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Valkenburg- A Dutch treat
By Kregg P. J. Jorgenson 
posted May, 2006

The Spa attendant was telling us something with authority in Dutch and when we gave her our usual confused American tourist shrug and ‘I’m sorry! excuse, she nodded, said “So, yes!” and quickly switched to lilting accented English.

“You must take off your bathing suits, please, and put them here,” she said, pointing to a nearby wooden pegs and shelf.

“Ah!” I said while the Spa attendant nodded and smiled and my wife, Katherine nodded and smiled back.

“And au spa naturale too, buddy boy,” she added.

After three hours driving to reach the Dutch resort town of Valkenburg in Limburg Province we were looking forward to the Thermae 2000 Spa that we were told would be well worth the visit by some Dutch friends. Once we checked into our hotel and did a bit of walking around the small, walled town we grabbed our swimsuits and towels and headed off to take ‘a cure.’

The spa facility sits above the small town that sprang from an ancient roman settlement in the gently rolling green hills of the Netherlands. That’s right, the gently rolling hills of the Netherlands. In this landlocked peninsula sandwiched between Belgium and Germany you won’t find windmills, wooden shoes or canals but you will find a surprisingly pleasant town, complete with castle ruins, a vast tunnel complex, and its state-of-the-art spa. Spas in Germany such as the one in nearby Aachen are referred to as Bad’s and throughout Europe the Bad’s are not only good, sometimes they’re even better.

The rules for ‘taking a cure’ don’t require you to shed your swimsuits if you want to enjoy the inviting steam rooms, many pools or saunas however, to take in the full spa experience you may need to shed a few inhibitions. 

As my wife began slipping out of her swimsuit and tying on a strategic towel I took off my bathing suit and reached for a towel of my own. “Not to worry,” I said. “This time of day it’s probably empty.”

“Empty would be good,” she said only when we stepped around the corner of the changing area we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of a throng of teeming flesh. Okay, okay, it wasn’t exactly teeming, steaming would be more like it and it was everywhere. European spas do brisk business most days of the week as the elaborate Romanesque style resorts cater to a health conscious clientele who take ‘the cure’ seriously.

Standing amidst the throng I was hit with the rush of embarrassment knowing that everyone was looking at me. A few minutes later the embarrassment was gone and I was wondering if anyone was going to look at all.

Actually, people do look. They just don’t stare or worse yet, point, stare and laugh. Instead they do what Nederlanders have been doing for decades. They ignore the obvious because not only are they well aware that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes he’s not wearing anything they haven’t seen before either. The Dutch tend to be axiomatic; believing the purpose of the health spa is self evident which is why everyone from 16 to 60 year olds with literally every body in between utilize the bathing facilities with little or no regard to your body politic. You’re here for the health benefits and if you didn’t believe it when you entered you are thoroughly convinced after the first 15 minutes as the wet or dry heat take their soothing effect and sore or tired muscles say ‘thank you’ or Dank u wel, in the local vernacular.

In the spa cleanliness is paramount so after showering we picked up a neoprene pad out of a disinfectant wash and tried the first of the three steam rooms. As we stepped through the door we were met with a warm, roiling cloud of steam that had the pleasing aroma of lime. A second steam room of similar design and dimensions has the refreshing aroma of eucalyptus while the third room is unscented for those purists who wanted their steam to smell like, well…steam.

The steam rooms were maybe 15 by 20 feet only it was difficult to tell for certain as the layered swirls of steam filled the rooms. I decided that the idea of saying, ‘Don’t mind me. I’m only taking measurements!’ might not go over so well if I traversed the small room so instead I sat there and enjoyed the soothing effects of the steam. People walked in and out of each room with practiced frequency as flashes of skin moved in and out of misting view. Besides being pristine clean and relaxing the steam rooms were surprisingly quiet. “It’s almost reverent,” I said while Katherine shrugged.

“If it is then it’s only because the steam covers a multitude of sins,” she said, adding. “Not a bad thing this.”

“Amen!” I said, while she looked at me and scowled.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Did you know that the word ‘eucalyptus’ stems from Latin and means to cover or conceal?” I said, recalling the kind of trivia that occasionally gets me out of trouble.

“Way to cover yourself too!”

We tried a larger multi-level steam room that offered a eucalyptus cloud that was put me touch with even some of my most reluctant recesses of my sinus system.

While there were neoprene pads to sit in the steam rooms, towel placement in the saunas became a necessary art and survival skill. There were a number of saunas each with varying temperatures only here there was no steam to hide behind, just behinds to be behind. 

A trip to the sauna was followed with a cold water plunge that any Paramedic could use to jump start your heart say, if their defiberator wasn’t working or you wanted to turn as blue as a Smurf. Actually, the cold-water plunge is a five-liter bucket mounted to a swivel and operated by a rope. You stand beneath it and stupidly pull the rope, which tilts the bucket and send the five liters of ice-cold water flooding over you. As the water hits each and every pore in your body closes in an instant, shocked into insensibility. I’m told it’s healthy and invigorating. I’m told too that after my cold-water adventure I was shaking more than an Enron Accountant in front of a Congressional Committee.

If a cold plunge isn’t to your liking then you can take a warm shower, wrap yourself in a towel and flop down in a lounge chair and slowly unwind in one of the many rest areas. You can also take a soothing footbath or go outside to a common area read a newspaper or book and relax. The shower, lounge chair and foot bath routine have a comfortable effect while the cold water plunges have an effect uniquely their own. After my cold-water plunge my grinning wife quickly handed me my towel.

  “The steam room?” she suggested, smiling as I quickly tied the towel around my waist.

  “If only to regain some masculine pride,” I said.

  “Amen!” she said.

  “No, most men actually,” I said.

  A 90-minute visit to the spa (and most wellness spas in Germany, Holland or Belgium) runs between $18 for two hours or $25 for a half-day stay. It is more than reasonable considering that it includes use of the pristine indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the myriad of Jacuzzis, gym facilities, and the healing steam rooms and saunas.





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