Germany has a long history of spas and wellness. Romans appreciated the hot mineral springs at Baden-Baden, and beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries, Europe’s royalty and other aristocrats would meet at the great German spa resort towns.
You can still have a taste of the life they enjoyed with an historic (and nude) bathing experience at Friedrichsbad or by staying at spas like Villa Stephanie at Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa in Baden-Baden, one of the best spas in Germany.
Germany has nearly 900 spa resorts, including mineral and mud spas, climatic health resorts (known for fresh air), sea-side resorts, and Kniepp hydrotherapy spa resorts.
If you want to enjoy the great resort town of Baden-Baden or elaborate public baths of Bad Duerrheim, go to the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemburg. It borders France and shares that country’s love of food and great culinary traditions, so you can eat exceptionally well there.
If you go, there are a few differences between American spas and German spas you should be aware of:
German spas have a more relaxed attitude towards nudity at the spa. The therapists don’t worry so much about elaborate draping techniques, and the saunas and steam baths are co-ed and nude. It’s easy, if you relax, too.
Hotel spas don’t have elaborate changing rooms like American spas. Most people stroll to the spa in their robes. They’re nice, but don’t have the super-lavish, over-the-top feel of the largest American spas (unless you’re in the sauna and steam wing – in which case they’re more lavish).
Sauna and steam baths are more sophisticated – more rooms, a range of temperatures, hot and cold plunge pools, scents and special lighting. At Bad Duerrheim near Donaueschingen, it gets close to fantasyland. Think igloo rooms, open fires you can warm your feet by, chamomile-scented steam rooms and a real live person to whip the air in the Finnish sauna - -just to make it hotter.
The public baths are a great bargain. For anywhere from five to 30 euros -- a fraction of the cost of a massage in America -- you can while away the day moving from pool to pool, some large as a swimming pool, others more for lounging. It’s a delightful way for lovers and old folks to spend the afternoon (and sometimes they’re one and the same.)
The spa terminology is a little different in Europe. Spas affiliated with hotels often have a “beauty farm.” This is the part of the spa that takes care of facials and make-up. This distinguishes it from the “medical” or “wellness” portion of the spa, where people get massages – sometimes on doctor’s prescriptions – and take cures.
There’s no language barrier in big cities like Stuttgart or major destinations like Baden-Baden. But once you get off the beaten track, don’t assume everyone will speak perfect, fluent English. While most Germans have studied it, they might be a little rusty. If you don't know German, get a phrase book.