Sunday, September 1, 2013

Toskana Therme- the spa

Or, as I like to call it, Saunavana.

Bad Orb is an old spa town, give-away is in the name there! (Bad = bath) The water has lots of mineral salts in it, so it's got all sorts of special healing properties, beneficial for x,y,z etc.

There is a really wonderful spa which is practically next door to me here, it's officially part of a hotel, but you can buy entry separately, a bit like paying for entry to the local swimming pool, which is what I thought it was to start with. How little I knew!

Let's start first with the pesky little details, they always take longer than they have a right to! Entry is a little pricey, starting at 14 Euros for two hours, but I will concede that it doesn't rise a great deal after that, the longer you stay the better your hourly rate, quite noticeably. Once you are in, the changing rooms are, to me, a little unusual, with a long row of cubicles that you enter, lock both doors, and once changed, exit via the second door into the locker area. I rather appreciate the locker system; they give you an electronic wrist-tag, which you get on entry (you use it to get in) then once you come in you can use it to open a locker, put your things inside, and lock it again. That is now your locker. The really good thing is, of course, that the wrist tags are waterproof, and you can wear them everywhere, even the sauna (although they do get a bit hot on your skin), and as you wear it like a watch, there's no losing it. It also has a nice facility where you can buy things at the bar with it, and pay when you leave (as you need the tag to exit the building), which is much easier than going to get your money while you're between saunas!

Onto the heart of the matter then...

I had heard about the special salty water, and that they did something called Liquid Sound, where you could hear music under the water, watch lights and goodness knows what. Being a spa I also had hopes for a big pool, a jacuzzi perhaps, that sort of thing. What I got was utter delight.

I can't actually say how many pools there were, I can think of at least seven or eight in the main area, big ones, small ones, lane ones for lengths, jacuzzis for relaxing in, baby/toddler pools, and of course the big attraction, the Liquid Sound pool, where you float in the salty water, listening to the music with your ears underwater while staring up at the pretty lights on the ceiling. It was rather nice, being about body temperature you were quite comfortable, but I must admit to becoming a bit squeamish about having the water in my ears (it takes a long time to come out and feels ikky okay?!), so didn't find it as relaxing as it is supposed to be. 

The highlight for me though was without a shadow of a doubt the sauna area. Seven different sauna experiences in the one location- genius!!! Naturally I gravitated towards the Finnish sauna (a.k.a the hot one), but they also had a 'warm' one (about 50C) which would be great for those who like the sauna experience, but find them too hot, a 'damp' one (a.k.a. steam room) which I also really love, a Broncharium (not sure what that one was for exactly) and a Lektarium, which, from what I can see, you are supposed to read in. Then there was outside, where they had a Solarium (about 30C or 35C if I recall correctly) and Panorama sauna, which had a view of the sauna garden area (not in and of itself very exciting, but nice to cool down after baking!), and is kept at the same temperature as the Finnish sauna.

So, what do all of these different saunas have to offer? How can there possibly be so much variety in hot rooms? Here's a run-down.

  • Finnischesauna- (Finnish Sauna) the traditional sauna experience. Come inside the 90C heat, sit (or lie down, if there's space) and roast yourself to perfection. The graduated seating give two (or was it three) choices of sauna experience- the higher up you are, the hotter it is (heat rises don't you know?!). This one, by necessity, has wooden seating, and a towel is a must or you'll burn your backside! The Finnish sauna has low humidity, which is why such an extreme temperature is bearable (to a point), but they do put water on it every now and again to keep things sane. The real treat comes later...
  • Dampfsauna- (Steam Room) pretty self explanatory really- 100% humidity kept at 43C; it's quite an intense experience. Either way, it's quite warm enough with that sort of humidity! It's a treat for sore muscles, they feel forcibly relaxed, it's really quite incredible. Unsurprisingly with that sort of dampness, this room is tiled rather than wood, and towels would be, well, rather soggy after a few minutes! There are hoses to wash down your selected area of warm tiles, and if there's a sauna I must recommend lying down for, it's this one. The coloured lights on the roof, seen though the hazy, misty air are just delightful! Fairy lights have never been used to such great effect for those over the age of 6.
  • Softsauna- name says it all! This is also a wooden one, towels recommended to protect those tender buttocks! This one is kept at 50C but with 40% humidity it might well be quite nice. I must confess to not having used this one yet, so far I've been too busy rotating between the Finnish, Panorama and steam saunas to spare time for a cooler one, but I can think of a few people I might point in that direction! As you might have noticed, I like my saunas hot!
  • Lektarium- this one puzzled me from a distance, but the promise of reading in a sauna was irresistible and I had to explore. It's another tiled one (but dry, which I think means you should sit on a towel), although I'm not entirely sure why. It's (apparently!) kept at 43C, with low humidity, so you're not exactly breaking a sweat in there. In fact I was feeling a little chilly, and after making a circuit of the bookshelf I decided not to bother (seeing as I can't read German anyway). Perhaps it was turned off?!
  • Broncharium- another tiled room kept at a remarkably low temperature of just 30C. I couldn't figure what this one was about while I was there, there was some stuff in the air, which I presumed was supposed to be good for your lungs and breathing or something, which is more or less what their website seems to be saying, salty fog anyone?! I didn't really get into this one, it was a bit odd.
  • Solarium- one of the wood-benched outside saunas, although I'm not sure it should really count as a sauna. I think the temperature was fixed around 30C or 35C- basically about the temperature of a nice summers day, and humidity to suit I believe. I don't think I actually went it, I just couldn't get my head around the point of it, but perhaps that view will change come winter!
  • Panoramasauna- as the name suggests, this is a sauna with a view, albeit of a plunge pool and a walled garden full of deck chairs. Like the Finnish sauna, this one is hot at 90C, with low humidity. Also like the Finnish sauna, it has wooden benches of graduated heights, allowing you a choice of roasting temperatures and towels are a must to protect those those butts! In keeping with the similarities to the Finnish Sauna, this is also one of my favourites!

