Austrian Sauna Survival Guide
Back in 2017, after a stressful couple of months at work, my partner booked for us to visit an exclusive spa hotel in the Austrian alps but upon visiting the sauna I got slightly more than I’d bargained for.
After some quick googling and research, I began to get excited. This hotel had a spa to die for. There were 11 different types of sauna! How on earth would I manage to try them all during such a short time at the hotel?
We flew into Tirol via Innsbruck airport, grabbed our hire car and set out on a two-hour drive up into the mountains. After sampling some beautiful scenery on the way, we eventually arrived at our resort in Zillertal. The air is crisp and clean, and the mountains towered high above the glacial valleys, shrouded in cloud. This was the perfect place to unplug from technology and recharge.
Tirol in the Austrian Alps
One of the great things about the Austrian alps is that, as well as visiting the sauna, you can ski all year round. A short car journey would have taken us up onto the Hintertux glacier where skiing is possible, even during the summer. I’m not a skier – I am mostly legs and I have very little limb co-ordindation so its best that I steer clear of the slopes. Therefore I won’t be reviewing the ski facilities here (you got the wrong blog for that).
Instead, my time in the mountains was to be entirely dedicated to relaxation, recuperation and making maximum use of hotel’s fantastic spa facilities. I envisaged my stress melting away in the humidity of the sauna, practicing mindfulness with the majestic Austrian alps as my backdrop and catching up on trashy novels on my hotel balcony.
We quickly checked into our room, grabbed our towels and headed down to the spa.
The Spa and the Austrian Sauna
One thing I hadn’t considered was that spa culture in the UK is very different to everywhere else in the world. As you’d expect, the brits approach saunas in a very British way – wearing full swimming attire, barely flashing an ankle. Having never visited a spa outside the UK, I had expected a similar approach.
I noticed the sign at the spa entrance stating that swimming costumes are not permitted within the spa area. This was confirmed with a quick visual scan and I quickly looked for someone else wearing a swimming costume. Surely nudity is optional rather than mandatory? I’m British – we just don’t do nudity!
Stood in this Austrian spa is was feeling increasingly exposed and extremely anxious. I’d come here to escape stress, not to find more. I clung to my bath robe and skirted around the sauna door, feigning interest in the herbal tea selection whilst looking for a way to make this work.
(As an aside – I discovered fennel tea amid this melodrama)
I soon spotted someone else in swimwear entering the Jacuzzi. My relief was profound. There was another British person here! Moments later, another spa-goer to approaches him and points out the no swimwear sign. My only ally leaves me alone in the spa.
I cut my losses and headed back to the hotel room, feeling extremely anxious. I considered what else I could do at the resort if the spa was no longer an option to me. Whilst also contemplating an early flight home, I decided to find out more about etiquette inside an Austrian sauna and European spa culture, and did some research, mainly this fab blog.
The Europeans take their saunas very seriously and visit them regularly. Visiting a spa is seen as a social occasion and it’s not uncommon to visit a spa and being sat cheek to cheek with your boss or your mother in law.
Nudity is a standard across most Austrian saunas and continental spas and as many Europeans visit these so regularly, they don’t think twice about someone being naked in a sauna. This is largely done for hygiene reasons as swimwear can be a hot bed for bacteria.
I began to realise that the only thing stopping me from enjoying the spa was myself. Everything I had done to hang onto my towel had only drawn more attention to myself. No wonder I was feeling self-conscious and exposed.
I had a choice.
I could continue to be very British about it all, keep my clothes on and completely avoid going to the spa when I had travelled so far the saunas.
Or I could face my fear, let go of the anxiety, forget about everyone else and make the most of my time at this hotel.
…Finally learning to relax!
I’m glad to say I chose option two.
At first it felt slightly alien and all my movements into or out of the sauna were swift ones. But eventually it began to feel normal. I began to feel less self-conscious despite being more exposed.
