REMEMBER when you first heard about Roman baths, about how everyone sat around with or without their togas on, shooting the breeze, getting up from time to time to move from the hot pool to the cold plunge and back again? To me it seemed the ultimate decadent pastime, and one more reason why it would have been better to live back then.
Then I discovered Sauna World, and realised that in a remote corner of Slovakia the Roman dream is still alive and available to all comers - for a price.
Located in the lavish Aphrodite spa house in Rajecké Teplice, Sauna World is a complex of four exotic steam baths and one sauna, each meticulously decorated to reflect a special purpose. Visitors move from one to the other, wrapped in the toga-like white spa sheets common in Slovak thermal baths, chatting to each other or just absorbing the moisture and the alluring aromas.
I started my neo-Roman experience in the Arabic steam bath (45 degrees), which is eucalyptus scented and has a remarkable ceiling: light shines through pin-hole dots, gradually lighting up in one colour, fading away, then coming back in another.
Dragging myself away from the light show, I moved to the small Herbaceous steam bath (47-55 degrees), filled with the enticing fragrance of fresh wood and decorated with bright green mosaics. Like most of the rooms in Sauna World, it's large enough for four to six people to sit comfortably, but perfect if you can get it to yourself.
Next door is the Salt steam bath (45 degrees), imbued with genuine Dead Sea salt. Of all the mysterious little rooms, this is perhaps the least interesting. Regardless of its provenance, you don't notice the salt in the steam, and the décor is very plain.
A glorious scent of cedar lured me over to the Finnish sauna (95 to 105 degrees) in the corner of the complex, where little wooden pillows adorn beautifully constructed cedar-wood benches. Most visitors leave their sheets outside the door of this one.
Not able to stand the ferocious heat for long, I quickly moved on to the Tepidarium, perhaps the most comfortable of the rooms because of its cooler temperature (37 degrees) and its heated seats. It's larger and not as popular as the others, which makes it a good place to stretch out.
What now? A quick deluge of ice-cold water from a bucket suspended in the shower area and operated by pulling a cord? What about a glass of champagne from the Sauna World bar?
No, instead I moved on to the best room of all - the Relaxácia, a cool, dimly lit, crescent-shaped space, piped with ambient sounds and containing nothing but a handful of plants and a row of reclining chairs covered in blankets.
Dazed and sticky from the pungent steam, a visitor can collapse into one of the recliners, wrap herself in a blanket, and wonder why on earth they don't create a Sauna World franchise.
- Rachel Salaman
Lodging in Rajecké Teplice
Ul. Osloboditeľov 131
Tel: 041/5494-256 (7)
Double room: Sk3,121
Breakfast included, fitness centre, swimming pools, tennis courts
Veľká Fatra Hotel
Malá Fatra Hotel
Tel: 041/5494-256 (7)
Double room: Sk1,100-2,278
R. Súľovského 5
Double room: Sk1,000
Breakfast: Sk80, all meals: Sk350
Double room: Sk640
24. Feb 2003 at 0:00