Sunday was the day we’d been waiting for. It was the day we planned to brave the Friedrichsbad, well known around the world for being an old fashioned Roman-Irish bath. I remember when I first heard of the Friedrichsbad bath. It was back in 2015, when I wrote about how, in France, men have to wear Speedos at public swimming pools. In that post, I mentioned that my husband, Bill, would not want to wear Speedos for anything, but I was working on getting him to consent to a visit at the Friedrichsbad in Baden-Baden. At that time, I was also a bit leery of being naked in front of strangers.
Well… as of June of 2017, Bill and I both took the naked plunge for the first time when we visited Palais Thermal in Bad Wildbad, which is a mostly nude spa. Since that bold day in early June, we’ve done the naked thing a few more times at the Schwabenquellen in Stuttgart, and at Böblingen’s own Mineraltherme. The Schwabenquellen is all nude except on certain days and/or at certain times. The Mineraltherme is nude in the saunagarten on the bottom floor, which has a pool area. Frankly, having now seen the Mineraltherme’s whole complex, I think not going to the saunagarten is a waste. There’s a whole lot more to do in the nude area.
The Friedrichsbad is different, though. It’s not really like the other nude spas we’ve been to. For one thing, it’s a very old bathhouse and looks it. It was opened in 1877 and does not have any of the new fangled finery of the other spas. Hell, it doesn’t even have 1980s era finery. This is an old school spa. However, of all of the spas we’ve done, I like it the most.
We decided to do the Friedrichsbad before we tried neighboring Caracalla because I knew Caracalla was going to be like the other places we’ve been. Also, I had a feeling that the Friedrichsbad was an experience best had first thing in the morning… and also, we happened to be out for breakfast without our towels or bathing suits and we didn’t feel like going back to the room to fetch them. There is no need to bring a bathing suit or a towel to the Friedrichsbad. They provide everything, even shower gel.
We had walked into the downtown area in search of an economical breakfast and found one at the assembly line like bakery called Peters am Leo. This place was doing quite a brisk business when we arrived at about 9:00am.
Very cheerful and busy!
We noticed they had a breakfast deal for two people priced at 19,95 euros, so we went for that. It was a lot of food… more than we needed.
We got fresh fruit, some kind of “vanilla mousse” with raspberry, butter, and jam…
Scrambled eggs with bacon mixed in, cold cuts, cheese, and a big basket of bread, hot drinks (I had hot chocolate and Bill had coffee), and a choice of either Sekt or orange juice. We had orange juice. We couldn’t finish everything.
I was treated to a nice view of the action.
I started to enjoy breakfast until I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of someone gearing up to spit. I glanced over at the table catty cornered to ours just in time to see the guy who was sitting there spit into his plate. It really grossed me out, which seems strange, since I have neither a filter nor an appreciation for the concept of TMI. Fortunately, the guy got up and left, but not without leaving part of his breakfast on the table.
I was eager to forget about the “loogie hocking” guy, so we made our way to the old bathhouse. When we entered at about 10:00am, things were pretty quiet. A pleasant and very laid back looking black lady was sitting at the admissions booth. She would later help us when we decided to visit the Caracalla spa next door. I think she recognized us, too.
The famous baths on a sunny Sunday morning. I think that may be a great time to go to the baths. It wasn’t very busy when we arrived, but business was picking up as we left.
Anyway, when we met her the first time, she greeted us kindly in English and was patient as we ordered the luxury plus package. Priced at 59 euros per person, this is the most “luxurious” of the packages. It includes soap and brush massage, a cream massage, a meal, and a drink at the spa restaurant in the Caracalla. If I’d had more time to read up, I would have gone for the luxury ticket, which eschewed the meal. It turns out the meal and drink offered at the spa restaurant are limited to salads and pasta. Also, I would have rather eaten somewhere else. Leave it to me to go for the most expensive deal.
