What it’s like to go to a naked sauna in the Netherlands
‘Try not to stare, you know, down there,’ was my boyfriend’s only tip before we ventured to a sauna in the Netherlands pre-corona.
You see, unlike in the UK, saunas in the land of windmills and tulips operate a no-swimwear policy. My boyfriend warned me, worried that I might get distracted by other men, that the one faux pas you can commit is to ogle other bodies.
The mixed-gender nude saunas advise you to bring slippers and a robe for wandering around and they generally have restaurants where you can have a nibble and drink in-between spa sessions, so it’s best to cover up then too.
The thought of swimming and saunering completely starkers with strangers with filled me with a slight dread but I was willing to investigate, as I love saunas and needed of a bit of relaxation.
We ventured to Sauna Ridderrode, which is around a 40-minute drive from Amsterdam and called on the way to make a reservation. Day entrance to the spa costs from €30.50 per person, with treatments and meals at an extra charge.
After stripping off in the mixed changing room, I donned my robe and wandered into the sauna area. To my boyfriend, who is Dutch, this whole ritual seemed completely normal but it felt a little strange for me.
Signs warned against the use of mobile phones which I was glad about. I didn’t fancy the thought of people taking sneaky snaps.
I had visions of the place being a little seedy but it was far from dodgy and reminded me of a day spa I’d been to back in the UK with my mother, with a Romanesque theme running throughout and low lighting.
It was a Monday afternoon, so I noticed that there was an older crowd at the sauna. I took a deep breath, whipped off my robe and had a shower before exploring the place.
There were multiple rooms, including different saunas, a steam room and ‘heat chamber’ and an outside area with landscaped gardens.
As we wandered around I tried to remember my boyfriend’s advice and avert my eyes from fellow spa-goers.
I have to admit, it did feel pretty lovely swimming in the pool naked as I usually wear bikinis and always worry about the strings coming undone or my boobs slipping out.
Being nude meant that I didn’t have to worry about my swimwear being skew-whiff and I could completely relax.
I did feel a bit stranger moving to the hot tub and sharing it with another couple, as I don’t like sharing whirlpools when I’m clothed with others as it feels like quite an intimate space, let alone when I’m naked.
I exchanged a nervous smile with a man with a hairy back while feeling my boobs being caressed by the bubbles. I tried not to get too close.
After working up a thirst, we stopped in a relaxation lounge area off the restaurant for a drink.
I was surprised to see a family there – parents with a teenage son and daughter – and it made me think that it wouldn’t be a day out I could imagine doing with my mum and dad.
We later had dinner in the restaurant, where we dined in our robes as I’d done before at spas in the UK. There was nothing too odd about that.
In a bid to investigate the Dutch world of naked saunas further, we ventured to another one a few weeks later.
It was a similar experience at Sauna van Egmond, which is located around a 15-minute drive from the first spot we went to.
This time around, being a weekend, the place was busier, and there was a younger crowd.
I felt more confident around stripping off following my first experience.
At this sauna, unlike the first, there was a communal area before entering to shower.
It felt a little strange showering in front of other men and women naked but I tried to focus on washing my body and not looking at other people.
While at Sauna van Egmond we booked in to take part in a free experience where a therapist used a fan to waft different herbs into the air inside a Moroccon-style sauna.
The session was completely booked out and we were crammed in there quite tightly. While in there I noticed one woman sitting close to my boyfriend with her legs open… so you could see quite a bit.
I wasn’t sure if she was flirting or just very comfortable with her body but my boyfriend said he also noticed her odd positioning.
We later saw her in the restaurant area with her husband and children and nodded a hello, trying to eradicate the image of her from earlier as we tucked into a tapas board.
All in all, I found exploring naked saunas a refreshing experience. The two saunas we visited were tastefully decorated and relaxed. It felt liberating letting my inhibitions go and made me feel more confident about embracing my body.
It’s not something I would do with friends or parents, as I would do with spa day trips in the UK, but it was a nice experience as a couple.
‘Why ever would you wear clothes in the sauna?’ a Dutch friend quizzed me later when I told her about my introduction to naked sauna-ing. I had no real reply for her, apart from my prudish British upbringing where nakedness is not something traditionally embraced.