For our fall hiking holiday this year we went to the Dolomites in the South Tyrol of northern Italy. This area is a favorite not just for the great hiking, biking and food, but also for the wonderful Spa Resorts.
Mark Twain was fan of alpine spas and those around Baden-Baden Germany where he is rumored to have said “Here in ten minutes you forget time and in twenty the world” or perhaps it was “Here at the Friedrichsbad you lose track of time within 10 minutes and track of the world within 20…”. Or maybe he said both 🙂
A typical day at an Alpine Spa Resort includes hiking, stopping at a mountain hut for lunch along the way, two or three hours of relaxing sauna in the evening followed by wonderful meals with friends old and new. It’s a great balance of exertion and relaxation (and luxury).
For those who want less exertion there’s the option of relaxing at the Spa all day. One couple we know from Germany visit Adler every fall – she goes on challenging hikes and climbs with her friends and he enjoys a wonderful day relaxing in the spa. And for those looking for greater challenges there are ample opportunities for both longer hikes and more technically challenging climbs.
These are all-inclusive (European style) so you have an assigned table for dinner. This allows you to get to know your dinner neighbors and servers. The food quality (fresh local ingredients and preparation) at all of the alpine spas and huts I’ve been to is on par with or superior to the best locavore restaurants in the U.S.
This all isn’t limited to just the South Tyrol though. You’ll find great spa resorts, spa hotels, spas, huts with great food, hiking and biking throughout the Alps in Monaco, France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia (for those squeamish about nudity the spa resorts in France and western Switzerland might be safer bets though check to make sure). There is also wonderful hut to hut hiking in the Pyrenees and hundreds (or thousands?) of options outside of major mountain ranges such as Papa Rhein Hotel & Spa. If ultimate luxury is your thing then check out the Spas of Relais & Chateaux. Or for more hike than spa some options from Outsider and Crave The Planet.
The South Tyrol, though in Italy, is historically and culturally Germanic having formerly been a part of Bavaria and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This culture still predominates, including with sauna practices. Every sauna includes sand clocks and aromas for the water buckets (and some people brought their own oils which resulted in some fun experimentation and voting on which everyone wanted to use).
Germans tend to prefer a slightly less intense steam that hangs around longer than the somewhat more intense steam that needs to be removed quickly in Finnish Saunas. I like both (and with the variable mechanical downdraft ventilation in our home sauna we can do both) but generally prefer the more intense Finnish steam.
The majority of people did 2 to 5 rounds of hot room > cold shower or jump in the lake > cool rest outside > repeat. A few would include a round in a hay sauna or steam room.
Aufguss? Not at any of these resorts. The focus was on simple, quiet, calm, relaxing and soothing sauna. No shows or towel waving. Thinking back on it I’m a bit surprised that none of the Germans in the San Luis sauna waved a towel to help even out the stratification.
Note: The following is part travelogue and part critique. The critique element is intended to be educational for anyone planning a sauna or spa facility for residential or commercial use. This is not a review. None of these critiques should be construed as a negative review nor disqualify these as wonderful places that we want to (and will) return to.
La Perla (1578m)
La Perla is located in the village of Corvara Italy. They have a few options for eating, all with very wonderful food, including a Michelin starred restaurant. For wine enthusiasts they have a great collection of wines including Barolo’s back to the 1950’s. There are also other options for eating in the village but I think nothing better than what La Perla offers.
A favorite easier hike begins below one of the lifts, continues to some gorgeous waterfalls and then for those up to it, up the mountain to a Hüüt for lunch. This is a great acclimatization hike for getting use to the altitude.
You never know who you’ll run in to.
This is a great area for adventure bikes.
The Spa in the lower level includes a pool area, sauna/wet area and massage rooms. The wet area is a fairly large area designated as nude and includes two saunas, a Turkish bath, Kneipp hot/cold foot bath, showers and lounging areas.
Entry to the sauna/wet area is through the door in the middle. Through the windows to the left we could see out to cooler air but just couldn’t get there.
The wet area. Kneipp foot bath on the left, Turkish bath in the middle dome, lounge area on the right. The two saunas are just behind the Turkish bath.
