Updated: Feb 15
When the days darken and a perpetual cold grey mist settles over the city, my thoughts turn to saunas. Where else can you shake off those winter blues and sweat out your stress? Basel has some amazing spa and sauna facilities and we have some top tips to enjoy them. Time to get your sauna on!
While the European sauna culture is well-established, some of us may not be so familiar with this practice. Before coming to Basel I had only been in a sauna a handful of times, in facilities that were rather unremarkable, but since moving here and experiencing how truly amazing and restorative a good sauna session can be, I now make it a regular part of my wintertime routine.
The Benefits of a Good Schweiss (Sweat)
Sweating has been used as a health therapy in different cultures for over 3000 years. According to Medical News Today, it has a number of different benefits including: easing pain, reducing stress levels, improving cardiovascular and skin health and even preventing Alzheimers and dementia. Of course there are risks as well and it is important to know your limits. Make sure to avoid alcohol, remain hydrated and limit your time in the sauna to under 15 mins, especially for beginners.
On top of some common sense precautions, there are a number of etiquette rules you should know before you partake.
It's a Nacktzone (Naked Zone)
First of all, although this may be an unfamiliar custom for many of us, it is important not to get hung up it. It is a requirement in Switzerland, like in many other European countries to be naked in the sauna. You are welcome to cover yourself with a towel, but do not wear your swimsuit. This is not unusual, but what may surprise some is that Swiss saunas (as well as other European countries) are often co-ed naked. Yes for many of us this may come as a shocker, but it is not as terrifying as you might expect.
First of all, many of the larger spa facilities have a separate sauna or special hours just for women, but even if they don't, try to be open-minded. Nudity can be an equalizer and since everyone is naked (and perhaps a little vulnerable), people generally are very respectful. At least that has been my personal experience. I find that people tend to use the same level of polite indifference that you would on a tram and the same rules apply: keep quiet, keep to yourself and don't stare.
First hand experience. For a rather hilarious take on this subject I highly recommend you read this account of the Local's Lyssandra Sears first Swiss sauna experience.
Take a Shower
Every sauna experience starts with a shower. This includes if you have just come from the swimming pool because it is important to wash off any chlorine off your skin.
Bring Some Extra Towels
If you are not especially comfortable with the thought of nudity, an extra towel can come in handy. It is also customary to place a towel on the bench where you sit or lie down. If you are sitting up and your feet are touching the bench below, you can either reposition your towel vertically so your feet are on it, or you can bring an extra small towel for your feet. Generally speaking no part of your body should be touching the wood directly.
Wear Shower Shoes
This is for obvious hygiene reasons, but also because spa floors can get very slippery. It is customary to leave your shower shoes outside the door of the sauna and go in barefoot.
Close the Door!
The surest way to annoy your fellow sauna mates is to leave the door open and let the heat out. Make sure to close the door tightly when you enter or exit or you may hear a cry of 'Tür zu!' (close the door!).
Steam Rooms Have Special Rules
Although it is customary to sit on a towel in every other type of sauna, steam rooms are the exception. Although you can keep your towel with you, it will get very wet so it is best to leave it hanging outside the steam room. When you enter the steam room, first spray down the area you would like to sit with the hose provided (while being mindful of other people) and once you are finished spray down the area again.
Basel Area Facilities
Now that you know the rules, you are ready to jump in. Basel has some lovely facilities to enjoy. Most places also have a number of extra therapeutic treatments such as massages and scrubs that can be booked ahead if you want to make a day of it. Here are a few of our favourites:
Migros Fitnesspark Heuwaage
The Heuwaage spa facility is like a luxurious dream. You can start your experience with a dip in their lovely pool, complete with massaging jets, bubble beds and a frothing hot tub. Then make your way to their saunas for a real treat. There is a wide selection of saunas including Finnish, infrared and Bergkräuter (scented with alpine herbs) as well as a steam room complete with light therapy (the walls change colour) a complex shower experience (imagine a gentle and pleasant hurricane) and even a snow room!
Sole Uno is another fabulous pick in nearby Rheinfelden. They have an impressive number of pools; indoor and outdoor with various salt levels as well as a shallow pool that you can float and listed to classical music under water! They also have a number of indoor and outdoor steam rooms and saunas, including a traditional Russian Banya where the steam is created with birch twigs.
In nearby Pratteln there is Auquabasilea, which in addition to their impressive 'Water World' (a big hit with the kids) also have a wide selection indoor and outdoor saunas as well as the 'Hammam World', which is an area available for private parties, where you are taken through various stages of steam rooms and clay baths, followed by an oil massage and traditional tea and snacks.
I hope this helps you find a little more warmth through the winter months. You can thank me after your first session, when you come out completely relaxed with glowing skin and feeling reborn :)