For centuries, the earth’s thermal springs have been harnessed for their curative and restorative properties. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out top spa regions across Europe.
What better way to beat the winter chill than soaking the warmth of thermal baths that spring forth from the bowels of the earth? While India has its share of hot water springs known for their healing properties – from Tattapani, Vashisht and Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh to Surajkund in Jharkhand, thermal baths around the globe have raised the bar on relaxation and rejuvenation experiences. Here’s a list of top international hot spa destinations where the beau monde (fashionable elite) submerge in nature’s bathtubs. It’s time to get out of your thermals and get into one!
Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Bad Ragaz, a tiny town snug in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in Switzerland’s St Gallen Canton, has been a famed destination for health care since Baroque times. The concept of wellness dates back to 13th century, when hunters discovered the hot springs and Benedictine monks built the first bathhouse near the source. Monks risked life and limb to lower people down into the thermal waters of the cavernous Tamina gorge, sometimes leaving them there for a week to heal! Back in the day, only the Russian aristocracy could afford such luxuries. Channeling the pure 36.5˚C ‘blue gold’ waters from a spring deep within the splendorous Tamina Gorge in the Pfӓfers, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is Europe’s award-winning top Wellbeing Thermal Spa and Medical Resort. The warm healing waters form a vast watery oasis comprising the azure colonnaded haven Helenabad, the Sportbad and Garden pool besides a dreamy white public Tamina Therme replete with an outdoor waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks.
A place for blissful wintertime rejuvenation, Bad Ragaz is an ideal sanctuary for personal wellbeing. Indulge in massage and aqua therapies, beauty treatments, specially designed health packages and menus, romantic private couple spa suites and outstanding cuisine in a choice of 8 elegant restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Abestube relaunched as Swiss top chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook ‘Igniv’). True to the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the Grand Resort retains much of its historic architecture. Bad Ragartz – the triennial art festival virtually transforms the whole place into a sculpture park. Other wonderful distractions include its backyard casino and wine-tours in nearby villages of Malans and Maienfeld, visits to the highlands of Heididorf which inspired Johanna Spyri’s literary children’s classic, winter sports in Pizol’s ski resorts, mountain biking, quaint horse carriage rides and tours in the Schluchtenbus to Tamina Gorge and Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa). 2015 marked the 175 Year Anniversary of routing the Tamina waters to the resort where guests have the privilege of enjoying its abundant curative powers on tap or, in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers.
Getting there: Fly to Zurich and take the train to Bad Ragaz, 1 hr away.
Bukowina Tatrzańska, Poland
South of the old Polish capital of Krakow on the Slovakia border lies the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska. Tucked at the base of the Tatra Mountains, thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers throughout the Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are piped from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, the outdoor pools are popular in winter as well! The adventure sports hub and Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is just 14 km away. Enjoy all things Polish with a traditional meal and highlander music at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio and pick up unique local souvenirs such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese).
Getting there: Fly to Krakow and drive 80km south to Bukowina Tatrzańska.
Black Forest, Germany
Wellness has been a longstanding tradition in Germany with health resorts harnessing natural springs and spa towns often prefixed with bad meaning ‘bath’. The invigorating climate, woodland air and therapeutic waters create the perfect recipe for wellness vacations. From iodine-rich salt waters of Bad Bevensen in the heart of Lüneburg Heath to Bad Driburg, a family-run mud and mineral spa set in a nature reserve, there are plenty of other options. Bad Harzburg’s saline thermal spring wells, the mineral and saltwater spa of Bad Salzuflen, the restorative properties of spring water, Ahr wine & Eifel mud at Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the erstwhile royal spa of Bad Homburg vor der Höhe and the 150-year-old Bad Reichenhall in the Alps known for treating respiratory illnesses. In Bavaria, get pampered at the mineral spa and golf resort of Bad Griesbach or in the sprawling 120,000 sq m pools at the legendary spa resort Bad Füssing. However, Germany’s largest nature reserve Black Forest, has the highest number of hydrotherapy, climatic, thermal and mineral spa resorts. From the world-famous thermal spa Baden-Baden or salt-water spa and climatic health resort Bad Dürrheim, the Northern Black Forest Spa Route is a 270 km circuit of idyllic valleys, mineral springs, spa towns and health resorts, besides immaculate half-timbered buildings, castles, palaces, monasteries, lakes, coniferous forests, peat bogs and vineyards. Relax in the bubbling waters of mineral baths and peat spa at Bad Rippoldsau, the adventure pool at Bad Wildbad or Paracelsus Spa at Bad Liebenzell.
Getting there: Fly to Zürich, Frankfurt or Stuttgart and drive to Black Forest
Steamy hamams (Turkish bath), soft Turkish towels and stepping out of a thermal pool into the comfort of a bornoz (thick traditional bathrobe), there’s no place like Turkey for hot water relaxation. The country ranks among the 7 richest places in the world in terms of thermal sources. The presence of seismic faults has blessed the vast country with nearly 1300 hot springs across Anatolia, with temperatures ranging between 20-110oC. Start at the historic capital Istanbul with several hamams designed by master architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Many have been restored and modernized to provide a superb hamam experience – Çemberlitaş Hamamı, the five-century-old Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı or Roxelana’s Bath and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, part of a historic mosque complex dating to 1500. An hour’s cruise by ferry south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara and a short taxi ride gets you to Termal, 11 km southwest of Yalova, a resort popular in Roman times and rebuilt by the Ottoman sultans. However, the highlight is the UNESO heritage site of Pamukkale. Perched on a 200 m high cliff overlooking the plains of Cürüksu in southwest Turkey, the name literally means ‘Cotton Palace’ after the calcite-laden waterfalls and dazzling white terraced basins resembling fluffy cotton clouds. The nearby thermal spa city Heirapolis established at the end of the 2nd Century B.C thrived throughout the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods. Soak in the ethereal crescent basins in pools of warm 35°C water and dream of a once vibrant city full of baths, cathedrals, churches, necropolis and theatre; now in ruins.
Getting there: Fly to Istanbul and Denizli, from where Pamukkale is just 50 km.
Thanks to a unique geological feature, Budapest sits on over 100 thermal springs that feed the city’s famous bathhouses. It’s called the ‘City of Baths’ for good reason. Budapest is the world’s only capital blessed with thermal waters. Enjoy a unique spa experience at its prime health spa resorts like Four Seasons Gresham Palace or Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget. Take a dip in any of the historic thermal baths in town – the Széchenyi Baths in City Park ranks among Europe’s largest public baths and boasts 18 pools. The century old Gellért Baths, built in Art Nouveau style with a Romanesque swimming pool, is easily Hungary’s most photographed spa. Budapest is also one of the few places to experience traditional Turkish baths built during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in 16th-17th century. Designed with traditional octagonal roofs, domes and pools, the typical Turkish baths at Király, Császár or Rudas Bath hark back to a bygone era where public bathing was not mere indulgence but a way of life.
Getting there: Fly to Budapest via London, Paris, Dubai or Doha.
For more info, visit http://visitbudapest.travel
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of JetWings magazine.