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, are somewhat split between San Luis and Adler. Though we all like both and will return to both, three think San Luis 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. The chef uses herbs from the garden in many preparations.
Here also was possibly our (two of us) favorite hike – from San Luis to Leadner Alm (1514m).
Lunch at Leadner Alm
The Spinach Gnocchi at Leadner Alm was quite wonderful!
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 was having the village of Merano nearby. One day, rather than hiking, we visited the Gardens of Trauttmansdorff Castle which was quite spectacular. The gardens are mostly up along a fairly steep hillside that in some places requires gardeners to use climbing kit to access.
This image shows about 1/5 of the gardens.
Lots of switchbacks on the paths.
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 sunroom with loungers, indoor/outdoor pool and the sauna/wet area.
The wet area includes a Finnish Sauna, Hay Sauna, Turkish Bath and 4 showers. The interior is kind of spartan / industrial chic that works well.
The hay sauna is behind the doorway on the left. To the far right is one of the two private showers with full height frosted glass.
The Sauna. The benches are in a U arrangement with a heater in the foot bench of each side. Two more showers and the Turkish bath are in the area beyond.
This was the least of the sauna hot rooms on this trip – but the lake to cool off in after each round kind of almost made up for it. The benches are too low so bathers have the dreaded ‘cold feet’. Since it’s a larger sauna (≈13’ x 13’ x 9’) it wasn’t as bad as benches being too low in a smaller sauna but was still noticeable. EVERYONE using this sauna kept their feet hugged up on the sitting bench because of this. The funniest was two couples from Germany who came in together and about 1 minute after sitting down they all pulled their feet up at the same time.
Community – Not as many people went to the sauna as at Adler 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, newlyweds from New Zealand and a gal and her mom from Italy.
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 compliments of too low of 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.
A not so good sauna in our Chateau. A bit more height to get the foot bench above the stones and cold zone, some more depth to get bathers away from the heater and proper mechanical downdraft ventilation would have made a huge difference.
Lake Como (198m)
We finished off with a couple of nights in the village of Torno on the shore of Lake Como. We drove up to Bellagio for some exploration and lunch followed by a boat tour of one of the three arms of the lake.
Our boat driver, tour guide and local historian for a tour of Como.
Dinner our last night at Il Sereno before flying home the next day. The food that was served properly was excellent. Unfortunately the service was exceptionally poor so some food cooled too much, one dried out waiting on the sauce, and several times we had to wait on water or wine to be refilled that also degraded the food quality.
Sign in Adler Spa
Policy statement from La Perla
“In the sauna nudity is not the objective; it is simply a necessary condition for bathing properly”
– Bernhard Hillila, ‘The Sauna Is’
Yes, private and public saunas (and other thermal experiences) here as throughout Europe and most of the world outside of the U.S. are indeed nude and often mixed sex.
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 each of 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.
Some also take others wearing a suit 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 wonderful 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.
More: Sauna’s, Nudity & Victoria.
Editorial Comment: We are fearful of that which is harmless and excel in doing that which is harmful.
Despite our fear of natural functional nudity, criminalizing consenting adult prostitution and similar bits, we have higher rates of rape, sexual assault and human trafficking, U.S. teens and 20’s gals provide the world with the bulk of its amateur selfie porn and a child here is more likely to grow up in a broken home. No wonder Europeans often view us with disdain as a country of perverts.
We have the highest legal drinking age and 4x the drunk driving deaths. We incarcerate 9x as many people (yes, per capita) and have higher crime rates.
We pour new human wine in to old stiff legalistic wineskins and are shocked when they explode. Our Victorian principles and legalism don’t seem to be working.
Could we perhaps learn something from these sinfully nude Europeans who have legal prostitution and allow 16-year-olds to drink?
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 unhealthy and 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. 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.