Rumor has it that the winter sauna, hammam and Turkish bath at the Bains des Pâquis are great. But like many middle-aged women, I am not so keen to go bake in the nude with a bunch of naked men.
Tuesdays are reserved for women. This knowledge should wipe away any remaining resistance and nervousness. But it doesn’t. Of my friends long established in Geneva, only a German amie has passed through its doors.
Mystery and Intimidation
So why this aura of mystery and intimidation? Are we so frightened of the unknown behind the doors? Scared of the toweled community seen wandering here and there and the occasional glimpse of a skinny dipper from afar? Or are we nervous of the rough, hippy feeling in the center of our sophisticated, posh city?
Whatever one’s fear, this sense of intimidation is silly. Let me tell you why. One cold December morning at 10am I met up with a friend at the Bains des Pâquis. From the moment we stepped through the doors of La Rotonde (the round-house) the words convivial, warmth and community popped into our heads. There was another new-comer that day so the woman manning the front desk locked things up to give us a quick tour of the facilities.
What You Should Know and Expect
First things first: nudity is not required. Swimsuits are optional. However, two large towels are required (and necessary). Personally, the next time I go, I will have a towel and a bathrobe. It was a sunny, -4C day when I was there and a bathrobe would have made lounging outside in the sun a little more comfortable. Also don’t forget to bring flip flops or sandals so your feet don’t freeze on the cement outside.
The changing rooms are outdoors. When you pay you will be asked to provide some sort of deposit, like bike keys in my case. In exchange you are given a numbered key which specifies your room. You will be motivated to change quickly since these rooms are cold and small. Leave your clothes and anything else here while you enjoy the facilities.
It is recommended that you begin in the Hammam. No towels in here. The temperature is warm, the humidity is high and when you first enter the room you can’t see a thing. Remember your manners and greet anyone in here with a bonjour. Take a bucket from the center; fill it with water (there is both cold and warm) and rinse off the area where you would like to sit. After 15 minutes, you can take savon noir and a rough wash cloth-both for sale at the front desk- and begin your scrub and rinse. Then sit and enjoy another 20 minutes or more.
There are two saunas. The one on the left is cooler than on the right. Both have stunning views of St Peter’s cathedral, the city and the Salève. We had brought bottles water into the sauna but the manager asked us to not do that in the future since they want to avoid people sneaking in alcohol.
Lastly, there is the Turkish bath. Personally, this was my least favorite. I found this room had neither ambience nor a special view.
Other bits and bobs include the quiet, repose room with large, lake-view windows- I hadn’t seen my friend for weeks so we did not venture into this peaceful place. There are hot showers though the room is unheated. And there are two warm dressing rooms that are heated by small openings from the sauna. Furthermore, one can book a massage ahead of time and eat a CHF 14 plat du jour which is enough food to feed two.
Visiting the Bains des Pâquis is a unique winter activity. Go with a friend or relax by yourself. The area is peaceful and the views are beautiful. It is rare that I feel comfortable striking up a conversation with people I don’t know. But here it was easy.
As I sat outside cooling off from the sauna, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how lucky I was to be there in the sun, in the middle of winter in just a beach towel looking at one of the finest cities in the world.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/