When we finally reached Claudius Terme Cologne spa at 7pm after a freezing half hour walk in the dark we entered through the door shivering and brushing the snow off ourselves.
At the entrance desk the girl said “zwei?” We said “yes” and she gave us a bracelet with a chip in it and moved onto the next people!
“But wait,” we said. “We want to book for the four hour session.”
“Yes, yes, have a nice time.” And she turned back to the next couple.
“But wait,” we said. “We need towels.”
Two towels were plonked on the desk with a smile and we had lost her again.
“But wait,” we said. “Where are we supposed to go?”
“That way,” she pointed. “Enjoy your experience.”
The conversation was clearly over and we were none-the-wiser. We were dismissed. And she hadn’t even taken any money off us. We took our bracelets and towels and went into the changing/locker area.
Enjoy your experience, she had said. And what an experience it was…
Lost: in more ways than one
From the moment we walked into the changing rooms we were lost. They were those cubicles which can be entered from either side with very clever doors which lock closed when someone is inside.
So you walked in from the reception and then left through the rear, having changed, into a world of wall after wall of lockers (a bit like a library but with stacks of lockers not books). The room was full of chattering Germans who knew exactly where they were going. We clutched our soaking clothes and boots and made our way past them.
The magic bracelet we had been given on arrival had a number on it which corresponded to a locker number (miles away from where we had changed). When we touched the locker with the chip the door popped open. And the door was locked in the same way. Cool!
Well there were signs everywhere but being exclusively in German we couldn’t make head nor tail of them. Actually Toni does know a little German; enough to get by in a simple situation anyway. He pushed open a door that said männlichen Badezimmer. I followed him – how was I to know he was going to the toilet? He didn’t say!
My eyes were hit by the sight of an enormous swimming pool and a few smaller areas with deliciously warm-looking jacuzzis and mineral baths.
The place wasn’t jam-packed but there were enough people around to fill the jacuzzi and mineral area.
Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink
As we had bought a (delicious) roast pork sandwich from the market and had eaten it during the 30 minute walk in the falling snow from the centre of Cologne to the spa, I was parched and looked around now for water. Normally in spas with saunas there are places to drink water. If not a water tank then a vending machine at least. I could see none.
Toni came out to join me, so we got in the water thinking I could get a drink later.
After a while we took the stairs to the indoor sauna which was a whole floor with loungers around a large pool and with massive saunas.
Bathe Native = Bathe Naked
To enter the indoor sauna area you had to remove every stitch of clothing, including swimwear, and take only your towel (just as well we managed to get one).
So we walked into the (mixed) sauna to be greeted by a lot of nudity. The people in the photo are obviously wearing towels, but trust me: in real life they were not! But hey, when in Cologne…
We spent 20 minutes in the most enormous sauna I had ever seen, by which time I was desperate for a drink having still not found any water.
We had to get our (now wet and freezing cold) swimsuits back on to leave the indoor sauna area. There was an open-plan bar/restaurant on the same floor looking over the swimming pool and jacuzzi area below and we found an attendant to ask – finally. The conversation went something like this (and bear in mind that it was half in broken English and half in broken German):
Us: We need water desperately to drink. Where can we get some?
Attendant (points to empty bar/restaurant): In here but you can’t go in with swimsuits [and no, he didn't mean naked].
Us: Well where else can we get water? You have a huge facility here, countless saunas – don’t people get thirsty?
Attendant: Yes, I agree. No, we don’t have water anywhere else.
Us: Well can’t we just get some water here at the bar?
Attendant: No, you must go back downstairs to the changing room and get a t-shirt.
[A t-shirt? It was snowing when we came in! We didn't have t-shirts; we had soaking wet heavy coats!]
Us (Pointing to the bar 20m away): So we have to go downstairs, find our locker, put clothes on, walk back through the spa to here so we can get a bottle of water from there and then go back downstairs to get back into our swimsuits?
Attendant: Oh just put your towel around your shoulders and be quick!
We got water. We paid for it using the magic chip on the bracelet.
We decided to go try out the Sauna Village.
This was another nude area. But this time it was outside. Have I mentioned it was snowing?
So we had to go almost outside to a freezing cold doorway with pegs lining the walls. We had to remove our bathing clothes and then actually step outside wearing nothing but a pair of flip flops in the freezing temperatures.
The impact of the sauna’s heat was immense in contrast to the temperature outside. There were four Finnish saunas around this “village”, each mixed, each nude and each one bigger, hotter and further away from the main spa building than the last.
There was a swimming pool in the centre of this “village” which looked great with the lights on the tepid water against the dark night and steam rising as the snow fell down.
After a maximum of 10 minutes in these extremely hot saunas only a few minutes outside were needed before going back in. For some hardcore spa-goers, leaving the sauna into the freezing night air was not enough a shock to the system; they also had to take handfuls of ice and rub it all over their bodies.
We spent our four hours between the indoor water and jacuzzi areas and the outdoor sauna area. Each time we came back inside we had to wrestle back into the dripping wet and freezing swimming costume.
Inside we enjoyed the warm water mineral bath which uses water from the area with magical properties that will take 10 years off your age after a dip (as all these spas claim).
If you are in Cologne and you have a spare four hours, I would recommend that you consider this spa and if you do go you must certainly brave the unique sauna village.
The best sauna is the one in the rose garden which has rose and eucalyptus essential oils giving a refreshing aroma to the sauna.
The price we paid for four hours unlimited access was 20.50€ which, considering the size of the place, is very good. But be warned; they do charge for towel rental and the water I eventually managed to get was way over-priced, so make sure you take a bottle with you.
For up to date information visit Claudius Therme website, which is where the photos in this post are from.
Discover more about Cologne here.
About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....