Wednesday, July 8, 2015



It's sunny, 70º F, and it's the end of May in South Tyrol, northern Italy. Ron and I have just finished a pleasant hike through green alpine farmlands. We passed by 500-year-old farms, animals grazing, wooden bridges, a mountain lake, wildflowers, and flowering trees—always surrounded by the jagged, gray-colored and snow-peaked Dolomites. We ended in the charming farm village of Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern* at the foot of the Schlern Mountain and seven miles east of Bolzano. It also happens to be home to the famous hay baths that this area has been famous for since 1902. I had heard about these baths previously, and had hoped to experience them—I guess this was my opportunity.
Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern
We stopped at the tourist information office, and I inquired about the possibility of getting a hay bath. The nearby Hotel Huebad offered them (33), and I could get an appointment right away. Ron had no interest and was happy to return to our apartment in Castelrotto to do some work, while I took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I walked up a hill to the old hotel which had a pleasant lobby with a garden view; I sat down to wait for the appointment. I was quite excited about this, and it didn't occur to me that it wouldn't be a pleasant experience. After all, I enjoy saunas, and I did like the one mud bath I had in Napa Valley many years ago.
Perhaps adding to my interest is the story that goes back over 100 years and explains how the idea of hay baths came to be: the local field workers who, after a hard day of work, would fall asleep in the hay, and wake up the next morning refreshed and pain free from the previous day's labor. This unique hay was from the local Seiser Alm/Alpe di Siusi area—the same area where the hay for the bath comes from. It is the largest high altitude meadow in Europe and popular with skiers and hikers.(Refer to future post for our hike in this area.) According to the hotel brochure, it consists of 40 different types of grass and flowers and it is harvested once per season, between mid-July and early-August. Next, it is carefully dried and stored.
It is time for my bath. I'm asked to remove my clothes and lay down on a pile of hot moist hay that is sitting on a heated water bed. Next, the female attendant covers my entire body with hay (except my face, thank heavens). It is heated to 104º F. The bed is lowered and then I am covered with a heavy quilt. It is the hottest I've ever been—they achieve the goal of getting me to sweat. The hay feels prickly and itchy on my skin and its earthy smell doesn't help. I am miserable and almost quit before the required 20 minutes is up, but I am still curious to see what the final results will be. The attendant comes in a couple of times to wipe the sweat from my forehead and, no doubt, to see if I am surviving.
The twenty minute bell finally rings. She lifts most of the hay off my body and has me get up to walk to another room. The remaining hay falls all over the place—cleaning up this room would have been almost as bad as the bath I just took. Next, after I decline her offer of hot tea, it is time for a 30-minute rest which I thought I might enjoy. However, I still have some itchy pieces of hay on my body and then she covers me with a sheet, a blanket and a heavy quilt. I am still hot and sweaty—just less hot than before. Once again, I count the minutes until I can get up and out of the place. I thought perhaps a final shower when this was over would make it all sort of worthwhile. Unfortunately, she told me to wait two hours before taking a shower in order to get the most benefit from the bath. This meant I needed to rub all the remaining hay off my sweaty body with towels, and then put my dirty hiking clothes back on, which is all I had with me anyway. Fortunately, I had a hat to cover my less than attractive, wet matted hair.
I headed back to the apartment and waited two hours for the much needed shower. That evening I felt a little better—but not better enough to have gone through all that misery. The next day, no difference. In thinking this through, the only way that I would consider another one of these hay baths is if I were freezing cold and hurting from a day of skiing on the nearby mountains.

*Interestingly, all of the signage in South Tyrol is listed twice, one in Italian and one in German. South Tyrol was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but was annexed to Italy in 1919 at the end of WW I. Many people here are native German speakers. 

PATH TO Fiè allo Sciliar/Vőls am Schlern







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