Thermal Baths Around the World

· onsen,hot springs,sauna

One of my favorite things to do in Japan is to soak in the hot springs, or onsen. For me, nothing beats the relaxation I feel soaking in an outdoor onsen under the stars. Luckily for me, even in areas without natural onsen water, there are sento, or public baths, where you can enjoy the onsen experience with heated water, and often water that has been amended with different types of onsen salts.

At a Japanese onsen or sento, the baths are gender-separated, and you bathe in the nude. If you have tattoos, they must be covered by a band-aid, or you’ll need to use a private, or family, onsen. Family onsen is a single-pool onsen that you can reserve by the hour if you want to enjoy onsen together with your family, or if you have large tattoos, are an option at some facilities as well.

Before entering the onsen baths, you’ll shower while seated at low stools provided for you. Wash your hair and body well, and if you have long hair, tie it up so that it doesn’t touch the onsen water. Onsen facilities generally have a few different pools to choose from, with differing water temperatures and mineral content.

You can learn more about Japanese onsen at my blog post here.

I love that there are so many different traditional baths that you can enjoy around the world, in addition to the ones I enjoy in Japan! Iceland comes to mind when I think of hot springs, as it has naturally hot water thanks to its geothermal activity, but I was surprised to learn that there are many other countries in Europe that have their own methods of enjoying a sauna or bath. I invited a few other travel professionals on to the blog this week to talk about their favorite spa experiences around the world!

broken image

Stefanie Lambert from Eurotravels By Design, loves to visit Turkish baths.

Turkey is full of bright colors, exotic flavors, fascinating history and stunning architecture. There is one tradition, however, that stands out as a unique, must do experience. This is the Turkish bath, or hammam. Steeped in centuries of tradition, the Turkish baths offer travelers a way to experience Turkish hospitality and culture.

In Islamic culture, the hamman was important for both the spiritual and physical aspects of life. It provided ritual spiritual cleansing, but also personal hygiene in a time before plumbing in private homes. There was also a social aspect as it was a place to meet and interact with others. Hammams, especially for women, were traditionally places of entertainment with dancing and food being served. It was common to attend a hamman before a wedding or other celebration.

Each hammam has its own unique architectural flair. Some are grand with opulent decor. Others have a more intimate feeling. There are even ones that have a modern style.

While some details of the experience will change due to the specific bath you are visiting or the region you are in, most hammams will have the patrons undress, sometimes keeping a modesty towel or loincloth. Throughout the experience you will be guided through a series of rooms, usually getting warmer in temperature. Males will be massaged by males and females by females. You will be washed, exfoliated, massaged and sometimes covered in a blanket of bubbles. The massages can be vigorous and include joint cracking and limb twisting so be prepared. The experience is usually finished off with a glass of turkish tea or a sweet treat like turkish delight.

Visiting a Turkish bath is not just a great way to escape the noise and confusion of the city and enjoy peace and tranquility. It is also a wonderful way to experience local culture and immerse yourself in a centuries old tradition.

broken image

Eva from Germany Travel Company, who creates custom trips to Germany with a focus on culture and adventure, says: Germany's abundance of mineral and thermal springs has fostered a long tradition of utilizing the healing properties of water, a fact underscored by the prevalence of the word “Bad” (English: ‘bath’) in the names of many towns, such as Bad Ems, Bad Dürrheim, and Bad Füssing, to mention just a few. Wellness treatments vary but invariably include a sauna experience. Given the Germans' relaxed attitude towards nudity, these saunas are often mixed-gender and "textile-free," which might surprise unprepared visitors.

A treatment unique to Germany is the ‘Kneipp’ therapy, named after Sebastian Kneipp, a German monk who, 200 years ago, contracted tuberculosis. He cured himself by taking dipping baths in the Danube River, thereby sparking a wellness movement. Over the years, Kneipp developed more than 120 water-based treatments, with water treading being the most renowned. Today, several spas across Germany offer Kneipp therapies, and Kneipp products are available worldwide.

broken image

Greg, Founder and Partner of Euro Travel Coach, has visited a number of bathhouses in Hungary.

Before our first visit to Budapest we read about the numerous bathhouses scattered around the city and were anxious to give them a try. For those North Americans who may be a little squeamish about the Nordic bath experience, there are no worries here. Everyone was wearing bathing suits and there are separate changing areas (well mostly, keep reading!) The bathhouses in Budapest are luxurious, beautiful, mosaiced temples to relaxation.

Most of the heated water in these baths come from natural hot springs underneath the city. In addition to the dozen or so bathhouses in the city there are over 120 natural thermal springs around town. For centuries these springs have been used to create bathing experiences in the city.

Our first visit was to the Szechenyi Baths, one of the biggest in the city. It was quite the party atmosphere with three large outside pools of various temperatures and smaller pools, steam rooms and saunas inside. Outside you could see people swimming laps or playing chess, but mostly just socializing and enjoying the water. You can also schedule a massage and other body treatments including a thermal beer spa.  Crazy! There is food and beer available and the place is massive.

For a different take, we visited Lukacs Baths. It was much smaller, but very nice if not a little past its prime. And where at Szechenyi we were some of the more "mature" visitors, at Lukacs we felt like we were the young guns! In this place there is a communal changing area but it wasn’t too busy so I just found an unoccupied row to change. When we left, I went to my locker to change back into my street clothes. Suddenly there was a naked woman beside me, carrying on a conversation with someone nearby, getting ready for her spa experience. She didn’t care and then she was gone. I somehow survived as well.

We enjoyed the baths so much that on our second visit to Budapest we experienced two more. Parts of the Rudas Baths date back to the 1500s! This is one of the more popular baths in Budapest and the complex sprawls over three floors. Make sure to find the old Turkish Bath in the basement. It is a little hard to get to as you need to walk through a restaurant to find it but It’s worth it! On our last day in Budapest we went to the Gellert Baths. Perhaps the most elegant of the baths we visited, this place is absolutely beautiful! There is a large out-door area that we didn’t get to enjoy as it was cold and rainy the day we visited. The mosaics on the walls of the older sections are gorgeous. It all felt quite refined.