In German, baden means “to bathe”. So, the German town of Baden-Baden is literally named Bathing-Bathing.
Coincidentally (or not?) this quaint German town two hours south of Frankfurt is also home to two world-class spas: Friedrichsbad and Caracalla Therme. The two spas are operated by the same organization and are located only meters apart, but they offer completely different experiences and cater to completely different audiences.
I asked my hotel for a spa recommendation but they were well-trained by the Baden-Baden tourist information board and would only tell me that both spas were equally wonderful.
So what is the best spa in Baden-Baden, Germany? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for in a spa day.
Friedrichsbad – A Traditional Sauna and Spa Experience
Friedrichsbad bills itself as a Roman-Irish bathhouse. The classically-inspired building dates back almost 150 years, and the interior of the spa is an unusual combination of Neoclassical design (there are lots of naked Greek- and Roman-style statues) and what I would describe as Soviet medical utilitarianism (even though Baden-Baden was never in East Germany).
Inside the building there are two sets of facilities laid out in a perfect mirror image of one another – this allows men and women to spa separately on Monday, Thursday and Saturday (as of early 2018) and enjoy a coed spa experience on the other days of the week.
Why separate men and women? Because Friedrichsbad, like most other German spas, is a strictly-enforced “textile-free” zone where no clothing is permitted. If you’re not familiar with textile-free spas it can seem a little bit strange at first, but after a few minutes of soaking in the warm, mineral-rich waters you’ll forget all about your body and your clothing (or the lack thereof!).
Friedrichsbad offers its guests a prescribed, time-restricted visit through exactly seventeen stages of spa-ing (is that a word?). A general admission ticket costs €25 and allows you to spend three hours completing the seventeen steps. You can add additional services like a massage, body scrub or snack, and each allows you extra time in the spa facilities (don’t worry, you won’t be rushed!) if you want, but if you opt for the basic package you will still get to experience the following ritual:
- “Warm air bath” (yup, sitting in a warm room!)
- Hot air bath (moving to the even warmer part of the room!)
- Another shower
- Optional body scrub
- Another shower
- Warm thermal steam bath (sitting in a warm, humid room)
- Hot thermal steam bath (sitting in the hot part of the same room)
- Thermal bath at 36° Celsius
- Thermal whirlpool bath at 34° Celsius
- Thermal exercise bath at 28° Celsius (in which you’re supposed to move around a lot in the cold water – the main exercise pool is coed at all times, while smaller pools are available on segregated spa days)
- Cold water bath at 18° Celsius
- Drying off with a towel (yes, it’s actually a step)
- Optional lotion massage
- Resting room (with free wake-up service if you fall asleep!)
- Reading room (with complimentary tea and a warm sun room)
Friedrichsbad was the first spa I visited in Baden-Baden. I selected the €37 package that included three hours in the bath area and a thirty-minute massage, and I visited on a segregated sex day (that was coincidental, as I don’t care about being naked in front of men or women).
Overall, I found the experience quite underwhelming. I had a hard time keeping track of the time and anticipating how much time I would need at future stations, so sometimes I rushed through areas only to end up waiting at others. I am not convinced that the prescribed, seventeen-step ritual offers any health benefits over a self-directed spa visit at another facility. This is kind of weird, because I feel like Friedrichsbad is designed for an older audience who treat spa visits as medical treatment, rather than as a luxurious indulgence.
I’d like to return to Baden-Baden in the future, but I don’t see myself visiting Friedrichsbad again.
Caracalla Therme – A Modern Luxury Spa Experience
Caracalla Therme is Baden-Baden’s modern counterpart to the historic Friedrichsbad.
This massive facility covers almost 45,000 square feet and features an expansive family-oriented bathing area along with an adult-oriented, textile-free sauna zone.
As you enter the contemporary, glass-walled Caracalla spa complex you will begin by changing in a co-ed changing area. If you’re new to this style of change room, you just pop into one of the private changing cabins to put on your swimwear. Once you’re changed, unlock the front door (the one you entered through) and exit through the back door into the locker area. Voila! You’ll want to keep a towel or two on hand (especially if you’re heading to the textile-free saunas) but everything else can be locked up. The next stop is the shower area (segregated by sex) where you’ll wash off any lotion, perfume or dirt before heading into the main bathing area.
I didn’t spend much time in the main bathing area because I prefer textile-free spas. However, I did stop by for about half an hour on my way out of the spa in order to check out the family-friendly options.
The main indoor pool heats naturally to 34° Celsius and features lots of bubbles and falling water to help work out any knots in your neck and back. There is a swim-through passage to the outdoor pools, where you’ll find a shallow lazy river, a misty waterfall, whirlpools and sun chairs.
Back inside there are a few spa facilities including a hot water grotto, an aromatherapy steam room and a brine inhalation room (which was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in a spa – it’s a damp steam room where salty water drips across a meter-high chunk of blackthorn tree to produce a salty mist supposedly good for respiratory health).
