Swiss spas, like most European spas, are quite different from American spas. For one thing, there is a much higher tolerance for nudity at a European spa.
Nudity is taken for granted at Switzerland's famous Engadine Bad Scuol, a destination wellness, and therapy center in the resort town of Scuol known for its Roman-Irish baths. People have been making pilgrimages to this Swiss spa town since the mid-1300s, and today five of the town’s fountains continue to dispense the area's precious mineral water.
The Engadine Bad Scuol was Switzerland’s first Roman-Irish bath, which melds two distinct European bathing traditions. While the Romans swore by the relaxing properties of steam baths at various temperatures, the Irish placed their faith in hot, dry air.
Nineteenth-century bathing culture combined these two styles in a single ritual. A soap and brush massage to cleanse the skin and stimulate the circulation along with a body creaming station are all part of the ritual. It ends in the dimmed light of the relaxation room where guests, wrapped snugly in a warm blanket, can bask in the beauty of the mountains of the Lower Engadine.
The outdoor pool has the added advantage of superb views of the Lower Engadine Dolomites and Piz Pisoc, a mountain in the Sesvenna Range of the Alps and the highest mountain in the Swiss National Park.
What Happens in the Spa, Stays in the Spa
Let's take a look at an American couple's visit to this well-known spa for a typical day visit.
The visitors first check in at reception and pay for the service they desire in Swiss francs, also leaving a hefty deposit for two towels. In this case, let's say the visitors want one of the spa's popular massages.
A spa attendant leads the visitors, pretty peach-colored towels in hand, downstairs to an unmarked door and instructs them to remove their shoes.
The facility is impressive: spacious, clean, and state of the art. And it is packed with people of all ages and sizes. The spa attendant takes the couple into a large changing area, where she points to one of the dozens of dressing rooms. The husband and wife disrobe in the room and exit wearing their rented peach-colored towels.
This is Switzerland after all, so all the signs are in German and Italian (in the areas around Bern and Graubünden, the signs might also be in French). The English-speaking couple asks for help and is led to a locker, where they stow their clothing. With locker keys in hand, they head around the corner to the spa.
Walking through the spa showers, they quickly notice that Engadine Bad Scuol is distinctly co-ed—and that everyone is padding around in the nude. They quickly realize that they are overdressed in their peach-colored towels. Walking gingerly through the naked city, they peek at men and women in the altogether lingering languidly in the vapor baths and bubbling pools.
Folks in various stages of undress pop into saunas while others down the precious local mineral water. At a juice bar, they ask, “Wo ist die masseuse?” and are directed around another corner to a small, brightly lit room with no music or candles. Finally, a young Swiss woman greets them and treats them to a Swedish massage.