Archive: Decadent Experiences
Yes, you're in Europe to learn, but it's a vacation! Have you soaked in a spa? Slept in satin sheets? Gotten a scalp massage? Had a mud bath? Broke your budget for a luxury experience that was a g-g-g-g-good deal? Go ahead, tell us. What fun spots or experiences can you recommend?
In the Dax area in southwestern France, there's a wonderful restorative for weary travelers: the mineral springs spa ("Thellasotherapie") at Salies de Bearn.
The pools are housed in an historic building from the 1930s (although there's been a spa at the site for two centuries). Inside are two large pools filled with comfortably hot water about 5 ft deep. Along the sides and overhead are jets and waterfalls of varying pressure. By moving from one area to another, you can get each part of your body massaged, from neck and shoulders to bottoms of your feet. There are two swim-against-the-current jets. There's an outdoor sunbathing area (open in summer) and three indoor tanning beds. (Just five minutes feels great; do use sunscreen.) There's also a steam room — the hottest and most mentholated one I've ever experienced.
Your admission ticket (about $7) includes use of same-sex locker rooms and a key to a private locker. There are toilets, showers, mirrors, and hair dryers in the locker rooms. Although families with children are allowed, in general the pools are quiet and peaceful places full of French pensioners getting therapy for sore joints. You can sign up for an optional light massage (15 to 90 minutes; extra fee). Proper swimming attire required. We brought our own towels; don't know if the spa rents them. It helps to wear flipflops between locker room and pools.
After your spa visit, stroll one block to the historic Hotel du Parc (on your left as you exit the spa). Check out the central lounge with tiered balconies. This room is leased to filmmakers as a set; one glance will show why. Have a hot chocolate or glass of wine at the bar or eat at the sunny glass-walled cafe.
Then, take a walk through Salies de Bearn, a beautiful medieval village
nestled along the river.
Seattle, WA USA 05/30/01
If you want to truly indulge yourself, go to Baden-Baden, check into
the Brenner's Park Hotel and Spa, get a nice massage and visit the Roman
baths, get all dressed up, eat a fabulous dinner at the hotel restaurant,
and top off the evening at the most beautiful casino in the world!
I stayed at the Grandhotel Praha in Tatranska Lomnica, Slovakia in October, 2000. It is in the forest at the base of Lomnicky Stit (Peak), which you can ascend by the ski lift nearby (picture taking a gondola up the face of Half Dome in Yosemite).
The hotel, built in 1905, was the place royalty went to vacation. It has that old-world charm you don't often find. Although not restored, it is in good enough shape that you wouldn't want it to be. The finest leather chairs adorn the sitting room, where smart Germans get more than their mark's worth of atmosphere. The fireplace was built to please kings and queens. The wood paneling and live organ music and attendant tuxedoed staff cater to you. The Tatran Beer is excellent and robust.
The sauna was so hot, 5 minutes was all I could last without showering
in cold water and re-entering. I lasted maybe 25 minutes of the hour I
booked. The massage that followed was great, even though only 15 minutes
long. But it was only $1.40. The sauna was $1.00 for the hour. In off-season
October, the hotel was $27. I actually felt good about buying a T-shirt
for $10 to remember it all by. But the Tatras are just spectacular!
Fullerton, CA USA 04/17/01
The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni is the nicest hotel that I have ever encountered! It is the only five-star hotel in the tiny town of Bellagio on Lake Como in northern Italy. The natural beauty of a pre-alpine lake surrounded by soaring mountains is breathtaking by day and by night. Some have compared it to Lake Tahoe in northern California, but I feel that Lake Como is in a class by itself.
The hotel is old but with updated facilities, gorgeous, opulent, and
romantic. Ask for a room facing the lake. I believe that the cheaper rooms
(full buffet breakfast included) start at US$230 or so (see http://www.villaserbelloni.it/pag2.htm).
You won't be disappointed!
LA but left heart in SF, CA USA 03/26/01
Create your own decadence wherever you are.
Pick a really comfortable hotel, maybe waterfront (Sitges, Spain and Kusadasi, Turkey come to mind), forget the sightseeing, get some champagne and spend a day with just each other. It's good use of a rainy day, a good break in the middle of a vacation, and helps your marriage a lot.
