All you thermal bath aficionados take note—the ultimate bad experience is to be had in aptly named Baden-Baden, Germany, known for its thousands-of-years-old mineral-rich thermal springs. Literally translated the name means bathing-bathing and that is what you can do in Baden-Baden where there are two huge thermal baths.
The modern facility, the Caracalla Spa, has indoor and outdoor pools, sauna, whirlpools and offers a range of spa therapies. At Caracalla, men and women bathe together wearing bathing suits in the pools and saunas, lounging in robes on the deck chairs and solarium.
Not so at the Friedrichsbad where the badding is au naturel—no suits, no nothing, except your own skin. Based on a Roman-Irish tradition, the thermal experience warms and cools your body through seventeen stations or rooms. The rooms are numbered but you do not have to follow them in exact order. In fact you won't follow the numbers if you pay the extra fee for the soap/brush scrub down—highly recommended.
The grand stone building harkens back to another era, as do the spa rooms. Once your clothes are stashed in your locker, you don a long narrow sheet (called a towel but it is not) and enter the shower room. Here you rinse off and can go into one of two pools, or go through the door into the first warm room. I don't know how they do it, but in the warm-air and hot-air rooms the lounge chairs emanate heat which saturates your body. The protocol is to lay your sheet down on the lounger and then you on top of it for hygiene's sake. And speaking of cleanliness, the lack of chlorine aroma is definitely appreciated (I believe they purify with ozone).
Room number 3—the hot-air room (154ºF)—was my personal favorite—with beautiful tile-covered walls adorned with hand-painted colorful birds. This room is serene and soaks your body with deep heat. The steam room (my second favorite) is where one waits patiently for the scrub down. You can leave and go into the larger pools beyond, but don't miss out on your massage number or you will regret it. I invoked the Kneipp theory of immersing your extremities in cold water by employing the cold water hoses dotting the steam room, which uses natural geothermal heat as its warming source.
The scrub down is all too brief for my liking but wonderful nonetheless. Your sheet is laid down on a stone table and you on it. Soft or hard brush? I chose medium. Expert hands lather you with soap and scrub you from head to toe, both sides, before you are tapped and told to rinse off in the little shower within the massage room.
Then off you go to finish your water therapy. Some people spend three to four hours luxuriating in the spa, others make short order of it and are done in less than two. My advice, don't miss the finale—the resting or relaxation room. This is the cherry on top—a circular room with massage tables where the attendant wraps you in a warm sheet and then a blanket like you are a papoose. The tranquil, nurturing space allows your nervous system to integrate the deep healing of the waters and warmth. Linger here for as long as you want.
The bad is open year-round. Three days a week (Monday, Thursday and Saturday), men and women bathe separately except for the two center pools which can be avoided by the modest. The rest of the week bathing is fully coed, so the shy and modest should plan accordingly.
The bad is open every day from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, but you must arrive at least two hours before closing. Prices are 23, 35 or 47 Euros depending on whether you are getting a massage or not.
Friedrichsbad, Römerplatz 1, 76530 Baden-Baden; Tel: 07221 275970