I can’t say I wasn’t warned. My host for my press trip to Croatia made a conscious effort to brief me on the flight to Rovinj about the Eastern European norm to lounge au naturel in their spas.
She said it was completely up to me whether I followed suit, but if I decided to cover up, I might stand out in a flesh-coloured crowd.
Well, I tried not to fret about it too much. Here I am, on my way to review the spa of the brand new 5-star Hotel Lone that had opened in the area, set amid the Zlatni Rt (Golden Cape) forest park and the Adriatic Sea. Whatever could go wrong?
A 10 minute coastal stroll or bike ride from the hotel leads into the town of Rovinj, with its typically European winding, cobbled pathways and faded pastel-coloured houses with shuttered windows.
Hotel Lone is a stature of avant-garde architecture. The lobby is a welcoming and compelling first impression that even has a structure of random, intertwined rods hanging from the high ceiling, designed to be a staircase for ghosts – even the parallel universe is catered for.
The spa is the largest I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a few spas in my time). It’s adjoined to the spa of its established sister property, Hotel Monte Mulini, and an endless corridor leads off into hideaway treatment rooms, relaxation areas, indoor and outdoor pools, a fitness centre, Vitality bar, a Whirlpool room and the steam and sauna rooms.
To be naked, or not to be
I decide to venture into the unknown world of the sauna experience one evening and for a moment, I ponder on throwing my inhibitions to the sea and making a grand entrance into the sauna with my modesty on full show.
Well, after a (brief) internal debate with myself, the bashful British woman within me beat my wavering adventurous spirit hands down and I saunter into the sauna in a bikini, hidden from the world in a fluffy white robe.
There are three rooms – a steam room, a Turkish sauna and a Finnish sauna – and I can see a young man in one and a very naked woman lying in another. The third appears empty so I hop in, delighting at the idea of a private sauna.
It doesn’t quite turn out like that. There is an elderly man sitting in the corner, stark naked. I turn around to close the door and to make life even easier, it has a dodgy door knob (pun unintended).
So the kind – fully exposed – gentleman feels to get up and help this damsel in distress (not knowing he’s part of the distress) and help me close the door, chatting away in Croatian.
I manage a quiet ‘thank you’ before remembering my limited language skills and translating it into a feeble-voiced ‘hvala’ (pronounced howala – but don’t trust me on that one).
Look into my eyes… Nowhere else
The gentleman is sat on the middle row, while I tuck myself away in the corner of the bottom bench. I want to lie down but fear stubbing him with my toe, or peering up at his nether regions if I lie the other way.
Before he leaves, he says something ineligible to me, adding more coals to the sauna and smiling warmly, whilst giving me a full frontal view. I will myself to maintain contact at eye level only.
I’m doing well in this session. As I leave the sauna room to take a shower, I manage to step into a shower which is occupied by a young, naked man. Luckily for me, he didn’t notice, so I quickly scamper away, like a kid with a handful of candies ‘borrowed’ from a sweet shop.
Despite how unusual the experience is for me, I am the one that can be singled out as the strange stranger who looks as though she has issues with her body that she painstakingly – albeit, pathetically – tries to conceal from public view.
One of the joys of travelling is accepting and marvelling at the customs of another culture, even if they nudge you out of your socially cultivated comfort zone.
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