The luxury and luxury plus tickets allow up to four hours in the baths. We didn’t need that long to go through the whole experience, but it’s nice to know we could have stayed longer if we’d wanted to. Those who don’t want the whole experience can opt for a basic ticket, which doesn’t include soap or cream massages or the wellness ticket, which leaves out the cream massage. Each progressive step in inclusiveness adds another ten euros to the cost. We paid 118 euros. Credit cards are accepted.
Once we paid our admission, the lady gave us waterproof wristwatches… the same kind we’ve gotten at every German spa we’ve ever attended. Sunday happened to be a “mixed” day, which meant men and women were coming from both sides of the spa. Some days, the sexes are split. Women go to the right and men go to the left. I wanted to experience the baths with Bill at my side, so we chose the mixed day.
After we found lockers, we grabbed the sheets that were left inside, got completely naked in changing rooms (which now seems ridiculous under the circumstances), and were beckoned into the baths by a bunch of very brawny looking men in white uniforms. I soon realized that the other side of the spa was staffed with similarly attired women.
The men, a couple of whom spoke English, directed us to get shower shoes and then take showers under the old style open bay showers. They had big levers that controlled the water temperature in a rather crude way. It kind of reminded me of a prison shower, not that I have any experience with prisons, mind you. It’s just that it was very crude and not private at all. And though we had entered the baths covered with a sheet, that lasted maybe a minute before they were taken away.
The shower shoes, at least on the men’s side, were huge and way too big for my feet. But I only wore them for a short while, as we sat in a warm room for ten minutes, then a hotter room for five. The shoes were necessary because the floor is very hot and will burn your feet if you walk in there unshod.
After we sat in the hot rooms, we took another shower, then were summoned for the soap and scrubbing, and a massage. Bill’s therapist was a big German guy who spoke English. I got a burly Russian man whose German seemed rather elementary– or, I’m going to assume he was Russian. He could have been Bulgarian, Polish, or Ukrainian, for all I know. I don’t think he was German, though.
He invited me to lie face up on the table as he scrubbed my body with soap and a scrub brush, rinsed, then had me roll over so he could do the other side. Then, he gave me a vigorous massage that made a couple of joints crack audibly. It was a rather surreal experience… almost clinical, yet kind of primal, too.
There I was, naked as the day I was born, lying totally exposed on a table with bright lighting shining down on my bare body, as if I were in a hospital. And yet, despite decades of feeling ashamed of my body, I didn’t really care that much. I mean, the staff sees all kinds of people day in and day out. They were totally professional, and it’s not even like I was the biggest and ugliest person there. Besides, after a few minutes, the nudity thing doesn’t really matter at all. Everybody’s naked, and I think most people just stop noticing.
After our enthusiastic massages were finished, we went into the first of two steam rooms. The first room was kind of warm and smelled heavily of sulfur. We were in there for ten minutes, sitting on “butt pads”. Then we went to a warmer steam room for five minutes. I looked to my right and noticed the very old equipment that was making the steam from Baden-Baden’s ancient thermal springs. After another shower, we went to station 9, which was the first pool. It was nice and warm and very tranquil as we soaked for ten minutes. That was really what I had been waiting for the whole time. It was heavenly and extremely relaxing.
Next came a short time in a shallow pool that bubbled. We sat there until it was time to hit station 11, which is the beautiful round pool that is featured in all of Friedrichsbad’s literature. What I didn’t know was that the water in that beautiful pool is very cold! We did our five minutes there, then went to the other side of the pool. This was where things went a little awry.
Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were supposed to stay on the side we came in on. When we went to the pool on the other side of the round pool, we ended up on the wrong side of the baths. This is only a big deal because we needed to be on the side where we entered in order to access our lockers. When we got to the end of the line, which included more showers and a dip in an ice cold pool, a female staffer turned us around. I now realize that if we’d done the last part on the female side, we would have had to somehow get to the other side while naked. Either way, we had to backtrack or else flash everyone in the public part of the building.
