the world's smartest travel social network
As many gay men are well aware, Western Europe can be a paradise for homo hook-ups. Yeah, there are a gayzillion bars and clubs, even in many of the smaller cities and towns, and it seems everybody and his daddy’s online these days. But another big reason is because more than any other continent in the world, the landmass that gave rise to Casanova, Don Juan and the Marquis de Sade along with Adolf Hitler and Benny Rats (er, Josef Ratzinger—you know, the Vatican's creepy old queen in the white dress and red Prada pumps, aka Pope Benedict) is chock full of sometimes elaborate bath houses that attract a wide range of dudes, including some of the very hottest. The owners put a lot of dough into these sex palaces, and the cool thing is, they’re not just for getting it on but just as much for just hanging out, spending an evening or a weekend afternoon—you’ll see guys watching the game, having a drink or even putting away three-course meals in the elaborate bars and restaurants in some of these places. They’re usually not prohibitively pricey, either—depending on the location and whether you get a locker, room, or whatever, from $10 to $30 a visit (there are also sometimes two-for-one or under-25 discounts). There are increasing numbers of sex clubs—as opposed to saunas—around, too, but it’s these full-service establishments that really provide the best mini spa vacations, plus the chance to get yer jollies.
Here’s a quickie, far from complete list of some of the steamiest saunas in some of the coolest countries. I’ll be following up down the road with dispatches from Eastern Europe (starring the breathtaking Ottoman-era hammams of Istanbul and Budapest) and other continents.
Amsterdam, Netherlands The iconic, long-running Thermos twins are still the top Dutch treats in what may just be Europe’s single gayest city per capita. There are actually two locations: the elaborate Thermos Day Sauna (Raamstraat 33, 623.9158), centrally located near Leidseplein with a pool and five floors of cruising, is open daily noon till 10 or 11pm, pool. If you’re more of a night owl, or just want to wind up a night of clubbing, the smaller but still well-equipped Thermos Night Sauna (Kerkstraat 58-60, 623.4936), a hop and a skip away across the Prinsengracht canal, takes over from 11PM to 8AM.
Athens, Greece Ironically enough in the place where boy love was once considered the ultimate and girls good for not much more than pumping out babies, places to practice it these days are few and funky (and not in a good way). Blame the Greek Orthodox Church, I guess. Anyway, though there are a decent number of bars and clubs, there are only about three or four bath houses, most of which are skanky and/or hustler-infested. Your best bet here is Flex (Vissis & Poliklitou 6, 210.321.0539), in the picturesque Monastiráki area, in the shadow of the Acropolis (video montage below).
Barcelona, Spain Though one of my all-time favorite burgs otherwise has it all, scene-wise, there’s no question it could use some new blood in terms of the baths. But what the hey, chances are you’ll find what you’re hunting for at Condal (Carrer Espolsasacs, off Carrer Comtal, 323.7860), three floors on a side alley in the Gothic quarter near the cathedral, or a few blocks north at the smaller but popular Casanova (at left and video below; Carrer de Casanova at Diputació, 323.7860), on a single floor in the gay-bar district above Gran Via known as the “Gaixample.”
Berlin, Germany A big B-town fave smack near the center of things (near the Broadway-like Kürfurstendamm and the Tiergarten, a park where you can spot hot boys sunbathing and more) is the Apollo Splash Club (at right; Kurfürstenstrasse 101; 213.2424) Over in the edgy/trendy East Berlin nabe of Prenzlauer Berg, you’ll find a lot of young dudes at Treibhaus (Schönhauser Allee 132, 448.4503).
Brussels, Belgium Of the seven gay saunas in Europe’s capital, for a young crowd and mod luxe with bells ’n’ whistles like a pool, outdoor terrace, even a fancy chill-out room tricked up in Moroccan drag, check out the popular six-floor Macho (106 Rue Marché au Charbon, 513.5667), near the Grand’ Place. Another local hit (though with just five floors) is the L’Oasis (10 Rue van Orley, 218.0800), has no pool but does have a winsome wet area and is more classical (some might also say classy) in feel—five floors in a handsome old townhouse near the main train station.
Lausanne, Switzerland This country’s biggest sauna is right here in French-speaking Lausanne: the two-story Pink Beach (Avenue Tivoli 7-9, 21.311.6969), just up from the city’s main station. Pretty much everything’s here except a pool. And for you bisexuals or het-curious types, get this: the place even has regular nights where women and straight couples are welcome.
Lisbon, Portugal A lovely city but a wee bit more closeted than most of the rest of Europe when it comes to the queer scene (especially compared to Spain next door, Portugal’s still a bit more backward and conservative). Furthermore, the smattering of saunas in Lisboa tends to be pretty dated and run down, but who knows, by the time you read this some of ’em may have cleaned up their act a bit—ask around once you get here. Trombeta up in the gorgeous old Bairro Alto quarter (Rua do Trombeta 1C, 216 095 626) is a hot newcomer — give it a try and let me know what you think!