In the Alps, carefully scout out some space in a meadow for some afternoon
delight. (My lovely lady and I are in our 50's. We're probably more likely
to be laughed at than arrested.)
Chester, VA USA 03/14/01
I lived for 4 years near Frankfurt. I've been back to visit my German friends 11 times in the last 15 years. Here are my 2 favorite spa towns; the train will take you from Frankfurt to either one within an hour.
First is the nearest to Frankfurt: Bad Nauheim. The lake and spa are excellent and the dance clubs at night are also great. After all it's where Elvis Presley lived while stationed there.
In Bad Soden/Salmunster, just west of the Bad Nauheim area, the mineral baths and dance cafes are among the best I've found around the Frankfurt area. The restaurants are great and it has a wide variety of Zimmers (rooms) for rent as well as grand hotels like the Hotel Betz, St George and Zum Heller. The Konig river runs through town making for great romantic walks in the evening after a good meal.
Both places are relatively inexpensive as they are places the Germans
go for vacations. And I've found them great for my days of break between
Seven Points, Tx USA 03/12/01
The Le Meriden Villon Hotel and Spa in Vilnius, Lithuania was amazing. It's
about 15km north of Vilnius proper, set on acres and acres of birch/pine
forest with 2 private lakes, floating bar, excellent spa, gym, sauna...too
many perks to list. On top of that, like most establishments in Lithunaia,
the staff was extremely friendly and multilingual. Their French restaurant
was superb and deftly mixed Lithuanian and French cuisine. My wife and I
totally enjoyed this decadent hotel. Like all Le Meriden hotels, this place
was pure luxury.
Chicago, IL USA 02/16/01
AMSTERDAM! I was shocked and horrified in the most wonderful way.
SAN DIEGO, CA USA 02/14/01
In Baden-Baden, the Roman Irish spa experience is something every traveler
must try out. I luxuriated there last September and cannot wait to go back.
We're headed to Ireland next month and darn, but I don't see a Roman-Irish
bath listed anywhere...
chicago, IL USA 02/07/01
The Blue Lagoon in Iceland is certainly worth a trip. A thermal pool is
a great way to relax at the end of a European visit and my wife, Mary, and
I had a cozy swim to end our trip to Iceland.
Worcester, Ma USA 01/14/01
For our 1st wedding anniversary, my wife and I spent a wonderful evening in the Chief O'Neils Hotel in Smithwick Village of Dublin, Ireland. Even though we have lived in Dublin for months, this was a hidden but very modern hotel experience. We splurged on a suite. The room was enormous with a huge king bed, modern lighting and art, a huge garden balcony and a great CD player sound system with complimentary CD. The creme de le creme was the huge Jacuzzi tub in the center of the coolest and most modern bathroom we had ever seen. Bubble bath is included!
Chief O'Neils provides breakfast (full Irish or continental) in bed upon request. We also checked out about an hour later than the 12noon time limit and no one cared!
While pricey, the Smithwick Village area of Dublin is a hidden treat,
in the city centre (15-min. walk from Guiness Brewery and Temple Bar)
Go for the 'suite' experience and stay for a ride up the Chimney, Irish
music museum, tour of the Jameson distiller and lunch at Kelly and Ping's.
An awesome modern Irish experience!
San Francisco via Dublin, CA USA 01/08/01
I must add my vote for the baths in Baden-Baden. After nearly 3 weeks of traveling, we rolled into Baden-Baden late in the evening. As an afterthought, we decided to go to the baths. We took in the Caracalla baths not really knowing what to expect, except what we read in Rick's book.
It was pure heaven for our tired bodies. The indoor pools are wonderful; the outdoor pools are better. The "river," the neck waterfalls, the "cauldron" — each is relaxing and stimulating at the same time. Moving from hot to hotter sauna upstairs, then dumping the "artic bucket" on you is an experience I would go back for anytime.
Please, please, please don't think twice about the nudity in the upstairs
area. Sitting naked in a sauna with people the age of your grandparents
will quickly make you forget any guilty thoughts or self-consciousness.
Overall, this was the most unexpected pleasure of the trip.