The most Finnish Sauna on our trip! Benches were at a good height, the foot bench about 15 cm above the stones, and this despite a somewhat low ceiling so we didn’t have cold feet and had quite good Finnish style löyly. Note that the foot bench is just 30cm below the sitting bench which actually worked quite well.
The Finnish Sauna is about 350x350x240cm (11.5 x 11.5 x 7.8’). They took seriously ‘feet above the stones’ so the sitting bench is 1m (39”) below the ceiling and the foot bench then just 30cm (12”) below that. It works quite well with no real cold feet and surprisingly good löyly in my and others (mostly Germans) opinion. Ventilation seemed sufficient except when there were more than about four or five people in the sauna and there was no noticeable radiant from the stove in any of the seating positions.
No Cooldown! This was a major issue for us and others. The shower area includes 3 showers (one semi-private) as well as a shower bucket so initial cooldown was fine. The problem is that there is then no place to go. The entire wet area was quite warm, perhaps 35°c, as was the pool area. From the pool area we could see outside to a parking area that we knew was comfortably cool but there was no way to get there. This put a bit of a damper on the whole experience.
Even just an outside doorway to a small patio in the parking area would have been very much appreciated.
Sauna Community – During our visit community was somewhat limited. There was one other couple, from Germany, who went to sauna daily and one couple who visited twice.
Day one kind of set the tone. A very pleasant first couple of rounds …followed by the tumultuous and loud invasion of Americans.
Room Ventilation – One final issue. There seems no ventilation in this building. Even with windows open and it being about 9°c outside we couldn’t get our room to cool down and we also had extremely high CO2 that was over 2000 ppm one night and about 1800 the others. CO2 above 800 can make sleep difficult and above 2000 makes it nearly impossible. Exhausting air from the central hallways in a way that pulls air from the rooms could possibly help with both cooling and CO2.
Adler Lodge Alpé (1832m)
Rain is a near constant element in the South Tyrol region. Adler Lodge is in the middle of the photo.
Looking out from the pool area. There’s a sensor that opens the doors to swim outside anytime of year.
A quite spectacular view from the pool!
The deck on the front is a great place for a meal or to relax with a glass of wine and some cheese.
They have interesting electric fencing with micro wire woven in to the webbing. It does seem to keep most of the cows where they should be.
We saw a few parents towing younger folks on the uphills. Less busy roads (≈ 4 cars / hr) are safe for everyone to walk and bike on.
Gostner Schwaige was one of numerous options for lunch and is about a 60-180 minute hike (depending on route) from Adler.
Everything on the menu is made from fresh local ingredients. The Heublütensuppe or Hay Soup (not pictured) is famous throughout the area and was popular with us.
Throughout the South Tyrol you’ll find safe walking paths along busier roads as well as good signage. By ‘busier’ these roads get about 20 cars / hour.
The upper level of the lodge is the spa and includes two relaxation sunrooms, deck, indoor/outdoor pool, and wet area. The wet area includes a Sauna, Hay Sauna, Turkish Bath, changing areas, showers and an outdoor deck.
There was no doubt their thoughts on the entire spa area being quiet and calm. I made a comment about the signs and the gal at the nearby spa reception smiled and said “for Americans”.
The Sauna/Wet area is through the doors in the middle. The doors generally remain open but can be closed if anyone is uncomfortable with seeing someone nude.
The younger folk were as well behaved in the sauna as the adults. The pool is generally a ‘calm area’ but for a couple of hours each day they allow diving and horseplay.
The central corridor for the sauna/wet area. When open (photos were when it was closed) there are a couple of different waters and snacks available. The hallway to the sauna is on the left and the hallway to the hay sauna and turkish bath on the right. Note the ice dispenser (for rubbing on your body to cool down) on the deck.
Sauna hallway / changing area. There are two showers on the left and the entry to the sauna on the right at the far end.
Everyone sat on the upper (sitting) bench. Sometimes someone might lay on the middle (foot) bench but most lay on the upper bench.
This was a quite good sauna. The hot room is about 4m x 4m ( 13’ x 13’)
The benches were sufficiently high that there were no cold feet, convective heat was quite even around your entire body and there was no noticeable radiant. Flow would have been improved some with a bit of flat or reverse slope ceiling instead of the high low angle peak but the sauna is large enough that this was only a minor issue.