I spent most of my time at Caracalla Therme in the sauna area. This is a coed spa zone, made from a textile-free area with both indoor and outdoor spa and sauna facilities. You can cover yourself with a towel as you walk around the facility, but it neither required nor expected. There are countless places to relax and indulge in the Caracalla Spa’s sauna zone:
- The Spectaculum – A dry sauna heated to 90° Celsius and the home base for most of the infusions (read on for more information about spa infusions)
- Vitality Sauna – Also heated to 90° Celsius, this sauna doesn’t host many infusions so you can come and go as you please
- Aroma-Sauna – Heated to 85° Celsius, this sauna features strong aromatherapy fragrances that change daily
- Meditation Sauna – At only 65° Celsius and filled with the sounds of nature, this is a comfortable place to relax
- Sanarium – Only 57° Celsius, this room uses colorful lights to boost your mood and help you relax
- Fire Sauna – A quick walk through the garden takes you to this scorcher that was built from trees imported from Finland. Temperatures here reach 95° Celsius
- Forest Sauna – Another wooden sauna in the garden area that gets heated to 85° Celsius and often hosts infusions
- Blue Space – Inspired by outer space, this room is a comfortable natural temperature with blue walls, relaxing loungers and peaceful sounds
- Green Room – A sun room inspired by nature with private views over the town of Baden-Baden, along with natural stones and bamboo accents
- Plunge pools, showers and buckets of ice-cold water are located throughout the facility so that you can cool down (as you please) after each sauna
I loved having the freedom to move around Caracalla Therme according to my own personal preferences. As well, I loved the extensive schedule of infusions included in my general admission ticket. An infusion is a treatment offered in a closed sauna – it could be an aromatherapy experience, a body scrub or a special kind of body lotion.
During the infusions, the sauna door must remain closed to keep the heat as high as possible, and it’s important that you respect this part of the ritual even when the temperature becomes uncomfortably hot. When I visited Caracalla Therme there were infusions offered hourly and the schedule was posted near the entrance. The sauna tended to reach capacity about five minutes before each infusion, so I’d recommend claiming your space about seven or eight minutes early.
You can purchase admission to Caracalla Therme by the hour (up to three hours) or for the entire day, and you can choose whether or not to include the sauna facilities in your ticket. I chose a full-day pass for €27 and felt that it was an excellent value. I stayed in the spa for almost five hours, and only left because I had some business to take care of in town before dinner.
This facility really does offer something for everyone, and it’s impossible to get bored or feel rushed when there are so many different indoor and outdoor facilities to choose from. I would not hesitate to return to Baden-Baden for a two- or three-week visit and purchase a ten-visit pass to Caracalla Therme because I found the experience so wonderful for my physical and mental well-being. On my return visit I will consider staying at the on-site spa hotel, which offers private underground access to the complex and a healthy, spa-inspired restaurant menu.
In the battle between Friedrichsbad and Caracalla Therme, Caracalla Therme is Baden-Baden’s clear winner.
A Few Tips on Textile-Free Spas
I distinctly recall the first time I went to a textile-free coed spa. I was the first guest to enter the spa in the morning, and I’d never even heard of textile-free spas before. I slipped on my pink bikini and walked confidently over to my first sauna. After five minutes or so I got out, rinsed off quickly and hopped into an icy-cold plunge pool. Suddenly, a matronly woman in a white uniform was screaming at me.
I didn’t speak a word of German so I got out of the water. She continued yelling at me and pointing at my bikini.
My first thought was that my swimsuit was not modest enough. I apologized profusely in English, and she just got more angry. The woman stormed off and returned a minute later with a newfound knowledge of English.
No swimsuit! No swimsuit! Man and woman! Naked together!
That was my introduction to the world of co-ed naked saunas, stream rooms, whirlpools, swimming pools and sun decks.
Over the years I’ve come to love textile-free saunas. I believe they’re great for your skin as your sweat and other yucky stuff (like chemicals from the pool) can roll right off your body without getting trapped underneath the fabric of your swimsuit. As well, seeing all kind of bodies in their natural state is a huge step towards body positivity and remembering that there is so much more to the human body than just its potential for sexual attraction.
When you do go to a textile-free spa, there are a few etiquette tips to keep in mind.
You’ll want to carry a large towel with you – not to cover your body, but rather to cover any surfaces that might touch your body. This includes your butt and your feet (hence the need for a large towel). I recently bought a beautiful Turkish towel from Amazon and was so impressed that I bought five more. These are perfect lightweight travel towels and they are more than large enough to accommodate any position you feel like taking in the sauna.
Most spas require guests to take a quick shower between a sweaty sauna session and a dip in the shared plunge pool. Nobody wants to swim in your sweat, after all! Check the posted rules to see if the spa you’re visiting asks this of their guests.
As I mentioned earlier, don’t open the door in the middle of an infusion. If you’re worried that you won’t be able to handle the heat, it’s better to skip the treatment entirely.
Don’t stare. In a coed spa, you’re going to see naked people relaxing, talking, sweating, showering and even eating lunch or drinking beer! You don’t have to awkwardly avert your eyes all the time, but do remember that there’s a real person behind that naked body and they deserve your respect!
Finally, don’t negate all the health benefits of a spa visit by eating junk food before or after your spa experience. I recommend going out for a meal that features the best healthy, vegetarian and vegan foods in Germany.
Love spa travel? Check out my post about QC Termemilano, a luxury spa complex in Milan.