So, we turned around and walked back through the stations until we got to the men’s side. We were greeted by the same big dudes with big hands, who wrapped us in warm towels and invited us to wait for the cream massage. The same Russian guy who did my soap scrubbing took me to a private room, while Bill got a different German guy. The Russian guy expertly rubbed herbal smelling cream all over my naked body. Once again, I was strangely uninhibited. He was very much an expert. I left his care with skin like a newborn baby’s as he directed us to drink tea in the “reading room”.
Actually, we were supposed to go “sleep” for thirty minutes in the sleeping room, but to be honest, I was alright with skipping that part. I doubt I would have slept, anyway. Besides, it was just nice to relax on the lounger in the “reading room” with unsweetened hot tea and Bill at my side. It was a very restful experience for me, although I will admit that it’s not for everyone. I know many people would prefer not to bare their bodies to the world. But, I have to say… now that I’ve gotten into nudity, it doesn’t really faze me at all anymore. In fact, I find it quite liberating. Maybe I’m more German than 23andMe says I am.
When we were finished relaxing at the Friedrichsbad, we went back to the locker room, got dressed, and went back to the hotel. After a short break there, we packed up day bags with swimsuits, towels, and robes. I wasn’t going to leave Baden-Baden without trying both of its best known spas. Also, because we got the Luxury Plus ticket, we were owed a meal at the Caracalla spa.
The guy at the spa restaurant who waited on us was quite the smooth talker. I noticed he was easily mingling in French, German, English, and even a little bit of Russian. I was a little cranky because most of their beer was non-alcoholic. In the restaurant, they do have wine and one “real” beer. I ended up with a non-alcoholic hefeweizen, which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great. I also got a Coke because it came with our coupons.
I somehow ended up with a side of duck, which wasn’t covered by the coupon. At least it tasted good.
Bill had a chef’s salad.
I had a “fruity” salad, which was made with shrimps, mangoes, cherry tomatoes, onions, and greens. The bread was excellent. It was soft and not too crusty.
After lunch, we tried the Caracalla Spa… and, I gotta say, I was much less impressed with it than any of the other spas I’ve been to. First off, it was very crowded yesterday. It’s also been around awhile, as evidenced by how everything looked. The tiles were all faded and somewhat discolored. The water looked a little bit cloudy. I guess I’m used to the Mineraltherme, which was just extensively refurbished last year.
They were repairing the “blue grotto”, which probably would have been packed with people, anyway. The only thing I really liked about the Caracalla Spa was this really cool current alley in one of the outdoor pools. It was almost like shooting the rapids as it propelled spa-goers down a pass. But we had to be careful not to be shot into someone standing on the side of the pool. I think some people were oblivious to the danger of careening bodies in the strong currents.
As crowded as the Mineraltherme gets sometimes, at least their snack bars have wine and beer and really good food. The one thing the Caracalla had that the Mineraltherme didn’t was fresh squeezed juices, which were admittedly delicious. Bill and I tried their orange juice, which was nice after a couple of sauna sessions. Other than that, I was not all that impressed with Caracalla. I would much rather visit the Friedrichsbad again. The Caracalla also has a saunagarten that costs extra, but it doesn’t have a nude pool. Instead, there are a bunch of saunas and one whirlpool that was packed the whole time. It wasn’t very relaxing at all. We paid for three hours and left about halfway through.
When we were finished at the Caracalla Spa, we walked back to the hotel and I took a shower. We enjoyed a rest after our big day of relaxing baths. Actually, I was surprised by how tired I was after hitting two spas in one day. As the sun went down, I told Bill that I wanted to have dinner somewhere, so we wouldn’t end up sitting around drinking wine. We decided to try Rizzi & Co., which is a wine bar very close to the hotel. I was glad to try it, because I had been eyeing the menu the whole time we were in town. We were also lucky because they happened to have one two top open for us. The next couple who showed up without a reservation was out of luck.
