The health and wellness craze is nothing new in Europe where beauty and wellness business has boomed for thousands of years. The options are definitely more old world than new age and utilize some of the most atmospheric locations including the old bath houses of England and Spain, salt springs in Germany or the thermal waters of Romania. Most emphasize thermal springs, relaxation, socialization and light exercise.
- Bath, England
This spa town southwest of London owes its existence to hot springs that reputedly have unique healing properties. The ancient Celts, Romans and 18th century Jane-Austen compatriots all took the plunge here and today the thermal spas are still popular. Thermae Bath Spa consists of five Georgian buildings and a new stone-and-glass construction and boasts four spring-fed pools with naturally-heated thermal water enriched with 43 minerals. Guests can choose from more than 50 indulgent options and it’s not too expensive. Soak in the historic pool or take a Cleopatra Bath.
- Hévíz, Hungary
Budapest is known as the spa capital of the world, thanks to 100 hot springs that bubble up through the city. While locals use the baths built on them as an every day ritual they usually vacation at Hévíz, Europe’s largest thermal lake. It is filled with mineral-rich water and the thick mud beneath is said to soothe everything from rheumatic ailments to skin conditions. There are plenty of choices for packages and visits should you come.
- Tuscan Spas, Italy
Tuscany’s spa tradition dates back to Etruscan times and Italians today still enjoy the many thermal outlets, particularly in the Val d’Orcia. One of the best free options is Bagni San Filippo, in the province of Siena, that is particularly crowded on full moon nights. The hotel options at Bagno Vignoni are also popular and affordable or you can book into some of the ritzy spa resorts such as Grotta Giusti or Terme di Saturnia.
- Bavarian Salt Springs, Germany
Bad Reichenhall has attracted attention since the Bronze Age for its concentrated salt springs, which have been used both as a commodity, and for therapeutic purposes. Today visitors can alleviate back and joint pain at a number of complexes. There’s Rupertus Therme, an indoor-outdoor bathing complex where you can drink from the city’s 55 brine wells or catch your breath in a salt inhalation room. Local spas make the best of the brine and there’s a variety of salt-based treatments ranging from salt massages to exfoliating salt scrubs.
- Cordoba Hammam, Spain
Most Arab-style bathhouses were left to crumble when Moorish domination ended in Spain. But in Córdoba the Medina Califal Hammam was restored in 2001and it looks much like it did in its 10th century heyday with the same star-shaped holes in the ceiling and intricate tiles. Guests alternate between a series of hot and cold baths and then submit to a quick pummeling from a chiropractic masseur. This is a secular, mixed-sex crowd, so advance bookings and bathing suits are required.
- Black Sea Coast, Romania
Romania is home to about a third of Europe’s mineral and thermal springs. Spas can be found everywhere on the Black Sea Coast on the banks of lakes as well as in the mountains. The spas provide relief for many medical disorders and illnesses.
- Alpine Spa, Sweden
Spa treatments are popular amongst Swedes from Gotland to Göteborg and Stockholm. But the ultimate is that offered in the far north under the midnight sun. Go to Riksgransen at 186 miles above the Arctic Circle for treatments borrowed from the indigenous inhabitants. Try a “Lappish Zen” treatment that consists of cleansing, a spa soak and deep relaxation, followed by a hot stone massage in a Lapp tent.
- Ironmonger Row Baths, London, England
These Turkish Baths are great value for money and require no pre booking. They are the perfect stress-buster for life in the busy capital. They include a steam room, a series of hot rooms of varying temperature, marble slabs for body scrubbing and an icy plunge pool. There are two relaxation rooms where you can have a snooze or massage or watch television. Drinks and snacks are even available.
- Reykjavik, Iceland
Imagine swimming even when the weather is howling outside! Thanks to enormous reserves of thermal water, no other city in the world has as many spas per capita as the Iceland capital or thermally heated swimming pools. These waters have high silica and algae content which does good things to the skin. There are countless facials, body treatments and other therapies on offer at spas across the city. Some have indoor quiet rooms with recliners, soft music and a roaring fire for a mid-day snooze.
- Edipsos, Greece
People have been taking the waters in the spa town of Edipsos on Evia since the time of Aristotle. Roman and Byzantine emperors also bathed in the waters. It’s a popular location today mostly for Greek visitors who come for the springs and relaxation. Some hotels have permission to pump the thermal water directly into their own spas and are built around the ancient ruins of Roman baths. But to use any you must register with the Greek National Tourism Health Centre first which has its own hydro-massage baths, indoor and outdoor pools of both mineral and seawater, a physiotherapy center and a gymnasium.