Anyone who's known me much knows I'm a fan of water. Swimming pools, baths, hot tubs, rivers, even the ocean (if it's warm enough!) are pretty much my favorite places. So I was thrilled when I read that Baden-Wuttenberg, our new home state in Germany, is famous for hot springs and the various mineral baths and spas that one finds in such places.
Our hotel even has a large spa complex, Schwaben-Quellen ("The Waters of Swabia") which we'd meant to enjoy sooner, but as it's a bit pricey and we had so many other things to do, it took us a week to finally venture in. Virtually every American who'd told us about the spa mentioned that, "Hey, it's Europe," followed with a warning about the nudity. Indeed, bathing suits are not allowed at the spa except on special "Textile bath" days, also advertised as "American sauna" days. Our country's prudery is well-known, apparently.
But we're from Northern California, where wearing a suit in a hot tub can be a faux-pas as well, so we figured, why not? The spa offers special discount rates after 9pm, which we figured would be a good introduction.
It's hard to explain what Schwaben-Quellen was like. I've been to some of the few mineral baths in the US that remain, such as Evan's Plunge in South Dakota, but I've never seen quite a shrine to aquatic relaxation as this. It felt very foreign and very confusing, but also very cool.
Apparently we were supposed to get towels from our hotel reception in advance, but we didn't realize this, so we both entered the changing rooms and then started freaking out about the idea of walking around totally naked the whole time. Luckily the slightly exasperated yet polite women working the front desk loaned us very nice towels and waived the typical 5 Euro fee for rental. We were each given a bracelet with an electronic device which gave us entry to the facility, chose a locker for us, and apparently can even be used to pay for additional spa services such as massage and skin treatments, and even food and beverages.
The complex can best be described as a sort of grown-up watery theme park. There is a central cool pool done "Caribbean style" with a volleyball net and waterfalls, surrounded by palapa lounges. The other main pool is an "Icelandic geyser pool" which is warmer (although far below the 100+ degrees that hot tub aficionados like us are used to), and is partially outside. Swimming in a warm, bubbly pool as snow falls on you is a pretty amazing experience, although running
around barefoot on actual snow to make it to the next sauna room was a bit uh, chilly.
Surrounding the pools are at least 20 differently themed steam rooms, saunas, relaxation areas, and tanning beds. I found the relaxation areas kind of silly (I am paying nearly 10 Euro an hour to nap? No way!) but they seemed quite popular with the locals. Everything was themed to a different culture and decorated in a sort of Disney-esque approximation thereof, so we hung out in a "Mayan" steam room and a "Canadian hut" sauna. (This, by the way, is probably some of the last offensive cultural appropriation we've seen so far. Oh, Germany.) There are also special showers located everywhere with water jets in all directions, foot baths, and private rooms for people who pay extra to not have to mingle with the masses.
Overall it was very cool and relaxing, although I wish we'd known a few things in advance, such as that you can (and should) wear slippers, and that even though they don't let you wear clothes in the pools or saunas, many people had bathrobes for walking to and from the different areas. The weirdest part was the restaurant overlooking the main bathing area - you can use your bracelet to get a smoothie, a cocktail, or even dinner - while wearing a towel! Definitely a different experience from an American spa but overall pretty enjoyable, although I have to say that this is one of those times that being extremely nearsighted might be a good thing.