Sliding into a bathtub after a long day is one of life’s little luxuries, but there’s nothing quite like the restorative buzz garnered by a dip in a proper thermal pool. From Iceland’s idyllic Blue Lagoon to Switzerland’s most chic spa, here’s a rundown of some of Europe’s best hot springs.
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The vibe: see it to believe it.
Nestled in rugged lava field 30 minutes from Reykjavík, this vivid turquoise pool could easily be mistaken for Iceland’s otherworldly natural landscape, but it’s actually a man-made complex fed by mineral-rich water recycled by the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. Tubs of white, silica-rich geothermal mud are available for guests to apply their own face masks.
Therme Vals, Switzerland
The vibe: Alpine chic.
This minimalist spa complex is so trendy that devotees think nothing of the 200km journey from Zürich to bathe in its hydrotherapy pools. Night bathing is offered to guests who bed down at Therme Val’s (www.therme-vals.ch/en) adjoining hotel, remodelled by the spa’s award-winning Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.
Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, Great Britain
The vibe: romantic British bathing.
The healing waters of Britain’s only thermal spring have been enjoyed by everyone from the Celts to the Saxons since their discovery by legendary British Prince Bladud around 863BC. Tapping the spring that feeds the city’s historic Roman Baths museum, Thermae Bath Spa boasts herbal steam rooms and four thermal baths including an open-air rooftop pool with romantic views of Bath Abbey.
Széchenyi Baths, Budapest, Hungary
The vibe: room for everyone.
Known as the City of Spas, many of Budapest’s 16th- and 17th-century Turkish baths are still in use today. With a whopping 18 different pools and a further ten saunas and steam chambers, the neo-baroque Széchenyi Baths complex in Budapest’s City Park is one of the capital’s top attractions.
Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Czech Republic
The vibe: soothing from the inside out.
Discovered by Roman Emperor Charles IV, who founded this west Bohemia spa town in the 14th century, Karlovy Vary’s mineral waters are thought to have external and internal healing properties. Many hotels, such as the famous Carlsbad Plaza operate traditional bathing spas, but it’s possible to drink from the springs at several of the town’s historic colonnade complexes.
Terme di Saturnia, Tuscany, Italy
The vibe: Botox with that?
A truly idyllic Tuscan escape, Terme di Saturnia (www.termedisaturnia.it) is one of Italy’s premier thermal spa resorts. Replenished every four hours by a volcanic spring, Terme’s main pool hovers at a balmy 37.5°C. Also available to non-guests, the resort also offers special thermal mud treatments alongside its medispa menu.
Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, Weisbarden, Germany
The vibe: lavish country escape.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013, the art nouveau Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme complex was built on the site of an old Roman sauna. On top of its restorative thermal pools, the spa features a Russian steam bath and classic Finnish sauna.
Aqua Dome, Tyrol, Austria
The vibe: futuristic-style relaxation.
Discovered in the 16th century, Längenfeld’s geothermal spring all but dried up in the 1960s. Redrilled in 1997, it now feeds this Tyrol town’s veritable alpine playground featuring three ‘levitating’ outdoor pools. For romantics, there’s moonlight bathing at the Aqua Dome on Fridays.
Laugarvatn Fontana, Iceland
The vibe: blissful countryside seclusion.
Located 77km from Reykjavík, the bathing pools at newish Laugarvatn Fontana (www.fontana.is) open onto the picturesque geothermal Lake Laugarvatn, the sands of which are thought to soothe arthritic joints. Built directly over a bubbling spring, the complex’s sulphuric steam rooms are particularly unique.
Heviz Lake, Heviz, Hungary
The vibe: get back to nature.
Dotted with water lilies and surrounded by manicured parks, pretty Heviz boasts the world’s largest biologically active, natural medicinal lake. Its on-site spa complex (www.spaheviz.hu/en) is convenient for wintertime visits, but with the lake’s natural water temperature hovering at around 38°C during summer, warmer months beckon outdoor bathing.
Bains de Dorres, Pyrenees, France
The vibe: vista excellence.
Offering a relaxing alternative to France’s more serious medicinal bathhouses, this small thermal spring complex allows guests to soak at 37-40°C with gorgeous views of the rolling valleys below. Just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, Bains de Dorres (www.bains-de-dorres.com) dates back to Roman times.
The vibe: one for the fashion set.
This tiny volcanic island in the strait of Sicily, not far from Tunisia, houses a series of natural, non-commercial pools. Among the most popular is the harbour at Gadir, where locals (notably Giorgio Armani, who owns a holiday house here) head to bathe in the restorative waters, said to soothe rheumatism and arthritis.
Rogner Bad Blumau, Styria, Austria
The vibe: if Middle-earth had a day spa.
An artistic, aquatic Babylon, this ultra-quirky southeast Austrian spa bears the mark of eccentric Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Fed by two curative springs, Rogner Bad Blumau (blumau.com) boasts a Dead Sea salt grotto alongside its pools, saunas and treatment rooms. Replete with rooftop meadows, its attached hotel resembles a futuristic Hobbiton.
Pamukkale, Denizli Province, Turkey
The vibe: the ultimate natural phenomenon.
‘Cotton castle’ in Turkish, this stunning natural pool complex has been used for centuries to ease a range of physical maladies. Created by the build-up of carbonate minerals, the terraced hot springs fringe the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis.
Palia Kameni, Greece
The vibe: nature’s mud wrap.
Refreshingly non-commercial, the turquoise springs on this volcanic island in the Santorini caldera are known for their therapeutic sulphuric mud. ‘Old Burnt’ in Greek, Palia Kameni is accessed by boat from Santorini – visitors are required to swim from a moored vessel to reach the main seaside spring.
Banos Arabes, Granada, Spain
The vibe: ancient Arabic opulence.
Thought to be the first traditional hammam reopened in Europe after Spain’s Christian rulers closed Andalucía’s Moorish bathhouses in the 16th century, the richly-decorated Banos Arabes (Arab Baths) (granada.hammamalandalus.com/en) offer a truly opulent thermal bathing experience.
Terme Rogaska, Rogaska, Slovenia
The vibe: pure eastern European elegance.
Connected to the belle-époque Grand Hotel Rogaska, Terme Rogaska (www.terme-rogaska.si) is Slovenia’s most elegant and well-known thermal spa complex. Here you’ll find a series of thermal pools, therapeutic waterfalls and massage baths heated by a calcium-rich spring said to contain digestion-aiding minerals.
Andorra la vella, Andorra
The vibe: for the après-ski crowd.
With over 6000m² of pools, the Andorra capital’s cavernous Caldea (www.caldea.com/es/es.html) spa, fed from a sulphur-rich spring, is the largest thermal spa complex in southern Europe. Those looking for a more intimate experience may prefer to head to one of the city’s thermal spa hotels, such as the Roc Blanc (www.rocblanc.com/en).
Chateau des Thermes, Chaudfontaine, Belgium
The vibe: one-stop indulgence.
Using Belgium’s hottest thermal spring, this swish day spa near Liège in the Vesdre valley also houses two Turkish baths, a caldarium and a salt cabin, the latter used to soothe a range of skin conditions. Part of a hotel, Chateau des Thermes (www.chateaudesthermes.be/en) also boasts a good French restaurant.
The vibe: grand spa hotels a go-go.
It’s all about the mud at Piestany (www.spapiestany.sk), Slovakia’s largest spa town. Attached to various spa hotels, most of the thermal pools in this western Slovakian village, 86kms from Bratislava, are contained in the lush surroundings of a wooded park known as ‘spa island’.