Here too is where we find a bit of a difference in Finnish and German sauna. Germans prefer lighter steam that very very slowly dissipates compared to Finnish tradition of more dense steam that you need to have exhausted somewhat quickly. Interestingly there was general agreement among all (we were the only Americans among mostly Germans) that this sauna could have used stronger steam.
After cooling down with a shower there were a few options for further relaxing such as the deck in the wet area (including an ice machine) or the larger deck by the sunrooms (towel, suit or bathrobe required).
Hallway / Changing for Hay Sauna (far end left) and Turkish Bath (middle right). Similar to the sauna hallway there are two showers on the left.
Hay Sauna. This was about 60°c. They change the hay about twice each year.
Hay Sauna – I didn’t much care for the hay saunas myself. I tried each a couple of times and they’re just not that great to me. A few people did seem to like them and some did multiple rounds in the one here at Adler.
Sauna Community – One of the more enjoyable elements here was the community. Firstly, there were many more people here using the sauna than at the others and all were quite pleasant and enjoyable. Everyone was fairly quiet and contemplative. What conversations we had were just slightly above a whisper and, for me anyway, involved about the right amount of time in conversation vs quiet time. There was a younger family there two days (3 kids maybe 9 – 16) and the kids were as pleasant and well-behaved as any of the adults.
There were a number of us who went to sauna every day about the same time so got to know each other somewhat.
The chalets also had sauna like objects for private use. These supposedly operated as a traditional sauna or a bio-sauna.
Heat was from a radiator buried beneath the sitting bench. The result was quite unpleasant and nothing approaching a sauna.
San Luis (1400m)
Located in an alpine meadow above Merano Italy. Our group of four, who’ve travelled together often for the past 10 years, were somewhat split between San Luis and Adler. Though we all like both and will return to both, three think San Luis is overall slightly better and the better food and service by a slim margin over Adler. San Luis is a bit more formal than Adler or La Perla.
Most of the spa is under the gardens which I thought a good idea. The nearest and smallest is the Turkish bath, the middle includes the Sauna and Hay Sauna and the largest and closest to the lodge includes a sun room on the lake side and fitness area on the back.
Here also was possibly our (two of us) favorite hike this year that from San Luis took us through Leadner Alm (1514m) and Wurzer Alm (1707m).
Lunch at Leadner Alm.
Each morning they delivered breakfast including ingredients for various egg dishes along with pancake batter. I think we preferred walking to the lodge and having them prepare everything but this was a fun alternative.
One nice bit about San Luis is having the village of Merano nearby. One day, rather than hiking, we visited the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle which is quite spectacular. The gardens are mostly up along a fairly steep hillside that in some places requires gardeners to use climbing kit to access.
Matteo Thun’s Viewing Platform.
This is a wine making region and often on steep slopes such as these of Innerleiterhof winery.
The Spa at San Luis includes massage rooms on the main level and then below on the lake level a fitness center, glass walled pseudo sunroom with loungers, indoor/outdoor pool and the sauna/wet area.
The wet area includes a Finnish Sauna, Hay Sauna and Turkish Bath. The interior is kind of spartan / industrial chic that I like and think would have been fine if not for already feeling like you are in a maintenance area before entering.
Changing Room. The hay sauna is behind the doorway on the left. To the far right is one of the more private fully enclosed showers with full height frosted glass.
From the opposite direction. The two private showers are on the left. The sauna is in the hallway to the left. At the end of the hallway is another changing area, Turkish Bath and two more showers.
The Sauna. The benches are in a U arrangement with a heater in the foot bench of each side.
The view from the changing room that is similar to the view from the sauna.
This was the least of the sauna hot rooms of this trip – but the lake to cool off in kind of almost makes up for it. There are some good opportunities for improvement.
Low Benches – This results in noticeably cold feet. EVERYONE using this sauna keep their feet hugged up on the sitting bench because of this. The funniest was two couples who came in together and about 1 minute after sitting down they all pulled their feet up at about the same time. San Luis have room for higher benches, at least along the back bench wall (and definitely should). The larger size of this room results in somewhat less of a cold foot problem than similarly low benches in a smaller sauna but cold feet nonetheless.
