Modesty vanished instantly. On my first visit to Baden-Baden, in the historic Friedrichsbad, where bathing nude is normal, had I wandered into the pool for women?
That’s how I learned what gemischt means in spa etiquette: mixed bathing. Posted at check-in, the main pool was for men and women today. Other days the pools are separated.
The Roman-Irish tradition of bathing nude still prevails at Friedrichsbad. Built some 130 years ago, heated by thermal springs, the extravagantly tiled saunas and pools are a natural wonder. Navigating the 17-station circuit—from hot to searing—I sweated away the stress of travel and finished with a body scrub. Cooling down cocooned in heavy blankets, I reflected on Mark Twain’s comment when he visited in 1878: “You forget the world.”
Cooling down cocooned in heavy blankets, I reflected on Mark Twain’s comment when he visited in 1878: “You forget the world.”
Returning with a delegation from the International Spa Association (ISPA), I watched Cornell spa professor Mary Tabacchi enter the pool. Totally sybaritic, she plunged in. Knowing the rules helped.
Sweating naturally is relaxing. Nude bathing has been popular for centuries at Japanese hot springs (onsen) and Finnish saunas. At the Esalen Institute on California’s Big Sur coast, even massage therapists work in the nude.
Today we learn online before going. The computer makes reservations and issues rules of etiquette.
Rule #1: Disconnect. Turn off your mobile device, put tech to sleep. Spa time is for focusing on you. Embrace it.
Rule #2: Hush. Tone down conversation.
Rule #3: Meditate. Concentrate on your inner wisdom instead of the computer screen.
Rule #4: Modesty. Cover up. During manicure, for instance, a towel on your lap protects robe gap.
Rule #5: Ask. Ask your therapist to explain treatments.
Rule #6: Tip. Confirm the spa’s policy; tips are either included in price of service or optional. Look for envelope at reception.
Rule #7: Slide Off. Disconnect to reconnect. Tuck your phone in a cell phone “Sleep Bag.” You can find them in the gift shops at the Golden Door, Rancho La Puerta, and online at Mind in Motion.
Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Examiner.com. Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.