That is basically what all the different saunas are about. In addition to those, there is a jacuzzi (which feels luke-warm at best when you've been roasting in a sauna), two plunge pools, a bunch of bucket-with-a-rope type shower things (I haven't tried them yet, they seem to be quite busy) and a tub of crushed ice. I haven't yet been able to recreate the sensation I had last winter when we ran out of the spa doors, jumped in the heaps of snow, then raced back inside and leapt into the jacuzzi- that's really quite an amazing feeling. I think you need to get a bigger surface area of your body much colder than you can with a handful of crushed ice, and maybe a slightly hotter jacuzzi (in my opinion the one in the sauna area of Toskana Therme is a bit too cool, but it might just be contrast from the saunas) to get that tingling, burning sensation when you get into what is basically a nice warm bath! Worth doing if you ever get the chance, the contrast is incredible.

And speaking of contrast, I do love the plunge pools in Toskana Therme, they're great. There is an outdoor one next to the two garden saunas, and it's surprising how long you can (and want to) stay in cold water when your core body temperature is high from the sauna. There are some showers too, if you want to just rinse off and cool down naturally, but I particularly like the sudden contrast, which gives you the feeling of radiating warmth from the inside. 

The best things about the saunas though I have kept for last. Firstly, being in Northern Europe, the saunas are a 'textile free' (read: no clothing) area, which is a welcome relief from the British approach to saunas where you must wear a bathing suit (really, sweating into lycra is just a bit gross, and quite uncomfortable) at all times. 

The other really brilliant thing was that every hour or so (there was a timetable somewhere) one of the staff would come into either the Finnish or Panorama sauna, and mixed into the water they put on the stones, there are some oils. I was there just for one with Eucalyptus, but they do a variety of different ones, I think I saw lemongrass on the list as well. They of course evaporate into steam the moment they touch the hot stones, spreading through the entire sauna. Usually they would concentrate in the upper levels, but with the aid of this amazing person those oils are persuaded down and all around the sauna with the skill-full use of a wet towel being flicked and whipped around your heads, and you are buffeted about by wave after wave of hot, scented air directed towards you. You can feel the benefits of it easily, you can't help breathing it in deep, and when you exhale it's like you're breathing out all the old air that's been building up inside you and getting stale, leaving you fresh and strong. 

I really couldn't recommend the saunas of Toskana Therme strongly enough!

If you're looking for directions to this Saunavana, or want to know more then their website can be found here.

Toskana Therme

This will be a two part post, as I have two aspects I would like to comment on, and this one comes first so I can end on a high note!