Best I think would be to move both heaters to one of the front corners and do a 3-tier L bench on the opposite two walls. This would provide for a much better sauna experience overall for everyone.
This was a holiday, not a sauna study trip, so I didn’t spend much doing in-depth technical analysis. One day however we weren’t hiking so I was able to get a quick IR image of this sauna before it opened. Here we can see a head temp of ≈77.2 – 85.3°c and a foot temp of 58.6°c. I’ve generally found that in the lower half of saunas the wall temp is about 2-4°c cooler than ambient and the head temp about 7-10°c cooler. Often walls will be a bit cooler due to thermal bridging and heat exiting the space through the walls (E.G., no sauna has 100% perfect insulation that would prevent this). There will also be a bit of a lag for heat to xfer from ambient to the wall which likely accounts for the greater difference higher up (though after a couple of hours this difference would be less).
So actual ambient here is likely an average of about 85°c head, 56°c foot for a head to toe difference of about 29°c which would agree with my and others experiences (e.g., everyone raising their feet). Less than 15-20°c difference would be much better and more comfortable.
Radiant – The bench along the back bench wall (opposite the door) was quite comfortable but sitting along the sides could result in minimally uncomfortable radiant heat from the stoves. People would tend to crowd on the back bench rather than spread out and be closer to the stoves.
Steam – Steam never descended below about mid to low back. Higher benches and maybe a bit more air gap in the benches/skirts should help with this.
Sliding Door – Difficult to open and close as well as takes a lot of time to open/close so more of a cold draft on bathers and loss of heat. They’ve a tough situation here with the hallway so a hinged push out door might have been difficult (though still perhaps better?). This should be made easier to open/close. Sill guides along the bottom might be sufficient (it seems to swing out and get pinched on the wood sill) and possibly a smaller door. IIWM, I’d lower the door about 5-7mm and have a well defined slot/gap in the wood sill. This would keep the sill the same height as the interior, provide a solid guide for the door, make opening/closing easier, and provide for a better air seal.
Too Large Door / Door Opening – The door and opening goes all the way to the ceiling so every time it’s opened a bunch of heat escapes out the top and cooler air enters near the floor and foot bench. One alternative to a smaller door might be to just add a bit of glass in the upper part to keep heat from escaping so easily.
Ventilation – I did numerous rounds in this sauna gauging ventilation and timing my rounds to coincide with others to get a good idea of performance (hopefully nobody thought we were stalking them. 🙂
When the door wasn’t closed fully there was surprisingly good ventilation (and colder feet).
When the door was fully closed (difficult but doable) it was fine for just me or me and one other smaller person (female). CO2 levels became noticeably too high after about 10 minutes with myself and one other adult male, worse with myself and one other couple (male & female) and quite bad when there were four or five of us in there.
Cost/Energy Savings – As is this is a very energy wasting sauna. Benches up in the better heat along with decreasing the height of the door opening will likely result in anywhere from 30-70% less energy use with commensurate monetary savings (sans solar) – and provide for a better sauna experience.
Community – Community here was OK. Not as many people went to the sauna and not as often so opportunities to get to know people were somewhat limited. Everyone was quite pleasant though and included a few folks from Germany, a young couple from New Zealand and a gal and her mom from Italy.
No Clock – There was no clock anywhere in the sauna area so no way to tell, for instance, when you should head upstairs for your 5p massage.
Architecture – The sauna/wet area is off by itself and felt kind of uninviting – like the ugly bit that they wanted to keep hidden. A couple of people said that it felt more like a service area than an area intended for guests. This by comparison with other Spas where the sauna/wet area is better integrated as a core part of the pool and spa.
The entry to the main vestibule / changing / shower area is in the middle. To the left is the hay sauna and to the right is the window in the sauna hallway. The Turkish bath is in the area to the far right.
The exterior wall of mirrored windows is aesthetically unappealing and can be uncomfortably hot to walk by when the sun is reflecting off of them.
It’d be good if the sauna/wet area could be opened up a bit, better tied to the other areas and the mirrored windows eliminated.
That said, I struggle a bit with what a better solution might be to preserve comfortable privacy for those in the wet area while tying it in better with the other areas and still having windows, light and being able to see out.
