Adventuresome spa goers seeking something off the beaten track might want to try Kneipp therapy in Tabarz, Germany, a wellness therapy with a long tradition in Germany. Here’s my off-the-wall spa experience.
“Do you think he’s coming back?” Chantale asked, as the conductor of the tram pulled into a maze of outdoor tracks, turned off the engine and walked away.
“Doesn’t look like it.” I stepped over my luggage and tried the door. “We’re locked in.” At Chantale’s wide-eyed expression I felt a twinge of guilt. “Sorry,” I said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have insisted we get on this train.”
And maybe Chantale shouldn’t have agreed to travel with a virtual stranger. Chantale and I had been e-introduced by a mutual contact, and we had emailed a few times, but the first time we met was a few hours ago at the Frankfurt airport. And already I’d led her astray.
Obviously, my leap-on-the-train-ask-questions-later mentality is not in sync with her more cautious (some may say level-headed) method of travelling, but I was so happy to see the right tram number it never occurred to me to make sure it was going the right way.
Tabarz, a former East German town
Eventually, a passing worker let us out. And eventually we made it to our final destination, a small town in former East Germany called Tabarz. You’d be lucky to find Tabarz in a guidebook. Before Germany’s unification, it was a popular health resort for those behind the wall, attracting 800,000 visitors a year. Now, the number is more like 200,000, as former East Germans are now travelling further afield.
Located in the sweeping Thuringian Forest, Tabarz offers clean air, low spruce-covered mountains and a certain faded romance with large stately houses, some in disrepair. For those who like a bit of adventure thrown in with their spa, it has a lot to offer.
Chantale and I have come because in 2001 Tabarz was officially designated a Kneipp resort, and we want to learn about this traditional wellness philosophy based on five pillars of health: water, exercise, nutrition, herbs/plants and balanced lifestyle – Kneipp therapy in Tabarz here we come!
All about Kneipp therapy in Germany
Developed in the 19th century by a German priest, Sebastian Kneipp, who cured his tuberculosis via this innovate health regimen, Kneipp therapy is most famous for its hydrotherapy treatments involving hot and cold applications of water, meant to boost circulation and stimulate the immune system.
With a motto of ‘inactivity weakens, exercise strengthens, excess harms,’ I should have known this wouldn’t be easy. First up on our itinerary was Nordic walking on Inselberg Mountain, where the Rennsteig is one of Germany’s most popular long-distance trails.
We set off, poles flying behind us. Chantale, her dark hair escaping from her ponytail and glasses sliding low on her nose, doesn’t look any more outdoorsy than I am, but it was still a joy to be out in the pine-scented sunshine. Neither of us excelled during our next activity, aqua exercises at Tabbs, the local wellness and spa facility, and our dignity disappeared altogether when we partook of a classic Kneipp treatment – getting our butts and thighs blasted with cold water.
The therapeutic massage was more indulgent. Steaming herbal stamps filled with organic herbs from Austria and Bavaria were pressed on our bodies. It was soothing and sybaritic, though disconcerting to get naked in a couples massage room with someone I barely knew. It was worse for Chantale, because I had my camera.
“I’ve just photographed your arse,” I said.
She rolled over drowsily. “Make it beautiful.”
The next day, after high-stepping it through an outdoor wading pool and treading barefoot around a path of wood chips in the town’s spa garden, we went hiking with a certified herbal expert, Undine Jacobs, who showed up looking like a fairytale character in a folk dress toting a basket of greenery on her back. Happily, our educational hike ended at Massemuhle, a café in the forest.
Kneipp’s nutritional pillar might promote whole foods like grains, vegetables and fruit, but after two days of exercise Chantale and I wanted apple strudel. Our travelling styles may differ but on this we agreed – pastry should be part of any balanced regime.
Travel tips for Tabarz, Germany
Experience Kneipp in Tabbs is a 5-day package that includes indoor/outdoor activities, bathing, two massage treatments, breakfast, dinner and accommodation at the 4-star Hotel Zur Post. Prices vary, and you can ask for a translator (recommended). For more info on Tabarz visit Tabarz.de. Tourism Information Tabarz Tel: +49 (0) 36259 61087.
Getting to Tabarz: Trains to Tabarz require a change in the nearby town of Gotha. Gotha is easily reached via Frankfurt or Erfurt, the capital of the province of Thuringia. www.raileurope.com
Kneipp Therapy: Tabarz is one of many officially designated Kneipp Health Resorts, including Bad Woerishofen, where Sebastian Kneipp lived and worked. www.bad-woerishofen.de
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