During the last 10 weeks, The Banya Journal aimed at introducing our readers to various exciting aspects of banya culture: from health benefits to bathing traditions and stories of specific establishments like Sutro’s in San Francisco or The Lanterns Banya in St. Petersburg.
We are getting ready to add some variety to the mix: Until the end of May, the Banya Journal articles will be dedicated to the inaugural European Banya Tour organized by Archimedes Travel.
From May 14 to May 25, a group of banya lovers from San Francisco will visit four European countries – Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Estonia – to explore the culture and history, try local food, and, of course, experience the Old World bathing traditions.
Here is a little preview of what is to come.
Our tour starts in Frankfurt, Germany’s cultural, financial, and transportation heart. It is a convenient place to meet for those traveling from San Francisco and a destination in its own right: from local gastronomy traditions (e.g., Apfelwein, a light alcoholic beverage made of pressed apples and served in colorful Bembel jugs) to the museum dedicated to one of Germany’s most influential writers, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
After dinner and a tour of Frankfurt, our group will depart for the first bathing experience – the Taunus Therme at Bad Homburg. This gargantuan bathing complex boasts eight saunas with varying temperatures and air infusions and 15,000 square feet of water pools in an Asian-influenced setting.
Königswinter, Cologne, and Neptunbad
The next day we travel to the town of Königswinter and take a retro tram line to explore the magnificent Drachenburg Castle set against the breathtaking panorama and have lunch overlooking the Rhine river valley.
On the same day, we are set to arrive in Cologne, one of the oldest cities in this part of Europe, continuously inhabited since the Oppidum Ubiorum Roman settlement in 38 BCE. It is also the home to one of Europe’s grandest cathedrals – the Köln Cathedral, a marvel of medieval architecture, which cornerstone was laid in 1248, but took until 1880 to complete (that is 632 years!)
We also visit Neptunbad, a beautiful Art Nouveau bathing house that opened its doors in 1912, and try Kölsch, a light beer served in a tall glass that gets automatically refilled upon being emptied by the happy customer.
Aachen and Carolus Thermen.
The next day we travel to Aachen, a town established by the Romans as a bathing resort that became a preferred residence of Charlemagne and a crowning place for 31 emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. We attend Carolus Thermen, a beautifully designed bath house that uses natural hot spring water from Aachen Rose Spring. The complex spans over 120,000 square feet and contains anything a banya lover may want.
Spa, Luxembourg, Mainz.
Then, we visit the town of Spa in Belgium. This place became a well-known source of medicinal water in the 16th century, spreading the reputation of its magic-like properties and making the term “spa” generic in many languages. It was a popular meeting place for the European nobility and the birthplace of the modern casino. The culture of the Belgian flavor of bathing – balneotherapy – is represented by the Thermes de Spa. We will then travel to Luxembourg, one of Europe’s smallest and most picturesque countries, before returning to Germany’s capital of Riesling wine – the town of Mainz.
The second leg of our tour starts in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, where we explore the beautiful and well-preserved medieval old town and have dinner in the restaurant keeping traditions of the Hanseatic League, a confederation of merchant guilds in Northern Europe.
We travel to a village in South Estonia to experience an entirely different form of heat ritual – a smoke sauna. Added to the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, the smoke sauna is the heart of the Estonian sauna tradition that uses a stove without a chimney, keeping the smoke inside the sauna room.
Our trip will be concluded in Pärnu, located on the coast of the Baltic Sea. The city boasts several unique bathing experiences ranging from Soviet-style banya to boutique spas, mud baths, and snow saunas.
Please add us on social media to follow our trip in (almost) real-time!