Had it been built about 1m or so higher than the surrounding outside area then it would have been easy to provide privacy as well as a good open feeling and view. That’s unfortunately not the case though if they do any extensive remodeling that should be included.
As is, I wonder if the mirrored windows could perhaps be replaced with windows that are frosted on the lower part and clear above. Then perhaps some wood elements on the exterior that create some louvres or egg crate on the windows. This would allow for light in, view out and significantly limit being able to see in.
Connectedness – There also seemed a lack of connectedness. At other spas you tend to interact and connect with people more than at San Luis. One woman I talked with said that she thought the same and that having two of the showers fully enclosed might be part of the problem and that either half doors or just a short partition would be better. The Turkish bath area was also quite dark which I kind of liked but I think that also contributed to the lack of connectedness as anyone in there was kind of lost to everyone else. On the other hand, one thing that San Luis promotes is privacy so perhaps this is OK.
Chateau’s here also have personal saunas but sadly these are just a couple of steps above a typical North American kit sauna. Not only did this sauna have very cold toes thanks to the low benches but due to the minimal heater wall to bench wall distance it did not have a good convective loop and instead heat kind of rises in to bathers faces. This combined with noticeable radiant from the stove resulted in a not so pleasant experience. The minimal air gap in the benches and skirts likely contributed to the poor convective loop and steam never descending below mid back.
An IR image of this sauna, after heating for about an hour, indicated a head temp of about 76.3-84.8°c and toes of 44.2°c. So realistic ambient was likely about 84°c head and 42°c toes for a difference of a whopping 42°c.
Sign in Adler Spa
Policy statement from La Perla
Nude – Yes, public saunas (and other thermal experiences) here as throughout Europe and most of the world outside of the U.S. are nude and often mixed sex. No swimsuits are allowed.
“In the sauna nudity is not the objective; it is simply a necessary condition for bathing properly”
– Bernhard Hillila, ‘The Sauna Is’
This is not really a big issue for most except U.S. Americans. We are the odd one’s out.
Most of these spas have a fairly large area, sometimes called a Wet Area, that is in its entirety designated as nude. Wet areas typically include a larger central room or corridor and then off of that the various thermal experiences such as sauna, Turkish bath and other options as well as showers and a place to cool down outside. These are sometimes very segregated from textile (clothing required) areas and sometimes only minimally. Similarly, some always require a towel or swimsuit outside of wet areas, a few allow nudity throughout the spa, pools and sun lounges and many fall somewhere in between where you might wear a towel to walk from the sauna to the pool or lake but dropping it and jumping in to cool off and swim is fine.
A typical routine is sauna for 10-15 minutes, cold shower or swim, cool off further outside, repeat. Most people will do all of this nude except for wrapping a towel on when leaving the wet area.
Why Sauna Nude?
- More Comfortable – Swimsuits prevent skin from breathing and sweat from cooling us in the sauna.
- More Comfortable II – A wet dripping swimsuit, especially when cold, is not pleasant.
- Easier – Showering, etc.
- More Hygienic – Bacteria grows rapidly under swimsuits.
- Healthier Air I – Those wearing swimsuits often begin to smell a bit (thanks to bacteria) after a round or two. And then there are those who haven’t washed their suit immediately before sauna (oooofff!).
- Healthier Air II – Swimsuits often carry chemicals such as chlorine or detergent additives that become rather obnoxious in the heat of a sauna.
- Healthier Air III – Swimsuits may produce micro-plastics and PFAS.
Overall being nude makes for an easier and more comfortable and enjoyable experience. It’s functional.
“You don’t shower with clothes on, why would you sauna with clothes on?”
– My wife’s cousin Maria in Sweden
But why enforce nudity for everyone? Healthier air and avoiding offensive odors from those wearing suits is one reason. Another is that being nude is most comfortable for us individually so most people do prefer to be nude, but being naked also makes us somewhat vulnerable, which is itself good but it’s then also best and most comfortable for everyone, particularly women, if everyone is equally vulnerable.
I’ve also been told that some take it as an insult, as if someone is saying ‘I’m too good to be nude’.