The menu looked good.
Obligatory menu shot of Bill… We weren’t very hungry, so we went with something fairly light.
I had salmon filet with broccoli and a maple glaze. I enjoyed the salmon, but especially liked the broccoli, which was really more like broccolini. It was surprisingly tasty.
Bill had rare tuna, served with chopsticks, soy sauce, and wasabi. It was just the right size. Naturally, we also enjoyed a very nice red wine.
The bar area was pretty cool, although they were playing dance music that made us feel ancient. I think a lot of Russians frequent Rizzi & Co. It looks like it caters to the young and hip.
For dessert, I had Le Colonel, which is lemon sorbet with a shot of vodka poured over it.
And Bill had vanilla mousse, which was covered with mangoes… I thought it looked like cream of corn soup!
It’s a very hip place.
Since we were told we had 90 minutes, we were quick about eating dinner. I was ready to go to bed, anyway. I think we were both out cold before 9:30pm. In fact, I remember waking from a sound sleep at just past eleven for a potty break. It’s exhausting trying to relax. When we got back to the hotel, one of the receptionists said, “Good night, Mr. and Mrs. Crossen.” That really blew Bill’s mind. It’s something when the staff at a big hotel remembers your name. It happened a few times during our visit. I think it’s the hallmark of superb service.
This morning, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel. We went back to the breakfast room and loaded up at the buffet and enjoyed the excellent coffee. I was thinking maybe we wouldn’t have eggs again, but a very charming German gent, whose name was Friedrich and had probably worked there for awhile, charmed us into having scrambled eggs. He indulged Bill’s German and also greeted him by name, without any prompting. Maybe we were easy to remember since I don’t think there were too many Americans there during our visit. We also had a shot of espresso for the road.
When it came time to check out, we were warmly welcomed by the same chap who had checked us in. He was delighted when we gushed about our weekend and invited me to sign up for their email service/newsletter, which is free of charge and entitles us to perks like free breakfast (which is well worth it). Since we’re moving to Wiesbaden and Wiesbaden isn’t all that far from Baden-Baden, I could see us coming back to Brenners Park, even if it is super expensive. We really enjoyed ourselves and the service is absolutely top notch. Of course, I’m not sure how we’re going to downgrade from a junior suite. They’re probably counting on that!
I wondered what this was. Bill showed me that it’s a coat rack.
Perfect scrambled eggs. Better than the eggs at the bakery yesterday… and no one hocked a loogie.
This is Brenner Park’s resident cat, Kleopatra. I never saw her, but we did see evidence of her presence. Evidently, she eats on the second floor of the hotel, which is where we were staying. Her food bowl and water were neatly laid out in the hall.
I think all told, we spent about 3.000 euros. That included a couple of nights in the bar, a couple of breakfasts for two, two spa treatments, and parking for four days. And yet, even though that’s a lot of money for us, we were both smiling as we got into the car to go home. The hotel staff had kindly provided us with a small bag that included waters and snacks for our drive. It was the kind of service Bill and I have experienced on luxury cruise lines, notably Hebridean Island Cruises, which costs a mint but offers stellar service. If you’re interested in my Hebridean experiences, you can easily read about them in this blog. We have sailed with them four times– in 2012 (back to back cruises, and written about on my main blog), 2016 (whisky cruise), and 2017 (Scotland and Northern Ireland).
A shot of the countryside on the way home. This isn’t far from Seewald, which is not far from where we are living until next Tuesday. Then, it’s off to Wiesbaden.
Anyway… so ends our very ritzy trip to nearby Baden-Baden. We had a great time! If we manage to make it back there, we will have to make a point of seeing and doing more in the area, which surely offers more than spas and shopping! But then, Wiesbaden is a lot like a more cosmopolitan Baden-Baden. So we’ll see…