by Suzanne Morphet
“Nudity is obligatory,” said the man from Leukerbad’s tourism office when I enquired about one of the most intriguing hydrotherapy options in this Swiss spa town.
I had never bathed nude in public before – not unless you count some occasional skinny-dipping in my youth – but that was among friends. Leukerbad’s Roman-Irish Bath would be with strangers, men and women.
For centuries, spa enthusiasts have been enjoying this town’s biggest asset: thermal water. Every day, more than 100,000 gallons gush to the surface, the largest volume in all Europe.
Four public facilities and five hotels offer access to these mineral-rich waters for hydrotherapy. At Leukerbad Therme alone, 10 pools of various shapes and sizes beckon, including a stone grotto with blistering hot 111° F (44° C) water, another designed specifically for your feet, and a leisure pool with underwater seats and possibly more jets than an airport.
I try them all before heading to Walliser Alpentherme, where I’ve worked up my courage to try the Roman-Irish Bath.
The name isn’t a stretch since Roman coins from the time of Vespasian have been found in Leukerbad, so Romans were here before me, no doubt naked as well. (The name also references 19th-century Irish bathhouses.)
The main bathing area is meant to resemble the inner courtyard of a Roman senator’s villa with two interlocking pools. Saunas, steam baths and a massage room are tucked out of sight behind crimson red walls.
Upon arrival, I enter the women’s changing room, shed my clothes and have a shower – the first step in the Roman-Irish hydrotherapy bathing ritual.
This process involves warming, cooling and cleansing the body in 11 stages, each for a prescribed time and temperature. Because visits are scheduled, you see only a few other people. Still, when I arrive at stage five’s soap-brush massage, two naked men are right behind me.
I quickly flop face-down onto the table, hoping to cover as much of my private anatomy as possible. The attendant shakes her head. ‘Onto your back’ she motions.
Reluctantly, I roll over. Within seconds I don’t care who sees what. Being brushed all over with hot soapy water feels divine. When she’s finished, I’m Miss Bliss, as slippery as a seal and compliant as a puppet.
Soon it’s all over except for the ‘contemplation room’ where I’m wrapped in a blanket and left to doze like a babe in a nursery; clean, coddled and carefree.
Suzanne Morphet writes mostly about adventure, from swimming with whale sharks to having a baby in a foreign country. She contributes to a variety of publications including The Globe and Mail, Luxury Travel Magazine, Canadian Geographic Travel, Westworld and Ensemble Vacations Magazine. She’s based in Victoria, BC.