CR, IA USA 12/11/00
My favorite decadent experience was when I had a local fling while in Italy.
So enthralled with each other in this brief interlude, we found ourselves
kissing in St. Peter's Square in Rome. Suddenly a monk (you could tell by
his robe) came up and shook his finger at us, then gestured toward the cathedral
with hands clasped in prayer. We got the message, but I have to say, how
many people get scolded by a monk for kissing in the shadow of the Vatican?
It was sinfully fun!
A Texas traveler
Showing at London's Whitehall Theatre (across from Trafalger Square) through
February, 2001 is one of the weirdest stage performances imagined. Featuring
two guys from Australia, "Puppetry of the Penis" is an adventure in "the
ancient Australian art of genital origami." As the program states this is
"two men, two dicks, no pants." A smile a minute and lots of screams from
the mostly female audience. Though truly an art form show I'd suggest not
taking the kids. A sneak preview is at www.puppetryofthepenis.com.
Glenn & Wendi
Salt Lake City, UT USA 11/11/00
Albania! Stop by any family in Elbasan, Albania, and you will be welcomed
like lost son or daughter. The food seems never-ending, but stay away from
Cutlerville, MI USA 11/10/00
Sitting in Bofingers in Paris, at midnight, gorging on oysters and drinking
good champagne. Cost as much as a dinner, but oh, the feeling.
San Francisco, CA USA 09/12/00
Baden Baden: Indulge yourself. Try both baths.
Everyone working at both spas speaks passable English, and their main goal is to see that you have a comfortable, enjoyable experience. Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions. I had to be shown how the lockers work! (It's simple — change in the locking changing room, then put your stuff in the locker on the other side. Your spa pass goes in the door and you take the key with you. Strap it to your ankle. If you paid for the massage at the old spa, the massage ticket attaches to the key strap just fine.)
Play and luxuriate in the Caracalla spa. Try both the outdoor pools. The tour buses unload in the mornings, so by 2:00 the place is yours. Wander upstairs into nakedland for an hour of quiet — saunas, tanning, whirlpools, foot spas.
The next day, try the Roman-Irish baths. Keep your voice down, follow the signs, and enjoy. Splurge on the massage — it leaves you tingly. Don't leave without taking a nap in the nap room — the attendant wraps you in warmed sheets and lays you down in a dark, silent room.
You'd be surprised how quickly you get over being naked. And also at
how relaxing it is.
a 300 ft. ravine. The bathroom was the size of a normal room and the
bedroom was as big as an apartment. The restaurant in the Paradore was the
best experience, however. We feasted on pumpkin soup, incredible beef, fresh
olives and a bottle of local wine. During dinner, a talented acoustic guitar
player serenaded us with traditional Spanish music.
Tampa, FL USA 07/17/00
Afternoon tea at the Basil Hotel in London. It is located on Basil St.,
a short two-block street very close to Harrods. It is not elegant, but more
real, I think. It seems to be populated by English women of a certain age
wearing tweed. There are soft couches and big overstuffed chairs covered
in red and yellow paisley. Tea is served on coffee tables covered with white
cloths. There are all the traditional tea goodies — salmon sandwiches, cucumber
sandwiches, clotted cream and scones. It is a great place to spend a rainy,
winter afternoon. One of my favorite things to do in London.
St. Cloud, MN USA 06/06/00
I got this hour-long seven-dollar massage in prague by a licensed massuese.
It had to be the most relaxing thing i have ever done in my life for seven
dollars. The girl was very beautiful too!
atlanta, USA 05/26/00
Several things come to mind...
At the Chinese Garden in Munich you can get amazing rotisserie chicken, pomme frites (french fries) and a Maas (large stein) of fresh very cold beer for about $15US — talk bout pigging out!
In Baden-Baden the Freiderich Spa is worth every dime. Do the "whole thing" and you'll not regret it! Roman baths, massage, the quiet sleep room...trust me, all of the kinks will be gone and you'll feel about 20 years younger.
In Paris we took the "Eiffel Tower at Sunset" tour. It was expensive,
but we visited the Tower at sunset (very romantic), then had dinner aboard
one of the boats on the Seine (the meal was superb, and so was the wine),
and we danced to the music of a great combo. After the cruise we got a
guided tour of many of the beautiful sights of Paris at night and then
went to the Lido for the midnight show. By early morning (2:30 or so)
when we got back to our hotel we were exhausted, but agreed it was a heck
of a way to end our stay in Europe.
