strangers may not be everyone’s idea of relaxation. Most Germans have been taken in by the Frei Körper Kultur (Free Body Culture) that stresses a connection to nature through public nudity. Saunas and steam rooms are almost always “textile-free” areas, as are some hot pools. They’re also all mainly mixed sex. The theory is that the body needs to be unencumbered to enjoy the full curative effects of the heat and water. You’ll also be expected to strip down if you’ve booked a massage, although a towel will be provided to preserve some modesty. If you’re not sure what to take off and what to leave on, don’t be afraid to ask.

Bathrobes, Towels, and Sandals

More upmarket wellness locations will provide you with all three, while public spas will expect you to at least bring your own towel. Bathrobes and sandals should be worn in relaxation areas and left outside saunas and steam baths, and towels laid beneath you in the sauna to absorb excess sweat. Most facilities provide these items for purchase or will loan them to you for a small fee.

Showering

A quick shower before first jumping in a pool or entering a sauna is expected, and required between transferring yourself from a sweaty sauna to a plunge pool. A refreshing rinse between each sauna session is part of the procedure, not just for hygiene but also for its therapeutic effects.

Talking

Given that spas are designed to be oases of wellness and relaxation, loud conversation in "adult" areas of the facility, particularly in saunas, steam rooms, and relaxation areas, may be met with sighs of disapproval or even a telling-off.

Spa Glossary

Algae and mud therapy: Applied as packs or full-body bath treatments to nourish the skin and draw out toxins.

Aromatherapy baths: Oils such as bergamot, cypress, and sandalwood are added to hot baths in order to lift the spirits and reduce anxiety.

Ayurveda: Refers to Indian techniques including massage, oils, herbs, and diet to encourage perfect body balance.

Jet massage: Involves standing upright and being sprayed with high-pressure water jets that follow the direction of your blood flow, thereby stimulating circulation.

Liquid sound therapy: A relaxation technique that entails lying in body temperature saltwater and listening to classical or electronic music being played through the water while a kaleidoscope of colors illuminates your surroundings.

Reflexology: Massage on the pressure points of feet, hands, and ears.

Thalasso therapy : A spa treatment employing sea air, water, and mud to heal the body.

Updated: 2014-03-11

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