Retired in Rome Journal: Czech spa treatment a throwback to sexy side of Ancient Rome

The spa in the five-star Nove Lazne hotel has the original Roman-style baths from 1896 and three separate mineral pools.
The spa in the five-star Nove Lazne hotel has the original Roman-style baths from 1896 and three separate mineral pools.

AUG. 16 — MARIANSKE LAZNE, Czech Republic

I feel so limp, I could only get out of bed with a spatula. If I was any cleaner you could eat goulash off my chest. I couldn’t be any mellower if I spent all weekend smoking dope in a commune.

Mellow is my new nom de plume. Last night I drank from the local trough. I bathed in the sacred mineral waters of Marianske Lazne. And they are sacred. They have been since the early 1900s when the likes of Franz Kafka, Goethe, King Franz Josef I of Austria and King Edward VII of England started a pilgrimage of celebrities seeking total bliss, not to mention a really good bath.

The 100 mineral springs around Marianske Lazne have especially high carbon dioxide and iron, excellent for your skin and well being. These are not volcanic hot springs. They’re waters from the nearby lakes and rivers that are naturally treated for greater health. Nearly every hotel has a spa but no hotel has a spa like Nove Lazne. It sits like a yellow palace across the street from the main tourist drag where I bought a terrific apple strudel with whipped cream and coffee for 60 korunas (about $3.30).

Inside Nove Lazne, people walk through the posh lobby in fluffy white bathrobes as if the five-star resort is their own private estate. I picked up a copy of the hotel’s spa price list and perused the services. They are broken down into categories, from electrotherapy to hydrotherapy to massages and packs. Anything you’d ever want or didn’t think you’d want is offered: acupuncture for 550 koruna ($30), ultrasound therapy (220 koruna), massage with ivy essences (112). The price range goes from a Scottish spray of hot and cold water for 100 to a dubious anti-aging gerovital for 5,950 ($330).

I was tempted to try the Chocolate Massage Superior but I didn’t want to walk out feeling like a Toblerone bar. The Hot Stone Therapy (600) looked interesting but no naturalist, doctor or hedonist could convince me that laying on your stomach with black stones on my back would help my blood pressure.

I wanted nothing to do with something called a Colon Hydrotherapie.

Since I arrived late and missed all the specific treatments — apparently, reservations for the Colon Hydrotherapie were ALL, um, backed up (Sorry. Bad joke.) — I got the run of all the pools.

At Nove Lazne (“New Baths” in Czech), that pretty much gives you license to live like a Roman. That’s Ancient Roman. I’ve lived in Rome for nearly two years. I never lived as I did the next hour. It underlined my answer to the parlor game question: In what period in history would you like to live? Ancient Rome, baby. They knew how to slaughter but they really knew how to relax.

I changed into my swimsuit and walked down the short hallway past a wooden cabinet advertising signature items on sale such as monogrammed beach towels and T-shirts. I turned the corner and saw three pools in a room that looked designed by Bernini. Brown marble columns that resembled towers of fudge stood between white arches holding up by beige bases. In between were three pools: Two were small swimming pools four feet deep with water 32-degree water. Up a few steps was a Jacuzzi big enough to seat 10 people. There weren’t 10 people in the whole spa. I heard a lot of Russian, some English and nothing from the two heavy set Japanese women who didn’t crack a smile as they float languidly in the Jacuzzi like boats in a harbor.

Me getting well into wellness.
Me getting well into wellness.

I walked down the steps into the first pool and let the perfect water lap over my body. I dipped my head and floated effortlessly through the crystal-clear minerals to the other side. A tall, husky man who had just left the pool was kind enough to push a button and in five minutes a waterfall started pouring out of a geyser at the side of the pool. I stood under it as if I was in a jungle in Venezuela.

The spa’s layout reminds me of the ruins I saw left over from the villas that still dot the long expanse of Rome’s Appian Way. These giant mansions still have holes in the ground where the Roman aristocrat owners could dip into a warm pool, then dip into a hot pool, then towel off on the side. One word kept popping into my head. No, it wasn’t opulent although it was. It wasn’t posh because it was all of that, too.

It was sexy. Very sexy.

I’m no geologist. But there is something in those minerals that make you feel so aroused it’s like experiencing an hour of foreplay. The water felt like a thousand smooth hands caressing every inch of your skin. I can’t remember feeling so alive, so alert, so … damn … happy.

It wasn’t perfect. The Jacuzzi is at about 100 degrees, not quite as hot as my Jacuzzi in Denver and not enough to leave you like a wet strand of linguine. Still, the Japanese woman with her hair pinned up like a sumo wrestler and a man with a prosthesis leg leaning against the wall, languished there without uttering a word. As I write this, they may still be there, their skin nary sprouting a wrinkle due to the healing mineral water that has blessed this slice of Central Europe since the beginning of time.

The overall beauty and effects of the spa are bigger than the individual parts. Like Czech Republic, the spas in Marianske Lazne have made a big comeback. Started in 1896, Nove Lazne’s spa lay dormant during the 44 years of communism. However, I can’t help thinking they were kept open and polished for the Czech commie brass and some of Czechoslovakia’s StB secret police to spend some weekends. It reemerged for the masses in 1989, the same year of the Velvet Revolution and the birth of the new Czech Republic. Today, thousands of visitors have come to do what Thomas Edison wished he invented and Goeth wished he could capture in words.

The third pool is the most decadent of all. It’s in the hydrotherapy room which looks like the bathroom of the King of Brunei. It’s eight maroon columns lining two pools with a flower pattern covering every ceiling panel. Light through the thick glass illuminates a turquoise pool. Marble statues stand in the corner. The water seemed almost too perfect to defile with the human body.

To help circulation, I read in the hotel literature, it’s best to treat yourself to a hot-cold treatment. I sat in a sauna that was a relatively mild 122 degrees for about 15 minutes before walking into the open area. At one end, an old oaken bucket resembling a basketball hoop from the early 1900s stood about eight feet high. I pulled the handle and ice-cold water whisked every bead of sweat off my body.

Feeling my knees weak but my blood bubbling and my soul flying, I wound down. I went to the end of the first pool and laid down on a long rattan chair. Above me were orange and red heater lamps that picked up the beads of cold water like kisses from angels.

I walked out and had a dinner I barely remember eating. I just remember having one of the most blessed sleeps of my life, the kind where people don’t think you’re alive you’re sleeping so softly. More than 25 years ago, Czech Republic was a nation of fear and desperation. Today it’s a nation of rejuvenation and wellness.

And the Russians are coming. Good. Vladimir Putin could used a good colon hydrotherapie.