St. Louis, MO USA 05/11/00
Croatia is the place to go in the Dalmation Islands. There you have
it all: sun, seafood, great prices and friendly people whose second language
is English. The ancient islands date back to Roman rule and are filled with
history. Clear water beaches and fun to be had. Take an overnight cruise
to Italy if you fancy a change.
Buffalo, NY USA 04/19/00
While wandering through Venice last July, slurping up delicious gelato,
my traveling companion and I wandered into a small piazza and found some
comfy stairs to sit on. While we were eating, a musician began to set up
his "show" on the steps across the piazza. For two hours he played gorgeous
classical guitar pieces, while we sat there, watched the crowds pass by,
and soaked up the late afternoon sunlight and music. Much to our chagrin,
the guitarist was eventually run off by a policeman. It was a completely
unplanned, but serendipitous, back door moment, and still one of my all-time
favorite memories. Some of life's most decadent experiences are free!
Charlotte, NC USA 04/14/00
Even though our family usually stays in budget hotels while traveling,
we still occasionally sample life at a five-star hotel by having lunch or
dinner there. You get to take in the ambience of the hotel without spending
a small fortune on a room. Lunch is usually relatively inexpensive but you
still get the wonderful service that is accorded to the registered guest.
Lafayette, CO USA 04/02/00
I have been researching hot springs in Italy! So far I have found several,
which are developed as resort areas in Montecatini Terme and Bagno Vignoni,
and the only undeveloped one I have found so far is in the south of Italy,
in an island off Sicily, called Vulcano, where you can bathe in volcanic
hot sea water.
Willow Springs, MO USA 04/01/00
Dinner in the Red Bar at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna. I chose the price
fixe menu which was expensive but worth it. I told the maitre d' that my
grandparents had come from Vienna & I wanted a special meal during my stay.
Even dining alone, I was treated wonderfully. I kept a journal & wrote down
everything I ate, & when I asked the maitre d' if I could look at the menu
again to copy down my choice as a record of my meal, he brought me an old
menu as a souvenir. Expensive but worth every schilling.
Seattle, WA USA 03/03/00
Nothing like dinner at Cibreo Trattoria behind the main restaurant
in Florence. The same food and wine for 1/2 the price. There is nothing
ft lauderdale, fl USA 01/21/00
Celebrate your 25th wedding anniversary walking around Venice...for
Jay & Teri
Waupaca, WI USA 11/19/99
Sipping Bellinis at the Gritti Palace overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice!
Bridgewater, CT USA 11/04/99
The spas in Baden-Baden! We took a 3-week, 3500-mile trip this summer, so
we had no time to relax. From Paris, we took a short drive to Baden-Baden
on our way back to Frankfurt. One night and a day in Baden-Baden relaxing
at the thermal spas was a relaxing, therapeutic, and hedonistic end to our
vacation. There are two spas, one nude and one not...take your pick.
Pollock Pines , CA USA 10/06/99
Sachertortes in Austria!
Decadence for me is staying in Brugge at the Hansa Hotel, eating mussels
and drinking raspberry beer. I'm making a special side trip next month on
my way to Paris just for the expensive pleasure of it.
Seattle, WA USA 08/27/99
Decadent does not have to be expensive or exclusive. Vernazza is my idea
of decadence. Our inexpensive apartment looked right over the main/only
street. There was nothing to do but eat pizza, compare the two gelato shops
at least twice a day, and swim in the clear, calm harbor. The other towns
are nice, but a few "do nothing" days in Vernazza is my idea of a reward.
Hanford, CA USA 08/18/99
I also enjoy afternoon tea while in London and like to experience different
venues. The Savoy serves a lovely one in their beautiful room, with piano
music, beautiful china and linens. It is not as crowded as the Ritz, costs
about 19 pounds (about $32). You may even have seconds...terrific shrimp
finger sandwiches were my weakness. Quite civilized and filling enough to
get you through a night at the theatre afterwards.