Sexual? Not really, guys will certainly notice nude women but it’s perhaps more appreciation than sexual in this context and similar to noticing someone who has an attractive face. This is I think a very difficult concept for Americans to grasp given a culture that has sexualized all nudity and where most guys primary exposure to nudity is porn – but it’s really not sexual here. This is functional nudity that is very different than sexual or erotic nudity.
We in the U.S. today are very much the odd ones out on this – both culturally and historically. About 99% of saunas outside of the U.S. are and always have been nude and it has not been a problem. Natural functional nudity was normal in North America until the early 20th century when new Victorian principles and legalism fully took hold here (including prohibitions on alcohol, consenting adult prostitution, a long list of books, gambling and other bits). And this has not proven good for us.
Jews and Christians across Europe, including evangelicals, seem just as comfortable with nudity as anyone. My first nude sauna experience in Germany was actually with an evangelical Baptist pastor I was interviewing for his work with drug addicts and he invited me to his sauna club. That was almost 30 years ago. This does appear to be a U.S. cultural thing, not religious, though religious teachings certainly played a role in shaping our post Victorian culture.
If you are uncomfortable with this for yourself, as even many from Germany and elsewhere are, that’s totally fine and understandable – it’s purely personal choice. There are other options for the late afternoon relaxing including laying by the pool, in sunrooms, swimming or taking a nap in your chalet. Many people who are comfortable with nudity also don’t sauna every day and some days prefer to just relax by the pool.
Our home sauna is whatever everyone is comfortable with but the default is swimsuits or towels fully wrapped. Sauna is a social activity and we’d much prefer to sauna with friends than not sauna with them at all.
Some resorts will sometimes not strictly enforce nudity. San Luis for instance says that swimsuits are acceptable in the Hay Sauna and La Perla says that if it’s only Americans they’ll not enforce it in their sauna unless someone complains.
Twice at La Perla some Americans experienced the shock of going in to a sauna with suits on and being told by those already in there that they couldn’t wear them. Once was the second time I’ve heard a German woman point to the door and quietly but demandingly say “Aus”! The first time, about 25 years ago, I was the one on the receiving end. One of these American’s argued about it, left in quite a huff, complained to the front desk and was apparently quite outraged when the front desk told them that swimsuits were indeed not allowed.
Americans! Sadly I’ll add this. Americans are often not appreciated nor well liked in Europe. As one person told me “we tolerate Americans in tourist areas, not so much for our holidays”. And that from someone who enjoys visiting the U.S. every year.
We are, according to many in Europe, “far too loud, obnoxious, arrogant, ignorant and immature”. Oh, if we disagree with that statement then they’ll say, rightly, that we’re exemplifying three of those; arrogance, ignorance and immaturity.
I think it’s critical to understand what underlies some of this. First is that Consideration and Respect For Others is very important for Europeans vs American’s Me and My Rights attitude that they see as selfish and elitist. They think ‘My Community’ rather than ‘Me’ and My Community can be the people they are in the sauna with, the community they live in, their country, or in particular their family and the friend group they’ve had since they were teens. They also value Personal Space and this includes head space.
So, they talk quietly so that they don’t disturb or annoy others while we think it’s our right to talk as loud (and obnoxiously display our arrogance, ignorance and and immaturity) as we want. They understand that a loud environment suppresses our cognitive ability and believe that doing so is quite rude. Their rule of thumb is that somebody 1m (3 feet) shouldn’t be able to understand them and 2m away shouldn’t be able to hear them. Yes, that quiet.
When a server doesn’t ask how we’re doing or someone on the street doesn’t say ‘hello’ it’s because they believe that doing so is interrupting us (and it is) and that would be inconsiderate of them. They stay as far right as possible on multi-lane roads, don’t block the left lane and generally try to be considerate of other drivers and especially of people walking or riding a bicycle.
They believe that not being honest and direct with someone is disrespectful and inconsiderate so they are very honest and direct, which we are offended by, leaving them confused why we’re offended by honesty.
Many restaurant owners and chefs believe they have an obligation to their community to serve food that in its composition and portion is healthy and of high quality. Serving unhealthy or poor quality food or large portions is seen as being disrespectful toward their guests. Similarly, manufacturers and retailers feel a duty to offer quality products and to not mislead customers about them just to make more profit (consumers are also more knowledgable and would often rather have one quality product than five cheap products).
