We were swimming in a beautiful circular pool, a lovely and inviting shade of turquoise, having walked down the gently sloping stone steps into the water. My wife was floating on her back, a wide smile on her face, looking up at the elegant dome above us, decorated with murals and statues. A few other men and women quietly passed by, entering or leaving this central room, or walking into the low, bubbling relaxation pool nearby. That’s when my wife whispered to me quietly “This must be what being a queen felt like!”

It was an appropriate sentiment – we were immersed at the Friedrichsbad, which shares its name with the once King of Prussia. It’s a beautiful Roman-style bathing complex located in Baden-Baden, Germany. Built in the late 1800s, the construction took advantage of local thermal spring water, and excavation during the construction discovered that it shared a site with ancient Roman baths, whose ruins are still visible to the historically-minded visitor.

The Friedrichsbad has much more than just a single lovely domed pool. The proprietors account for 17 “bathing stations”, starting with your initial shower, through two dry hot-air saunas, two steam baths, three pools, a cold plunge, and two relaxation and reading rooms. In slightly stereotypical German structured efficiency, they even provide recommended times to spend at each step in the process – but nobody will blink an eye at Americans who make their own choices about lingering longer at, or returning to, their favorite rooms.

Another German cultural custom is also a little new to most Americans – as the Friedrichsbad website has it, “In the Friedrichsbad you bathe without clothes. Therefore healthy bathing is guaranteed.” The idea of mixed bathing in the nude, although simple, practical, and expected in German spas, was new to my wife and me, and we weren’t completely sure how we would take to it. It was with a little bit of trepidation in our hearts that we took those steps out of the changing room towards the first station, the starting showers.

Our uncertainty was quickly dissolved, first by the lovely feeling of those warm, enveloping waterfall showers; and second by the universal atmosphere of calm acceptance. In German spa culture, our bodies were free to be simply bodies; not obscene but natural and normal. There was nothing prurient about the experience – instead, it was freeing, liberating, and relaxing. For someone such as myself who grew up changing swimsuits in a bathroom stall because nudity was supposed to be forbidden, it was a revelation.

One of the great benefits of travel is seeing the ways in which other cultures differ from one’s own – the ways in which some precepts of our own culture, that seem so immutable, are actually quite contingent. The Friedrichsbad opened my eyes to the freedom and joy of being able to accept our own bodies. (And the only downside was that it was hard for us to want to go back to swimming in a dripping, uncomfortable suit!) After we returned to America, we sought out other naturist destinations on our domestic travels.

Eventually, my wife and I looked in our own metaphorical backyard – and there we found the Oakwood Club. Now, Oakwood doesn’t have a beautiful Roman-style cupola above its (lovely!) outdoor swimming pool, nor does it have seventeen bathing stations. But it does have that same atmosphere and principle – that our bodies are free to be bodies; that we can relax and connect to them and the world around us, in a wholesome, family-friendly environment. Like at the Friedrichsbad, we can float in the water and enjoy the full feeling of the water around us.

And so, we can re-experience some of that same emotion we felt in Baden-Baden, and so can you – visiting Oakwood, enjoying life, and thinking to ourselves, “This must be what being a queen felt like!”

Editor’s note: Here is a link to this wonderful spa!