Any visit to the Strasbourg-Alsace region wouldn’t be complete without a quick nip across the border to the famous spa town of Baden-Baden for a dip in the waters.
There are two sets of baths that you can check into for a few hours of relaxation: the Friedrichsbad, which is advertised as a “Roman-Irish” spa, and the Caracalla, an all-encompassing spa for the masses.
The Roman-Irish experience, although I have yet to experience it myself, combines classic hot baths (Roman) with sadistic cold ones (Irish). You need to check whether it’s a boys day or a girls day or a unisex day before you go/book – as it’s a 100% naked experience. You are allowed to wrap yourself tightly with a towel most of the time of course – but it’s worth knowing that cossies are forbidden.
If, like me, you blush reasonably easily – then Caracalla is the best option. Here you can remain in your swimmers for the entire visit – provided you don’t venture up to the first floor where the saunas are.
BUT! If you are partial to sweating yourself clean – then this is the place for you! After a quick, mandatory shower you ascend a spiral staircase into the ‘material free’ zone where you are greeted by a set of clear perspex shelves in which to deposit your costume. Then, letting it all hang out, you are free to wander from sauna to steam bath to shower with impunity. If you’re coy then you may like to cover your bits up with a towel (and do us all a favour).
Not everyone is coy. Middle aged men wandering around in nothing but flip-flops and glasses is not an uncommon sight here.
You are advised to either take one large towel or two smaller towels with you into the saunas – as you are expected to mop up your own sweat. A small one for your feet stops the cheesey smelling sweat from permeating the woodwork and a large one for your buttocks catches the rest. You may enter the sauna with your towels – but flip-flops, sandals and spectacles need to be left outside. Spectacles can be worn inside the sauna of course – but if they have metal frames they tend to heat up fairly quickly and may burn the side of your cranium before you know it.
Each sauna is equipped with 15 minute hour glasses (egg timers), to ensure you don’t overcook yourself, some form of lighting, and usually an obese German pensioner to make you feel slim.
Highlights include the two Finnish log-cabin sauna’s outside on the private terrace, heated to 85 and 95 degrees centigrade, and a steam bath – where you’re required to ‘hose-down’ where you were sitting before you leave.
Oddities include the Blue Room – where they play relaxing music in near darkness – the ‘plunge pools’ filled with ice-cold water that you’re supposed to throw yourself into just after a sauna, the foot-spas that are little more than a bunch of bathroom sinks sunk into the floor … and of course the other patrons.
The Caracalla textile-free zone seems to be frequented by persons of a certain age and a certain size. And by that I don’t mean it’s full of young Swedish super-models. The average punter seems to be about aged 50, overweight and tanned. If you want eye-candy then staying downstairs in the swimming area is the best course of action.
Despite the scenery, it is well worth getting your kit off to enjoy the delights of the Caracalla fully. Though, it is worth timing your visit to ensure the place isn’t already packed with (other) large, sweaty, wrinkly, wobbly people when you get there.
[Eaux-les-bains plays 28-31 May at TAPS Scala, Neudorf, Strasbourg.]