Sliding into a bathtub after a long day is one of life’s little luxuries, but there’s nothing quite like the restorative buzz from a dip in a proper thermal pool. From Iceland’s renowned Blue Lagoon to ancient sulphur streams in the Pyrenees, here’s a rundown of some of Europe’s best hot springs.
Iceland's Blue Lagoon is one of Europe's most beloved thermal baths © Roberto La Rosa / Shutterstock
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
The vibe: see it to believe it.
Nestled in rugged lava fields 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.
Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, England
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.
The thermal waters of Heviz Lake reach a balmy 38°C during summer © andras_csontos / Shutterstock
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 is convenient for wintertime visits, but with the lake’s natural water temperature hovering at around 38°C during summer, warmer months make for perfect outdoor bathing.
Bains de Dorres, Pyrenees, France
The vibe: vista excellence.
Offering a relaxing alternative to France’s more serious medicinal bathhouses, this small sulphurous thermal spring, sitting pretty at 1450m in altitude, 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 dates back to Roman times.
7132 Therme Vals is one of Switzerland's premier thermal spas, drawing bathers from far and wide © 7132 Therme Vals
7132 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 adjoining hotel, remodelled by the spa’s award-winning Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor.
Palia Kameni, Greece
The vibe: nature’s mud wrap.
The copper-hued 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. Avoid peak tourist season for the most authentic bathing experience.
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 10 saunas and steam chambers, the neo-baroque Széchenyi Baths complex in Budapest’s City Park is one of the capital’s top attractions.
Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme, Wiesbaden, Germany
The vibe: lavish country escape.
Having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013, the art nouveau Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme complex has bags of old-world charm. Its aquatic healing heritage actually stretches back further still, with the spa built on the site of an old Roman sauna. Alongside its restorative thermal pools, the spa features a Russian steam bath and classic Finnish sauna to boot.
Karlovy Vary’s mineral waters are good for both soaking and sipping © Irina Burmistrova / Shutterstock
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 Grandhotel Pupp, reportedly the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, operate traditional bathing spas, but it’s possible to drink from the springs at several of the town’s historic colonnade complexes.
Hammam Al Ándalus, 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 Hammam Al Ándalus offer a truly opulent thermal bathing experience.
The chance to bathe beneath the aurora borealis makes a visit to Laugarvatn Fontana an enticing prospect © Laugarvatn Fontana
Laugarvatn Fontana, Iceland
The vibe: blissful countryside seclusion.
Located 77km from Reykjavík, the bathing pools at Laugarvatn Fontana 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 outdoor mineral pools are particularly alluring, especially when the aurora borealis are streaking across the night sky overhead.
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 home here) head to bathe in the restorative waters, said to soothe rheumatism and arthritis.
Pamukkale terraced hot springs are a magnificent natural spectacle © Akugasahagy / Shutterstock
Pamukkale, Denizli Province, Turkey
The vibe: the ultimate natural phenomenon.
Translating to ‘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.
Caldea, Andorra la Vella, Andorra
The vibe: for the après-ski crowd.
With over 6000m² of pools, the Andorra capital’s cavernous Caldea spa, fed from a sulphur-rich spring, is the largest thermal spa complex in southern Europe. It’s a good choice for those who enjoy socialising while stewing, with the spa hosting popular cocktail nights. Those seeking a more intimate experience should try one of the city’s boutique thermal spa hotels, such as the Roc Blanc – perfect for easing post-ski aches (or sweating out hangovers).
Austria's Rogner Bad Blumau spa complex has a hint of the surreal about it © Nunner Patrick / Rogner Bad Blumau
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 boasts a Dead Sea salt grotto alongside its pools, saunas and treatment rooms. Replete with rooftop meadows, its attached hotel resembles a futuristic Hobbiton.
Chateau des Thermes, Chaudfontaine, Belgium
The vibe: one-stop indulgence.
Using Belgium’s hottest thermal spring, Chateau des Thermes near Liège in the Vesdre Valley houses an outdoor thermal pool, two Turkish baths, a caldarium and a salt cabin, the latter is used to soothe a range of skin conditions. Part of a hotel, this swish day spa also boasts an excellent French restaurant.
The luxurious Terme di Saturnia complex, in Tuscany © Terme di Saturnia
Terme di Saturnia, Tuscany, Italy
The vibe: Botox with that?
A truly idyllic Tuscan escape, Terme di Saturnia 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 offers special thermal mud treatments alongside its medispa menu.
Klevevška Toplica, Klevevž, Slovenia
The vibe: brave a dip in the Slovenian wilds.
With the water temperature bubbling just below the 20°C mark, the tiny outdoor spring in the Slovenian village of Klevevž attracts a more hardy sort than the country’s glitzy spas. But bathers who make the pilgrimage here will be rewarded with a soak in a wonderfully serene forest setting, with medieval Klevevž Castle visible in the distance. For something a little more refined, Dolenjske Toplice, one of Slovenia’s oldest and prettiest spa towns, is a short drive away.
The Aqua Dome complex is home to three spectacular 'levitating' outdoor pools © Aqua Dome
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.
The vibe: grand spa hotels a go-go.
It’s all about the mud at Piestany, 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’.
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First published in May 2013.