Mere mention of a European spa town conjures work-stopping images of soothing hot springs, bubbling fountains and stunning landscapes. And who couldn’t use some of that in the middle of winter?
It’s a popular time of year for travelers to seek out wellness experiences, but for the great spa towns of Europe, therapeutic waters are a year-round affair.
Once, there were approximately 600 major European spas. Today, only a handful still exist in their original form, and many of the towns have even been nominated for UNESCO inscription (think: Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic; France’s Vichy; and Spa in Belgium). They have been celebrated as both therapeutic retreats and luxe destinations, known for stunning architecture, glamorous resorts and idyllic countrysides.
One of the most famous spa towns in all of Europe, Karlovy Vary is said to be the biggest spa town in the nation, with seven elegantly colonnades and arbours fed by various springs. Tourists interested in taking full advantage of Karlovy Vary’s therapeutic offerings should bathe in the mineral waters and then wander through trails that snake through the surrounding forests.
Italian Spa Getaways
Like San Pellegrino water? Well, you can literally bathe in it at Italy’s QC Terme San Pellegrino, just a short drive northeast of Milan in the small town that’s home to the namesake spring. The therapeutic, magnesium-rich waters of San Pellegrino are heated to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and were said to be a favorite of both Roman emperors and Leonardo da Vinci. The modern bath complex incorporates original frescoes with sybaritic spa facilities and a signature indoor and outdoor “thermal path” linking 30 spa experiences. A daily pass is €48 (about $55).
One of the most celebrated Tuscan spas is Terme di Saturnia, in the tiny town of Saturnia, and its main outdoor thermal pool is fed by a hot spring of volcanic origin. The warm, mineral-rich water is constantly replenished and is reputed to have myriad health benefits. Day passes for the thermal pools start at €18 ($21), and there is a luxury hotel on site, too. Aesthetically, the setting is simply stunning: You’ll feel rejuvenated long before entering the healing waters.
And then there’s the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme, home to a number of spa facilities and considered one of the most important spa towns in Italy. Though the spa town officially dates back to the late 1700s, its grand columns and fountains place it squarely in the Art Nouveau movement.
The falls at Terme di Saturnia. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
French Spa Getaways
Switzerland has a wealth of hot springs, around which numerous spas are focused. The largest spa in the Alps is Leukerbad, in the French-speaking canton of Valais, east of Geneva. More than one million gallons of water flow into the town’s thermal baths every day. Day rates for use of the expansive thermal bath complex start at 30 Swiss francs ($31).
Leukerbad spa in Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Leukerbad)
English Spa Getaways
Bath, in the lush Somerset countryside southwest of London, was famous as a spa town even in ancient Roman times. The actual Roman baths are today a museum, but travelers can experience the town’s spa traditions at the Thermae Bath Spa. The indoor Minerva Bath is the largest in the complex, but the views over historic Bath may be our favorite. Basic entry is £36 (about $46). Book a room at the Gainsborough Bath Spa, which opened in 2015, for access to the Spa Village Bath, a circuit of saunas, steam rooms and natural pools fed by the famed thermal springs.
Photo courtesy of The Gainsborough Bath Spa / YTL Hotels.
Belgian Spa Getaways
Hungarian Spa Getaways
OK, so this one’s a spa city. But we’d be remiss not to mention Budapest, home to the famous Széchenyi thermal baths and grand, Art Nouveau Gellért Baths, among others. You can bliss out at either of those for as little as around €20 ($23) a day, making it one of the best options for budget-conscious spa lovers — especially because it’s filled with great points hotel options.
The Gellért Thermal Baths. (Photo courtesy of Expedia)
Greek Spa Getaways
Greece is not typically thought of as prime European spa country, but it has a number of hot springs, many of which are in the town of Edipsos, on the island of Evia. At the site of Thermae Sylla, Greeks have been known to “take the waters” since the 4th century, but unlike Aristotle, you can overnight in a luxurious wellness hotel after your soak.
Featured image via Shutterstock.