San Diego, USA 07/29/99
It was such a treat having dinner on the Eiffel Tower at the Altitude
95 restaurant. We made reservations by internet (www. tour-eiffel.fr) for
9:00 so we could enjoy the sunset. Our table was right against the window,
facing the Trocadero. We went for the fixed menu, about 250FF per person,
which included tax and tip. We had our choice of starters; my friend chose
the seafood dish which was actually a huge platter of ice mounded with shellfish
of all kinds...unbelievable. We both had wonderful filet mignon in truffle
jus, and creme brulee. The colors of the sky as the sun set, then the glittering
lights as the monuments lit up were spectacular. We felt like royalty. With
wine, our total bill came out to less than $90. Amazing value, though not
a budget choice!
San Diego, CA USA 07/29/99
For my mother and me, a decadent experience was having tea at The Ritz Hotel
in London. Two months in advance, we made our reservations for the 5:00
seating (via The Ritz web site). Tea cost 24.50 ($40) and you are served
in the premier dining room (The Palm Court) on linen tablecloths with the
good china. It's dressy; most people wore suits. The staff wears "morning
coats" (tails) and is very professional. They didn't even blink an eye when
my mother spilled her coffee! You get unlimited tea/coffee, great finger
sandwiches (salmon, cucumber), scones with clotted cream, and delectable
desserts. It doesn't sound like much, but it definitely fills you up. I
know there are other places for tea in London that are less expensive. But
for a truly elegant experience, it can't get any better than The Ritz!
Montclair, NJ USA 06/08/99
The baths in Baden-Baden are a delightful experience even for a country
boy from conservative Kansas. You must try both to have a well-rounded experience.
Hutchinson, Ks USA 06/02/99
Rick, thanks so much for your great Ireland book - we found it helpful.
One suggestion: In Dingle, Co. Kerry, we came across a wonderful natural
therapy centre called Lamh Iomlane Teo in the old Coast Guard Cottage. We
had a wonderful massage and sauna on a rainy afternoon that precluded other
diversions. It was decadent indeed. It's definitely worth checking out when
you're in Dingle! (I think they're on the web somewhere...)
For a great show in Paris...you must stop at "The Crazy Horse". O.K. - it
is a "strip joint" by American standards, but it's more like a comedy/musical
performance. There are dancers, singers and comedians and the entire show
lasts about 2 - 2 1/2 hours. It's a bit pricey (about $40 to get in, but
less if you sweet-talk the doorman). It really was a great time!
MN USA 05/05/99
In Paris go to the Paris Mosquee (pronounced moskay) for a turkish
bath experience that you won't believe. Called the Hamman, it caters to
men and women on opposite days of the week. This is a communal experience
with women of all ages, sizes and shapes, naked and in swimsuits, wandering
from room to room. The sauna rooms get hotter and hotter with cool tubs
to dip into. There are cushions to sit on and women were lounging all around.
There is also exfoliation called gommage and massage at the end. Highly
recommended for an offbeat bit of another culture.
Seattle, wa USA 05/01/99
In Perugia, Italy, we were delighted to find Prosecco (Italian sparkling
wine) on TAP in the cafes! WOW!!! Combined with the experience of having
freshly made chocolates from the Baci factory... we were in heaven.
Ron van Thiel
Menlo Park, CA USA 03/13/99
Try the sauna on one of the top floors of the Hotel Olumpia in Tallinn,
Estonia. It provides a wonderful view of the Old Town of Tallinn while enjoying
a cold Estonian beer.
Idaho Falls, ID USA 03/07/99
This is to add to my comment about Budapest spas. A friend who lives
in Budapest took me to a great, inexpensive one- it's Szechenyl Bath across
from the huge park that — surprise! — has a statue of George Washington. Check — there
are separate men's and women's days. Be ready for the mother of all massages.
Lake Oswego, Or USA 03/07/99
We were sightseeing in the Lake Lucerne area of Switzerland, had been
walking the entire day, and it was quite hot. As we walked along the lake
toward our hotel at dinner time, one of us recalled that our train pass
would also get us on a lake ferry. We had dinner (at extra cost, but well
worth it) on the ferry (a 1910 refurbished paddle wheeler). The sun was
just setting, and it was a 2 - 3 hour lake cruise that we will never forget.