At the end of our final day, we watched the sun setting upon the Zillertal valley from the comfort of an outdoor jacuzzi, not giving a second thought to anyone else or the to the spas dress code. The lights of the houses on the valley floor twinkled on as the light disappeared behind the mountains. It made me wonder how I could have let something so trivial cause such and issue and almost let it stop me from enjoying my time in this beautiful place.
I’m now a spa convert and we had such a great time in Tirol, we are now repeat visitors to spa and sauna facilities in the Austrian alps. Being naked still feels slightly alien when I first arrive – but the anxiety soon subsides.
I learned that an important part of my travel experience is to embrace other cultures, even if you feel slightly uncomfortable in the process. It’s amazing how quickly your perspective can change once you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone and embraced something new.
Escape to Tirol, Austria – Travel Tips
Tirol is a state within western Austria and is know for being the heart of the Austrian alps. Innsbruck is the capital city of Tirol as well as the state’s largest settlement. The area is great for winter sports and Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice.
As well as winter sports and spa escapes, Tirol is a hub for hiking, mountain biking, climbing and cycling, particularly during the summer months when temperatures are warm.
(Please note – we usually visit in November / December so the pictures on this blog are from the winter season).
We are now repeat visitors to Tyrol. The remoteness and the beauty of the surroundings make this the perfect place to escape the stresses and strains of modern life, and my experiences prove that you don’t need to be an avid skier to make the most of this fantastic location.
By Air – Innsbruck airport provides quick and easy access to Tirol and the Austrian alps. Alternatively, travelers can fly into Munich, Salzberg or Zurich and travel onwards to Tirol via car or rail. These airports are 200-300km from Innsbruck.
By Rail – Innsbruck has railway connections with both Austria and Germany and the journey promises views of the dramatic landscapes from the unique perspective of railway travel. See the Visit Tirol website for more information.
From Innsbruck – expect a short journey into the mountains to reach many of the resorts. You can reach these by hiring a car or by booking a taxi. Most hotels in the area will be happy to book this on your behalf if required. Remember to agree the cost up front.
If you’re looking for a more extravagant experience, look no further than the Stock resort in Zillertal. This is the Austrian hotel with over 11 saunas and year-round access to ski slopes. The food at this resort was great and the staff were extremely welcominh. The hotels entire focus is upon wellness and relaxation and there are many activities available for non-skiers. The Stock resort is a short car journey to Mayrhofn which is the nearest town.
Another great option is the Alpen…Fall in Love in Seefeld. Based in Seefeld town centre, this hotel caters exclusively to couples. We stayed in a Diamond Suite and the room was very impressive, particularly the view from our balcony. The food here was also excellent.
Both hotels had great vegetarian food, just make sure you lets them know in advances and the restaurants tend to have set menus.
There are many more hotels with spa facilities available – these are the two we have visited and would recommend. For more hotels – see the Visit Tirol website.
What/Who to take with you?
Someone you’re happy to sit naked with in the spa. I haven’t completely recovered from my very British fear of nudity. Although I’m fine visiting an Austrian sauna with my partner, I would be less comfortable with family members. Consider your travel partners wisely.
Shoes –In the winter months you may need boots to protect your feet from the cold.
Clothes – Be sure to dress for the weather. Temperatures can plummet below -10 degree in the winter months so be sure to wrap up warm. Also bring sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the snow.
European Plug Adapter – If travelling from outside of Europe, be sure to pack a European adaptor for your electrical devices.
Currency – The currency in Austria is Euros.
What to bring back?
Stollen – this is a traditional fruit bread with spices, covered in powdered sugar, often eaten at Christmas. You can pick this up at a low cost from most food markets. Like most food, it tastes so much better when it has come from the country of origin.
Mozart Chocolates – these traditional Austrian sweets are somewhat of an acquired taste but I love them. Great to bring home as a gift.
Nutcrackers – More commonly associated with German traditions, nutcracker Christmas decorations are available for sale throughout Austria.