How about visiting Europe to pamper yourself unabashedly in the name of health? Taking wellness and spa holidays to rejuvenate body and soul is a long-standing tradition across Europe - and a delightful way to experience another aspect of European culture.
The Spa Tradition
The Romans adored their public baths, both for relaxation and socializing. Wherever Romans colonized, baths were sure to follow. Remains of Roman thermae are scattered across Europe, often at the site of natural hot springs. During the 18th and 19th centuries “taking the waters” for health and the equally important social scene at spas became the rage again. Royalty and the aristocracy being the principle customers, both the spas and their towns benefited: Lovely arcades, theatres, opera houses, hotels, and sumptuous bathing facilities resulted from the patronage of the wealthy, if delicate patrons. Some of these spas are still operating, albeit with slightly updated plumbing.
Today there are over 5,000 spa and wellness centers in Europe, offering every treatment you can imagine in a beautiful rural settings or urban oases. Because of spas’ medical orientation in the past, you’ll find that contemporary spa services are concerned not just with polishing external appearances, but in designing an overall healthy lifestyle. Europeans generally regard spa time more as a normal part of personal maintenance than as a hedonistic luxury. You’ll find all ages and members of the family enjoying pools, saunas and steam rooms together. Nudity just isn’t a big deal in Europe as compared to some other parts of the world, so don’t be shocked at the site of more bare skin than you may be used to in your home country. If you’re not sure what’s customary, ask a spa employee, whose job is to make sure you’re relaxed and comfortable.
Take a wellness holiday at a wonderfully preserved historical spa or state-of-the-art well-being center. What a great vacation – you’ll come home in better shape than when you left!
We have the town of Spa, Belgium to thank for the name we now use generically for these aquatic health retreats. In addition to its wellness resorts, Spa is famous for its casino and Grand Prix. The lovely town of Bath, England did not give us the name we use for a good soak, however it has beautifully preserved Roman baths as well as outstanding Georgian architecture, all listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To think of the sophisticated, golden age of spas is to think of Baden-Baden, home to historic and modern spas - and Marlene Dietrich’s favorite casino - all nestled in the Black Forest of Germany. In Istanbul at the Çemberlitas Hamam, experience the classic Turkish bath in a 16th century hamam that was built on the order of the Sultan’s wife to raise money for charity. Portugal also offers relaxing experiences. You should try Thalassotherapy in Madeira, Health and beauty in the Algarve, as well as the Fountains of well-being.
The spa menu
When you visit Europe and decide to “take the cure”, the array of treatments depends on the natural surroundings. As mentioned, spas are often located at natural hot springs, whose mineral-rich waters have been thought for eons to have healing properties for the human body and spirit. At the seaside you’ll find thalossotherapy, which is balneothrapy (water therapy) using seawater, very popular in France and Spain. In the Alps region, the effects of pure mountain air, local alpine herbs and brine springs all infuse treatments with local characteristics. Saunas originated in Finland, and there’s still nothing like the stimulating mix of heat and cold experienced the Finnish way. You’ll also find the latest technology and treatments currently in vogue, such as hot stone massage and Ayurvedic treatments.
Spa experiences can last from a few hours at an urban day spa to a few weeks at a health resort, where a whole range of treatments, exercise, and special diet are on the menu. Explore the different regions of Europe to find your perfect spa destination.