I’ve never been into spas. It’s a lovely word, spa. It rolls off your tongue and hangs there as long as you want, kind of like your body in a mud bath. But my body doesn’t need mud to relax. It doesn’t need water jets, either. Or hot springs. Or massages. However, I live in Rome. I know the meaning of the phrase, “When in Rome …” I recently visited the Czech Republic and “When in Czech Republic …”
… you go to a spa.
How the former Czechoslovakia, the site of the 1968 USSR invasion and beatings of student protesters in the 1989 Velvet Revolution, became Europe’s epicenter for spa treatment goes back 200 years. That’s when the likes of Franz Kafka, Goethe, King Franz Josef I of Austria and King Edward VII of England started a pilgrimage of celebrities seeking total bliss, not to mention a really good bath.
Marianske Lazne in Czechoslovakia
They all came to the tiny town of Marianske Lazne a blast from Czechoslovakia’s pre-communist past, just 20 miles from the German border but seemingly a million miles away from Czech Republic’s communist past. In a country so spruced up it’s hard to believe it was once a gray communist outpost, Marianske Lazne has made a huge comeback. All but closed to the public during the 45 years of communist rule, Marianske Lazne has turned on the lights — and water jets — to become one giant spa town. Nearly every hotel in this town of 14,000 people has a spa. You don’t have to walk far to find one. That’s good because after one of their spa treatments, you can’t walk very far.
Spa Hotel Nove Lazne
The waters in this part of Czech Republic have special mineral qualities that are excellent for your skin and well being. These are not volcanic hot springs. They’re waters from the nearby lakes and rivers that are naturally treated for greater health. No hotel has a spa like the Spa Hotel Nove Lazne. It sits like a yellow palace where inside people walk through the posh lobby in fluffy white bathrobes as if the five-star resort as their own private estate.
Anything you’d ever want or didn’t think you’d want is offered: acupuncture for 550 koruna ($30), ultrasound therapy (220 koruna), massage with ivy essences (112). The price range goes from a Scottish spray of hot and cold water for 100 to a dubious anti-aging gerovital for 5,950 ($330).
I was tempted to try the Chocolate Massage Superior but I didn’t want to walk out feeling like a Toblerone bar. The Hot Stone Therapy (600) looked interesting. I wanted nothing to do with something called a Colon Hydrotherapie.
Since I arrived late and missed all the specific treatments — apparently, reservations for the Colon Hydrotherapie were ALL, um, backed up (Sorry. Bad joke) — I got the run of all the pools. At Nove Lazne (“New Baths” in Czech), that pretty much gives you license to live like a Roman. That’s Ancient Roman. I’ve lived in Rome for nearly two years. I never lived as I did the next hour.
I changed into my swimsuit and walked down the short hallway, turned the corner and saw three pools in a room that looked designed by Bernini. Brown marble columns that resembled towers of fudge stood between white arches held up by beige bases. In between were three pools: Two were small swimming pools four feet deep with 32-degree water. Up a few steps was a Jacuzzi big enough to seat 10 people. There weren’t 10 people in the whole spa.
I walked down the steps into the first pool and let the perfect water lap over my body. I dipped my head and floated effortlessly through the crystal-clear minerals to the other side. A tall, husky man who had just left the pool pushed a button and a waterfall poured out of a geyser at the side of the pool. I stood under it as if I was in a jungle in Venezuela.
One word kept popping into my head. It was sexy. Very sexy. I’m no geologist. But there is something in those minerals that makes you feel so aroused it’s like experiencing an hour of foreplay. The water felt like a thousand smooth hands caressing every inch of your skin. I can’t remember feeling so alive, so alert, so … damn … happy.
The fourth pool is the most decadent of all. It’s in the hydrotherapy room which looks like the bathroom of the King of Brunei. It’s eight maroon columns lining two pools with a flower pattern covering every ceiling panel. Light through the thick glass illuminates a turquoise pool. Marble statues stand in the corner. The water seemed almost too perfect to defile with the human body.
To help circulation, it’s best to treat yourself to a hot-cold treatment. I sat in a sauna that was a relatively mild 122 degrees for about 15 minutes before walking into the open area. At one end, an old oaken bucket that looked like a basketball hoop from the early 1900’s stood about eight feet high. I pulled the handle and ice-cold water whisked every bead of sweat off my body.
Feeling my knees weak but my blood bubbling and my soul flying, I went to the end of the first pool and laid down on a long rattan chair. Above me were orange and red heater lamps that picked up the beads of cold water like kisses from angels.
More than 25 years ago, Czech Republic was a nation of fear and desperation. Today it’s a nation of rejuvenation and wellness. Looking back, couldn’t Khrushchev have used a good colon hydrotherapy?