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.
take off your bathing suits, please, and put them
here,” she said, pointing to a nearby wooden
pegs and shelf.
I said while the Spa attendant nodded and smiled
and my wife, Katherine nodded and smiled back.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.”
I said, while she looked at me and scowled.
you mean by that?”
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
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
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.
steam room?” she suggested, smiling as I quickly
tied the towel around my waist.
only to regain some masculine pride,” I said.
most men actually,” I said.
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.