London, England Liz Windsor ain’t the only queen who gets her London derriere steamed a good bit—there are over a dozen saunas to choose from. Half a dozen belong to the Chariots chain, the most elaborate of which is Chariots Shoreditch (1 Fairchild Street, 7247.5333), about 3 1/2 miles east of Picadilly circus (with an Underground stop nearby, of course). Back after a fire in 2011, this, Britain’s biggest bent bath house, boasts a boffo pool, gym, large sauna/steam, and various other frisky facilities. Another good and good-size one with a nice crowd (not to mention a little closer to the parts of London you’re most likely to be) is the Pleasuredrome (at right; Arch 124, Cornwall Road, 7633.9194), right by Waterloo Station; it’s pretty cool and atmospheric, with lots of brick arches, and has a stainless steel hot tub that’s almost big enough to be a pool.
Madrid, Spain ¡Olé, macho! Madrid rocks, and among more than a dozen choices, the pick of the tubs IMHO just has to be the Paraíso (at left; Calle Norte 15, 91.531.9891), a couple of subway stops north of Gran Vía. A former flamenco school, “Paradise” is a gorgeous complex of featuring lots of brick ceiling vaults, a spectacularly-lit pool, and an A+ variety of play areas. Right in the thick of the local boystown, called Chueca, Men (Calle Pelayo 25, 91.531.2583) can get boppin’ thanks to its location, but it’s pretty damn tiny. On the other end of things sizewise is Center (Cuesta de Santo Domingo 1, 91.542.4570), near Madrid’s Times Square, called the Puerta del Sol. I’d skip a well-known one called Comendadoras, BTW—it’s big but kinda skeezy, not to mention on the grandfatherly side.
Munich, Germany Weisswurst (white sausage) may be a local specialty, but Bavaria’s capital is becoming more multi-ethnic every day, and you’ll find a yummy selection on display at the most impressive of the city’s three or four bath houses: the Deutsche Eiche (Reichenbachstrasse 13, 231.1660). It’s an easy cruise from both the gay nabe and the center of the old town—and conveniently enough, there’s a very good bar/restaurant and hotel that are part of the same historic building. There are four cruisy floors and a variety of spic ’n’ span facilities including hot tub, steam/sauna, etc. Ich liebe this place!
Paris, France The City of Light in the Loafers sports one of the biggest rafts of sodomitic sexpens of any city in the world, I’d have to say—including close to 20 bath houses, but they tend to come and go (my past favorites like Sun City, le Continental, Univers - all gone). But still going strong is the 9th arrondissement’s four-floor IDM (4 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 01.45.23.10.03) with a young crowd and kinda hip-hop flavored decor. Also four floors that make for a more interesting-than-usual circuit, the logrunning but recently renovated Key West (141 Rue La Fayette, 01.45.26.31.74), between the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est train stations. A more exotique-flavored spot that evokes Morocco and North Africa, is Le Riad (at left; 184 Rue des Pyynées, 01.47.97.25.52), out in the 20th near the Père Lachaise cemetery, to try some of those hot Arab garçons.
Rome, Italy In spite the fact that the Vatican is right here (or who knows, maybe because of it), the Eternal City has come a long way homo-wise in recent years. Of the half-dozen saune here, one of the top two is just a hop and a skip from the Termini train station and the Piazza Repubblica. The two-level Europa Multiclub (at right; Via Aureliana 40, 48.23.650) is Italy’s biggest, its centerpiece a big, sprawling whirlpool that runs through several rooms. Meanwhile, the other, Mediterraneo (Via Pasquale Villari 3, 06.77.20.59.34) is a cool three-floor bit of business down near the Colosseum with a neat “labyrynth” to help make the hunt more interesante.
Vienna, Austria There’s a handful of contenders in town, but IMHO the best place to sample the tasty Wiener schnitzel (in the restaurant or the hallways) is at Kaiserbründl (Weihburggasse 18-20, 513.3293), just three or so blocks off the Stadtpark. The joint’s amazing—a 123-year-old Moorish-style bath house with elaborate arches, marble pools, and a two-story-high “winter garden.” Each November they throw a blowout (as it were) “Roman Orgy.” Some scrumptious strudel in here, fellas!
Zurich, Switzerland You’ll get to ring the bells of plenty of Heidi hoes at the foremost of the half-dozen or so local spots, Reno’s Relax (Kernstrasse 57, 291.6362); decor and facilities are nice but not remarkable, but it's considered generally the busiest of the bunch - and also has twice-weekly bisexual nights (though the last such night I was there was not too impressive in the ladies department, if you swing that way .Remodeled in 2011, the sleeker Moustache (Engelstrasse 4; 241.1080) is also worth a horny howdy. Either way, Swiss bliss!
Travel writer/editor Dave Acton is an editor of the phrasebook The Gay Translator: Love + Hookups in 7 Languages.
Athens - Flex
Barcelona - Casanova