"Just to be sure: the use of the spa facilities is co-ed and in the nude."
It is with these friendly words of warning that I was cordially invited to the first place on my newest quest, visiting 5-10 saunas in the Amsterdam and Haarlem area over the coming weeks. And with winter arriving with full force, warming up seems like a solid plan.
Some long-time readers might recall the first time I dipped my, er, toe into the European world of saunas here.
Since that nerve-wracking first time, where I had to shed not only all clothing but also 30+ years of North American conservatism (only with regards to public nudity, I should add), it seems I have embraced my inner (and now outer) nudist.
I figure now is the time to go and feel relatively secure, before pastries, age, and Dutch cheese take their toll.
With this in mind, a number of places in the city have agreed to let me in, and in some cases interview the owner/manager.
This place is a must-visit - it provides the perfect Dutch gezellig feeling as soon as you walk in - lounge areas, a large fireplace, a movie room with plush couches, stillness rooms for taking a nap, a restaurant. All with soft lights and dark corners. Then there are the steam rooms, saunas (infra-red and regular), hot tubs, cold tubs, rooftop terrace, full salon and swimming pool.
I met with K.C, the amiable manager who has been at SvE for 22 years. He walked me through the facility and provided most of the information. "People are here for a good time," he mentioned right away. "There are no grumpy people once they walk through the doors."
Decidedly un-grumpy, and armed with a robe, slippers, and towels, I was on my way...
Pre-sauna. I exhaled shortly after this photo was taken.
Since: 1974. The building itself is not very old, but the decor has been made to look "vintage" - and it could easily double as a museum.
Client mix: about 95% Dutch, 5% tourist
Age range and gender: The sauna is for those 14+, but the vast majority are over 20 at least. During my visit - 11am-2pm on a frosty Tuesday - it was 70% female, with a few couples. Ages ranged from 22 to about 65.
Weekends and evenings bring a more 50-50 male/female split. For those trying to visualize the mix: picture your oldest aunt and uncle naked, as well as the girl or guy next door.
Cost: 27Euros for the full day, robe and towels extra but people also can bring their own.
Most interesting story: There have been several wedding proposals here, according to K.C. - in the nude, in full view of the other patrons. (I did not ask where the groom hid the ring).
The vibe: Relaxed. This is NOT a pick-up place. Most people are in couples, or mothers and daughters, or friends. Hushed conversations and only occasional chats with strangers occur. "People mind their own business here," says K.C. (Plus, what would your opening line be anyway? "Hmm, sure is hot in here?")
Average stay: According to K.C, the average visit can range from 3-5 hours. Though some people spend the full day - 10am-11pm. With movies, naps, steam sessions, reading areas, food, and drinks, it is possible to stay this long. Steam and time evaporate here.
Most interesting moment: At one point, I was the only male in a sauna with 7 women. Some outweighed me. I would suggest that this is very good practice for those looking to lower their inhibitions, as I had to walk past them all to get to the only available space to sit.
The verdict: An absolute must-visit when you come to Amsterdam. It's a short train or bus ride to Haarlem and a very novel experience for us non-Northern Europeans. It's also pure relaxation, pure atmosphere and a first-class facility. Plus, you get to keep the slippers.
(Photos below are from the Sauna van Egmond brochure)