Tuesday 7 November 2017

Travel Tuesday: the Austrian spa experience

No pictures for this one (and you'll understand why by the end).

On one day of our ski holiday in April, Zoe and I decided we would go to an Austrian spa for the day. Zoe found the most highly-recommended local one on Trip Advisor and it was just about doable by public transport, using a combination of the train and a bus, so off we went.

The one we picked was the Erlebnis-Therme Amade. It has a large complex of salt water pools of varying heats, a number of flumes and a separate sauna and wellness centre. We were also able to rent towels, so we didn't have to pinch the towels from the flat we were staying in.

There's a lot on the website about salt-enriched water and how good it is for you, but to begin with it just seemed like any other pool complex in the school holidays. There was a big pool that was mostly outdoors, with lots of jets and showery bits for lounging and chatting; a second big indoor pool with a wave machine, which we didn't try; several hot tubs of varying heats; a very plain pool for actual swimming which had springboards, and a climbing wall erected on one side (very cool and I definitely would have had a go, had there not been an enormous queue); and shedloads of seating for frazzled parents to relax in while their offspring screamed around the place.

We had a good swim and partook of most of the things on this side for about an hour, before deciding to go to the sauna and wellness centre, which made up the other half of the complex. This took some plucking up of courage, because - as the website made clear and as the receptionist stressed to us when we paid - this was a naked area. I wasn't too surprised or concerned about this because, yknow, it's Europe and they're not weird about bodies there. Also, Parpy Jo used to live in Germany and has told me before that they consider sauna-ing in swimwear to be wildly unhygienic.

Luckily we didn't have to strip off as soon as we walked through the doors, so we had a chance to look round. As you might imagine, this side was not crawling with children and was very calm. We found a hot tub, a cold plunge pool, 3 saunas of varying heats, a steam room and some showers inside. Outside was a garden with sun loungers, a sauna with a salt floor, a sauna with a view and some more showers. Best of all, there was a big pool that, like the other one, was half in and half outdoors, with lots of whirly jets and lounging space.

Deep breaths were taken and swimmers were removed. We sat in the empty first sauna for a while, watching the people sauntering around outside in the altogether. Eventually, Zoe said, 'Do you think they can see in?' and we realised that they probably could and we should stop staring.

We tried a few different places before finding a menu of sauna treatments and deciding to go for the Vitamin Bomb one in the sauna with the view. By the time we got in there, there were already about 50 people scattered around, lounging in the breeze from the open windows. Then a man in lederhosen turned up and the windows were quickly shut.

Naturally, not understanding German, I have no idea what he was chatting about, but there were lots of mmmms and nods from the crowd. Then he started ladelling water from a bucket onto the hot coals, which smelled strongly of lemon. Then - the best bit. He picked up a stick with a towel on the end of it and started wafting it around towards the ceiling, to whip down the hot, lemonny air on us, the crowd.

The Austrians approved. Lots of happy sighing. Lots of people putting their arms in the air and tipping their heads back, the better to appreciate it. I, meanwhile, nearly lost it. Avoiding eye contact with Zoe became paramount. Everyone was so earnest, but I found the whole thing so unusual that I could barely contain the giggles. Luckily, it only went on for about 10 minutes, then everyone came out and was served chunks of fruit from a tray by lederhosen man before going back in for the second round, featuring orangey air and wafting from three sizes of towel. I almost had to stop breathing.

Luckily I made it through without shaming all British people by guffawing hugely at the ritual. We made it out and jumped into the cold tub after a very brief shower; I did accidentally squeeze past an elderly man back to back at this point and then regretted it, but I was trying very hard to throw caution to the wind and live in the lemonny, naked moment. After this we went for a long swim around the outdoor pool until it was time for us to catch the bus back, which we did, sniggering to each other like children the whole way.

Shout out to the lady with the eye catching intimate piercing, and the very proud Austrian who was so very proud of himself for most of the afternoon. We found him a bit creepy, but everyone else seemed oblivious. As I'm sure they were, since this sort of thing is totally normal. They must find British people exasperating.

If you can cope with being naked in public, definitely do this. It was the perfect foil to skiing and you're never likely to see any of those people ever again. I slept like the dead that night and my skin was super smooth for days afterwards.

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