Therme Erding Munich
Chilly winter's day in Bavaria? We headed for Therme Erding - the biggest spa in Europe - to sample an indoor world of watery excitements sure to warm things upFeatured February 12 Words by Tristan Rutherford
Under an artificial sky, not far from Munich's hectic streets, lies an Eden where locals come to wash and wallow. Warm healing waters filter through a dozen indoor pools, while labyrinthine side passages lead off to saunas the size of amphitheatres, and antechambers with high-tech massage loungers.
Around a huge tropical paradise, palm trees waft their fronds over lines of nude Germans, who grill like white wurst under UV sun-lamps, while in the Roman-themed baths, complete with mosaics and Doric columns, guests soak in mineral-rich waters.
This is Therme Erding: state-of the-art mega-spa and Europe's largest. Built over a giant network of springs, the spa's thermal waters were found by happy accident in 1983, when US oil firm Texaco came to the small hill town of Erding, 40km north of Munich, to drill for fossil fuels. The oil company's loss was Bavaria's gain, however, as the multi-faceted leisure complex built on the site is now as big as an American shopping mall and much more fun.
Unlike the health resorts of Bavaria, such as Bad Reichenhall, that found favour with high-society in the 19th- century, this watery playground has amusements to suit all energy levels. For families, there's Galaxy, a theme-park zone that added 10 new waterslides last year (for a total of 2km of chutes), which can send guests plunging into water at speeds of up to 70km/h.
Adults might prefer the vast thermal spa, VitalityOasis, where clothes are verboten and swim-up bars serve local Erdinger lager to laid-back nudies. All shapes and sizes are on display, and there's not a hint of exhibitionism either. It's as if patrons have simply forgotten to pack their Speedos for a day at the pool.
Like many thermal spas in Germany, Therme Erding is half indoors, half alfresco. For what must rank among the healthiest pursuits in Bavaria, jog into the chill winter air, then shriek as the icy plunge pool shrink-wraps every extremity, before diving headlong into the steamy 34°C thermal waters. Bath time never felt this good.
Entry costs from €14 for two hours. Therme Erding, Thermenallee 2, Erding, near Munich; tel: +49 (0)8122 227 0200, therme-erding.de
Three more public spas to put a spring in your step for 2012…
Gellért Spa, Budapest With more than 100 natural springs, the Hungarian capital is a no brainer for the spa seeker. This art nouveau venue, on the Danube's banks, has spa, sauna and swimming facilities. A day's entry costs 3,800 HUF (€12.50) - or stay in the adjoining Danubius Hotel and bathe for free. gellertbath.com
Turkish Baths, Harrogate (Leeds-Bradford) It's worth a visit to this vintage spa just for the imposing building, but though the façade and much of the intricate mosaic interior are Victorian, treatments are decidedly modern. Entry costs from £13.50 (€16) for three hours. harrogate.gov.uk
Thermes De Spa, Brussels The iron-rich waters of the small Belgian town of Spa, a 90-minute drive from the capital, have shared their name with health resorts since Roman times. Access the baths from the town by funicular railway and spend the day for €29. thermesdespa.com