It's not the nudity that shocks visitors to Europe's largest thermal spa. On a wintry Friday evening on the outskirts of Munich, post-work pals aren't watching TV or heading out for drinks.Instead they're sitting at Therme Erding's pool bar wearing nothing but an electronic wrist tag, which tots up how many half pints of local Erdinger lager they've supped through the night. It's a classy Center Parcs – with frankfurters, but without the clothes.But to the naïve eyes of my wife and I, the scene seems almost Bacchanalian, a hedonistic playground as painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

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It's now one of new breed of family-friendly spas across the country, replacing herbal cures and laxatives with hammams and waterslides.

Therme Erding's changing rooms – some unisex, some segregated – lead out to Tropical Paradise.

This zone is the largest non-naturist area of the 36-acre complex. At its centre bubbles a steamy healing cauldron the size of a football field, ringed by palm trees, whirlpools and bubble baths.

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Couples piggyback through deeper waters like pairs of mating frogs. A century ago Germany's spa scene was strictly high society.

Others steam outside in thermal rockpools, wallowing like blissed-out manatees. The likes of King Edward VII and Russian Tsar Nicholas II "took the waters" in ritzy retreats such as Bad Homburg and Marienbad.

Indeed, Therme Erding's thermal source was only discovered by accident by the US petroleum giant Texaco in 1983.

After years of geothermal research, the energy firm drilled for oil but found only a steaming lake of mineral-rich water.