So, having quite sensitive skin, I tend to avoid shaving whenever possible as it usually brings me out in an unattractive, itchy rash, utterly defeating the point in having shaved. Thus I usually go for waxing, it's not so painful once you get used to it, and although my skin doesn't love that either it's not so bad as shaving, and at least you only have to do it once a month! However, it's not very DIY friendly. It's a possible, but awkward, and underarms ARE impossible, so it requires a salon somewhere. Now I've been to various salons in a variety of places, New Zealand, London, Milan, France, other places in France, Milan (seriously, I've only been there twice, no more than 24hrs at a time!), and now Germany. It's not always easy, the first time in France they didn't speak English, so I had to mime what I wanted at the reception desk to even find out if they did waxing- they did. Following my epic miming of details, which produced much hilarity they did a decent job. The second place in a totally different part of France actually spoke English, so it was easy. The first place in Milan was the same as the first in France- lots of miming and we got there, it worked well enough, they did a good job. The second, were, I must say, ruthless. Effective, certainly, there wasn't a hair left, but boy she was efficient. I was in and out in 40 minutes (it's usually about an hour), she wasn't the slightest bit concerned with my comfort, like the ones who apologise over and over throughout the process.

However Bad Orb is not Milan, nor London. It is a small town, like those places in France. So off I go to the nearest likely looking place, which happens to be the local spa- Toskana Therme. They had appointments so I booked. They did advise me that unfortunately they couldn't do under-arm waxing ('why on earth not?!' I did wonder), but I had heard they were good for other things, and they use a brand I happen to favour for their lack of chemicals (Dr Hauschka, go German green-ness!), so I decided to roll with it and worry about the under-arms later.

I'm particularly glad I did decide to worry about the underarms later, I often find them to be the most sensitive, and they're technically the most difficult for the beautician too, because the hairs tend to grow in any old direction, making them tricky to get out.

It started just fine, here's the bed, lie back, we discuss what she will do and she gets to work. I was not thrilled to note that they only have two varieties of strip wax- I assume sensitive and normal, as I usually ask for a hot wax for sensitive bits like bikini-line. However I had already resigned myself to the likelihood that it would be a strip wax, which aren't always too painful, if the beautician has a good technique. Now I'm no beautician, but I've had enough waxing experience (and enough emergency DIY waxing!) to know how it goes, and it's something like this:

  1. Put the wax on the skin, smoothing it on in the direction of the hair growth
  2. Put the strip over the top, smoothing in the direction of hair growth and avoiding bubbles etc.
  3. Peel strip directly backwards as quickly as possible against direction of hair growth.
  4. Move on to new patch of hairy skin.
  5. Re-use the strip until it becomes too sticky and doesn't come away cleanly, throw it away and get a new one. I find five or six uses at most, usually less.
  6. Never re-wax skin more than once. If it doesn't come out second time, it's tweezers or you'll damage the skin.
  7. Gently rub the skin with a nice oil to help remove the sticky wax and soothe it with nice oils like chamomile.
That's more or less how my DIY wax goes, and roughly outlines the rules beauticians seem to follow. The beautician at Toskana Therme:

  • The wax. It was those roll-on dispensers, which I'm not fond of at the best of times, but they're usually okay on your legs. If they're warm enough for the wax to come out easily. These ones weren't, so they dragged and pulled on the skin as she tried to spread it, which is more than a little uncomfortable, especially when the are is already hyper sensitive because it's been waxed three times already.
  • So, once the wax was applied she...
  • Rubbed against the hair growth
  • Pulled the strip upwards and outwards away from the skin, not backwards over it.
  • Used three strips. Three. A total of three strips for bikini-line and two half-legs.
  • I lost count of the number of times she re-waxed various places, having little success getting the hair out (I wonder why?).
  • The failure to hold skin taut in the right places is a big one in waxing, and is without a doubt the hardest bit of DIY waxing, because you run out of hands. Beauticians often ask you to hold/pull a certain spot to help them. I'm happy to comply because it is basic self-preservation- if you don't and she can't get the skin tight you're likely to end up with bruising where the wax didn't come away from the skin cleanly. It hurts. A lot. I've had it before from DIY waxing, as I said, you run out of hands. But a beautician shouldn't, she has four at her disposal. Suffice to say I have bikini-line bruising, due to not only the skin not being tight as the wax was removed, but also the outwards pull of the waxing strips (seriously, not only does it not work, it also hurts a lot more, outwards is BAD.
So the overall results?
Well I'm too lazy to actually take a picture, but if I did it wouldn't be a pretty one. One week on my legs are hairy in various lengths and patches (shins should not be hairy, they're the easy part!!!). Some patches are long where clearly she just didn't get the hairs to move at all. Other patches are now at the prickly stage, suggesting the hairs broke off at skin level. And in some places they are actually still smooth, suggesting that, surprisingly, she did occasionally achieve her objective of pulling the hairs out by the roots. 

I'm really glad they didn't offer under-arm waxing. I may just have to make monthly trips to Frankfurt to deal with that aspect, and do the rest myself as best I can (which is, at least, better than the local spa).

And if you're curious about exactly which place I mean... follow this link.