They feel a duty to walk or bicycle for local trips (less than 1-3 miles each way) rather than drive. This because they know it is critical to good health and they feel they shouldn’t become a burden to their healthcare system. They know it results in less air and noise pollution which is being considerate of others. And, it costs them less and costs their community less.
This even extends to traffic engineers who are considerate of everyone, not just drivers, and are very focused on comfort and safety for all, particularly more vulnerable who are walking, bicycling or using a mobility device. They are also very considerate of those nearby in homes or businesses and try not to negatively impact them, or ideally have a positive impact. American traffic engineers are focused almost exclusively on low delay for drivers with little or no consideration for people walking, bicycling, living or working nearby. That widening a roadway to increase traffic throughput will increase noise and air pollution for residents and make crossing a street more dangerous is not a consideration for U.S. traffic engineers.
They try not to negatively impact others in any way if possible.
Second, there is much less Class Hierarchy. Everyone is on the same level and of equal value. A CEO is expected to wash their lunch dishes just as anyone else. While there may be a chain-of-command in a business or other organization, in life as in the sauna everyone is equal and nobody has any greater rights or status than anyone else. In many countries this also includes a bit of consensus culture so a CEO or manager may have ultimate decision authority but they will value input from everyone at every level and will try to find a consensus solution (which sometimes involves increasing people’s knowledge so that they understand better, or a decision maker changing their mind based on knowledge from others further down the chain).
And Third, they have a High Regard for Learning and Knowledge. Part of this is simply that they know the benefits of good accurate knowledge for making good decisions – personal, business, or polis. They also believe that it is their responsibility to those in their community and that not doing so is… disrespectful and inconsiderate of others. They believe it’s important to take life somewhat seriously and to try to create a better world for everyone and that not doing so is inconsiderate and disrespectful of friends, family and especially children who will inherit this world. They have little regard for the ‘don’t overthink it’ ethos that’s increasingly engulfing the U.S. and more than a few have mentioned that American’s are quite gullible due to our lack of desire to learn and our love for the ‘easy button’.
It’s interesting how this comes across in different cultures. Germans are very direct ‘do this don’t do that’, a Finn will make a suggestion and if you don’t get the point they’ll make the suggestion again, …and again. After a while you get the message that what they really mean is ‘do this don’t do that’.
And no, I am not saying that they are perfect. Far from it. Every culture has it’s issues. Danes are fond of saying that Swedes are just the human form of Germans 🙂 A few Finns have told me that they wish their culture was a little more open and friendly like the U.S. Only a little though, a tiny little 🙂
I think actually that most Europeans like Americans, or want to like Americans, they just don’t like these things about us. And there are many Americans who are not so ignorant and boorish, who are respectful, fit in and don’t stand out like a sore thumb.
If you want to understand Europe and Europeans better there are two books I’d recommend; ‘The Happiest Kids In The World’ by Rina Mae Acosta & Michele Hutchison and ‘Bringing Up Bebe’ by Pamela Druckerman. I’ve found that the best way to understand a culture is to study how they raise their children and these are two of the best. Others to consider; ‘There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather’, ‘The Danish Way Of Parenting’, and ‘Achtung Baby’. Also, Rick Steve’s ‘Travel As A Political Act’ is a worthwhile read as well.
An American Friendly Option – For those uncomfortable with nudity or with children who may not enjoy a calmer atmosphere, a good option may be The Naturhotel Forsthofgut in Austria that caters better to Americans. In addition to the traditional wet area spa they also have a textile (swimsuits allowed) spa ‘for our international guests with different sauna traditions’. This can provide a good opportunity to enjoy a spa in the comfort of your swimsuit while still having the option of a true sauna experience if you want. Similarly, people can go to sauna at the same time but chose the option that’s most comfortable for each individual.
Similar to most alpine spa’s, I don’t believe they strictly enforce age restrictions unless children are ill-behaved, so if the whole family wants to experience the traditional wet area once or more while you’re there you’d likely be welcomed.
This is much larger than the more typical boutique alpine spa resorts so not as personal of service and not as calm or relaxing of an atmosphere but still a wonderful experience. It is family owned by a quite wonderful family, not a corporate entity. Children are still expected to behave but not to the level of other spas.