Five great European thermal baths

Before the spa revolution saw most upscale hotels offering spa services to guests, there was the venerable European spa town tradition, centered on thermal baths built around natural hot springs. The water on offer for bathing at these sites has historically been thought to possess therapeutic qualities. The tradition of taking a “cure” remains an enthusiastic habit across Europe today, in particular in Central Europe.

Here are five noteworthy thermal baths, in Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, and France.

1. Bad Gleichenberg, Austria. This small Styrian town is home to a thermal bath with a grand history that stretches back to Roman times. There are seven springs here, all producing mineral-rich waters known for their beneficial effects against respiratory and skin problems.

2. Bad Nauheim, Germany. North of Frankfurt, this town’s waters are meant to be particularly good for the treatment of heart and nerve disorders. These waters have a salt content of three percent, as high as most seawater. At Therme am Park, day tickets for bathing begin at €15.

3. Széchenyi, Hungary. Europe’s largest thermal baths are the most urban of the handful profiles here, located as they are in Budapest’s City Park. These waters are supposed to have great therapeutic value for those suffering from joint ailments.

4. Therme Vals, Switzerland. This spa, designed by the in-demand Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, benefits both from architectural significance and an impossibly picturesque location in the mountains of Graubünden. Vals is also the source of Valser mineral water.

5. Alet les Bains, France. This southwestern French village, not far from Carcassonne, is but a speck on the map. Since 1886, water sourced here has been bottled for consumption. During the warmer months (May through September) the town’s thermal baths are opened to the public. The waters here are supposedly very good for the treatment of digestive and metabolic problems.

[Image: Flickr | karaian]

From World Cup to contemporary tourist destination: part two

The World Cup provides an opportunity for participating countries to put their best foot forward and invite visitors in. Earlier I looked at fabulous and in most cases affordable hotels in countries in the World Cup’s Groups A through D, hotels that fit their country’s national brand well. Here are some suggestions for hotels that sum up the best of the local national brand from countries in Groups E, F, G, and H.

Group E. Denmark: CPH Living, Copenhagen.

Copenhagen is full of very expensive classic modernist hotels, but the simple clean lines of CPH Living, a boat hotel located near the Langebro bridge in Christianshavn, provide a better-priced sleep. Rooms face the canal, which twinkles toward sundown, showing off Copenhagen at its modern best. There’s a sunroof as well. Doubles from DKK 1000 ($166).

Group F. Italy: Hotel Signum, Malfa, Salina.

While there’s a rich tradition of contemporary design in Italy, it is a more old-fashioned Italian aesthetic most beloved among visitors to the country. On the Aeolian island of Salina is the very special Hotel Signum, a small charmer that epitomizes simple luxury in a manner that showcases an Italian antique spirit in a clean, even modern manner. Salina, which has a few thousand inhabitants, is a quiet and restful place great for honeymooners and mature visitors. Double rooms from €130.

Group G. Portugal: Fontana Park Hotel, Lisbon.

The verve of this very contemporary hotel might first seem out of place against Lisbon’s delightfully antiquated core; in the context of Portuguese modernism, however, the Fontana Park’s rooms match up well. The Fontana Park, in the neighborhood of Estefãnia, is undeniably hip, and the hotel goes to fun lengths (sushi workshop, anyone?) to attract guests. Double rooms from €90. The hotel is currently running a two-night City Break special with tons of bells and whistles for €315 for two.

Group H. Switzerland: Therme Vals, Vals.

In 1996, Peter Zumthor built the extraordinary Therme Vals, a sharp spa and hotel in the town of Vals (see above) in the canton of Graubünden. Owned by the municipality itself, Therme Vals was built with stunningly beautiful local quartzite. Therme Vals has more or less redefined the contemporary Alpine spa genre. Doubles from CHF107 ($96).

(Image: Flickr/Jeremy Burgin)