It was all just perfect, and happened by accident. Planning is good, too,
but long live serendipity.
New York, NY USA 02/26/99
I dont' know if this is considered a decadent experience, but I thought
it was the most peaceful/spiritual part of my trip. If you make it to Florence
make sure you grab a bottle of wine and catch a sunset while sitting on
the steps of the Piazza San Michelangelo. There you will find a spectacular
view of Florence while sitting in the company of artists, students, backpackers
and locals. It's a bit of a walk out of the central part of the city, but
it's well worth it!
For one-of-a-kind experiences in Switzerland, go to Gimmelwald and do the cable car bungee jump and/or canyoning (register for both in Interlakken - TI has info). They are both lots of fun.
If in Haarlem (Netherlands), try relaxing by spending an afternoon at
Sauna Sauna. They have a sauna, Turkish Baths and a heated pool. It's
around 20 guilders, 'no frills' and seems to be popular with the locals.
Raleigh, NC USA 01/25/99
The turkish baths in Budapest are great- but the best part are the massages.
These are REAL massages! I paid $3 entrance to baths and $7 for an hour's
massage by an amazon lady who made all travel kinks disappear.
Lake Oswego, Or USA 01/06/99
While my husband commenced on a mission to play every golf course in Ireland, I went and had a facial in Kilkenney. The facialists are required to have extensive training, she was the only young career woman I met. She was interesting and interested, the facial wiped a weeks travel off my face, and they included eyelash dyeing in the price ($30.00). Wouldn't have missed it.
One other thing, in Ireland they have a bazillion shades of red hair
dye. You'll never duplicate it again, but it was great while it lasted!
Kingwood, TX USA 12/18/98
I did the Friderich (? old roman) bath in Baden Baden and it was great.
If you have glasses, wear them - on a chain/strap to keep them on. Even
though they'll end up wet/fogged at different times, you don't want to miss
all the architecture. Also, you can pay extra at Baden Baden Roman baths
for a massage - I recommend it! Great time.
Saint Louis, MO USA 12/10/98
Though we visited many of the great natural and cultural wonders of
the Continent, the high point for our 16-year-old daughter was running off
a cliff in the Alps - tandem paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland. Balmer's
hostel there arranges many such "adventure" activities. My daughter may
grow to appreciate the Van Goghs, the Residenz, David, etc., if you ask
her now about the trip the first thing you will hear about in the paragliding!
Plymouth, MN USA 12/01/98
Finland-yes on a Finnair tour-snowmobiling in the wilderness, riding
with reindeer, and sledding with huskies.
tucson, az USA 11/28/98
Like Rick says, you have to experience a Turkish bath! It begins when
you leave your shoes at the door for rubber slippers. Next, you remove your
clothes and put on a little cloth. You then head to the steam room. Next
you are off to another room where you rinse yourself off prior to getting
lathered up, rubbed with a loofah mitten and massaged by experts who seem
to have the perfect touch. After rinsing again, you're done. Hours later,
you can sit around, have wonderful Turkish tea and socialize with friends.
I skipped the marble pool, but the beauty and tradition of a Turkish bath
are enough reason to do it once in your life. All this for the bargain price
of $7 in Cappadocia. It was the best $7 plus $1 tip I ever spent in my life!
Seattle, WA USA 11/23/98
You want to have fun? Go to Monterrosso in the Cinque Terre, rent a paddleboat
with a slide, and go topless as you paddle the boat around. Make sure you
go down the slide at least once. Sounds weird, but it is a fun and memorable
no name needed
In Reutte, on the German /Austrian border, there is a gliderport, where for about $30 you can soar for 45 minutes above the ruins of a medieval castle. The gliders are pulled down the runway on a cable by a big motor, so there's no towplane noise. Lots of fun!
Also, try the summertime luges in Austria. I tried one that was almost
one kilometer long. It was so fast that the trees next to the concrete
track have foam pads on them. Try not to get behind a dad with young child
though. You won't be able to satisfy your need for speed. Both of the
above tips are Rick Steve recommendations. Just thought I'd let everyone
know that they are indeed "worth the visit."
Freestone, CA USA 11/07/98