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SpaWatch: Hay Day in Bavaria


By Mary Alice Kellogg

In mid-body wrap, SpaWatcher contemplates what may be the most unusual treatment room spa decor she’s ever seen:  bales of yellow hay upon one of which roosts a seemingly bemused 3-foot-high fiberglass chicken.

Oddly this makes sense, for under the blankets and rubber sheet, cocooned in a high-tech waterbed tub, I am not slathered in the usual mud or algae. No:  I am covered in mounds of fragrant, warm, green and surprisingly soft hay, freshly gathered from a nearby Bavarian Alp. I would moo with contentment, but am too relaxed to do so.

Wilkommen to Germany!  More specifically, to the health resort town of Bad Worishofen, a calming venue with lush herb and flower gardens, cobblestoned streets bordering a pristine river, and bracing mountain air. While sampling Euro-style gentle and century-old treatments at two spas  — the sleek Hotel der Sonnenhof and the Belle Epoque-era Villa Fontenay —  I discover that in this town, everything old is not only new again, but downright cutting-edge.


Hotel der Sonnenhof

Since 1696, Germans have believed in the healing properties of hydrotherapy — using temperature, pressure and conductivity of water to foster well-being.  But it was in this postcard Bavarian town where visionary Sebastian Kneipp created the global modern wellness movement 116 years ago. He pioneered holistic health by treating stress, weight management, circulation and immune disorders with water, exercise, nutrition, plants and herbs to balance body and spirit. Kneipp’s approach continues to be the standard in Europe — and is now the biggest spa trend in America.  Kneipp, simply, was the Godfather of Green.


Most Germans spend two weeks each year (paid for by insurance) for a holistic tuneup. Not having two weeks, I settled for a four-day “mini-kur”, indulging in all things aquatic: whirlpools, gentle arm and foot baths, hot/tepid/cold showers of varying intensity. But the two Kneipp health resorts in Bad Worishofen had me at, well, plants.  


Villa Fontenay

Which brings me back to the hay which, in its new-mown state, has 21 different kinds of herbs and flowers in it.  All I knew was that my half-hour treatment — a popular one for detoxification and strengthening the immune system — worked its magic. After leaving the hay’s embrace (and chicken’s gaze), my skin glowed and my mood was one of blissful, energized calm. Kneipp believed that plants are “nature’s pharmacy;”  he gets no argument from me.

Sometimes the best treatments have no bells and whistles. Maybe soon I’ll spring for the two-week cure — but that could just be the hay talking.

KNEIPP HEALTH RESORTS, Bad Worishofen, Germany

Steigenberger Hotel Der Sonnenhof
Villa Fontenay


MARY ALICE KELLOGG, a New York-based writer and editor, is a recipient of the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award for Consumer Reporting. A contributor to many national publications, including Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit and GQ, she has reported from 120 countries and five of the seven seas to date… and counting.


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