I don’t know what you’re going to think of me… first I was writing about being semi-naked in Rio, now I’m stripping off completely in a Swiss spa. It’s not my normal modus operandi, honest…
A leaning towards exhibitionism helps – and a masochistic streak doesn’t go astray. At the Roman-Irish Bath in Scuol, Switzerland, the dress code is “don’t bother bringing a swimsuit” and the “relaxation” includes baking in searing hot saunas, being scrubbed with a large scrubbing brush and plunging into an icy cold pool.
But after two hours of very ritualistic bathing, you emerge with an empty mind and a body that is so relaxed, getting dressed is a challenge. You feel cleansed, purified and completely removed from the world.
The Roman-Irish baths, in the famous Scuol spa in eastern Switzerland, offer a combination of two ancient types of bathing. The Romans, who are well known for their bathing rituals, liked steam baths of varying warmth, while the Irish apparently preferred to take their baths in hot, dry air. The combination of the two creates a bathing sequence where the atmosphere is constantly changing and your circulation is revved up by hot and cold extremes.
Arriving at the spa, you say goodbye to your clothes and retreat into the sanctuary of a sauna to start the spa ritual. You are given a toga to wear between the various stages but you need an engineering degree to put the silly thing on and the pleasant atmosphere of the spa means most people don’t bother, even though the spa is mixed.
After baking for 15 minutes in an almost unbearably hot sauna, you discover that this is only the “warm” one and the “hot” one is yet to come. Still radiating from the temperature of the two saunas, you are ushered into a treatment room for a “soap and brush massage” by one of the spa staff.
This is where you cannot afford to be shy – it is an all-over body scrub and you do not get to choose the gender of the masseur. This is also where the masochistic bit starts, as the bristles of the brush sting like crazy, although the scrubbing is followed by a gentle massage.
From here, you are lulled into a false sense of security, with the next half an hour spent relaxing in warm mineral baths. But, alas, comes the next step – a plunge into the iciest water you can imagine, prompting squeals that echo around the otherwise quiet spa.
A quick shower warms you up again, then you dry yourself off, smother yourself in moisturiser and get wrapped in a sheet and cotton blanket in the “resting room”. The room has floor to ceiling windows and each bed faces out to the Swiss Alps but most people are asleep within five minutes and have to be woken up when it’s time to leave.
If all that sounds a bit much, you can go to the main part of the spa, where you wear a swimsuit and do your own thing. You can also book massages, reflexology, nutritional counselling and beauty treatments.
The main spa has both indoor and outdoor pools, with the outdoor pool surrounded by magnificent alpine scenery. There are several sections, with spa jets, showers and swirling currents that stop and start at random, and you can enjoy the scenery in almost any weather, provided you stay well submersed. The inside section of the spa has a large pool, hot and cold plunge pools, a mineral bath, a solarium and a sauna but is nowhere near as appealing as the outdoor spa.
The picturesque Scuol region, three hours south-east of Zurich, has a long history of spas, with the area’s mineral springs first mentioned in literature in 1369. The springs were in use in the Middle Ages but Scuol did not become popular with tourists until the second half of the 19th century, when the main road into the valley was built. With the sources of more than 20 mineral springs located in the area, there are now numerous spas and wellness centres, most of them attached to luxury hotels.
The spas are the main attraction but Scuol itself is worth exploring, thanks to its wealth of charming old buildings, with ornately painted exteriors and narrow, cobblestone streets.
More information: Switzerland Tourism
Copyright Jane E. Fraser