Thursday, December 3, 2015

See why Budapest is the "City of Baths"

The main indoor pool at Gellert Bath and Spa in Budapest, Hungary.
Stepping into the warm, swirling water of Gellert Bath, my muscles immediately began to relax, and a soothing aura surrounded me. Was it really therapeutic or just my imagination from hearing so much about the healing effects of mineral hot springs in Budapest, Hungary?

No matter, the thermal pool into which I immersed my body felt heavenly. 
The hotel and spa are located at the bottom of
scenic Gellert Hill in Budapest.
Thermal springs are found throughout Hungary, and with more than 120 hot springs in the capital city, Budapest has earned the title “City of Baths.”

Whether or not the calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkalis, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride (yes, all those minerals are in the thermal pool waters) actually alleviate aching joints, improve circulation, or cure a variety of ailments doesn’t matter to most people visiting the thermal springs today. The baths have become a social gathering place for fun and entertainment as well as relaxation and healing.
Locals and tourists wait for the huge manmade waves
that roll though this pool.
Celtic tribes, the first settlers in the area, discovered and used the healing waters in the first century B.C. Romans and Hungarians followed and used the baths for centuries. The Turks were the first to recognize the importance of Budapest’s thermal springs and turn them into bathhouses. 

While it’s still possible to experience traditional Turkish baths in Budapest, Gellert and Szechenyi, the two largest and best known public baths, have been modernized for today’s clients. I was able to experience both of these during my August visit to Budapest.
Lavish decorations inside Gellert Bath.
Built in the early 1900s as a women’s thermal bath, Gellert has only been co-ed since 2013. Located in the same building as the Hotel Gellert at the bottom of Gellert Hill, one of the most photographed sights in Budapest, it is perhaps the most architecturally beautiful with wall mosaics and stained glass windows reflecting the Art Nouveau style of its reconstruction after World War II. Today it includes saunas, several indoor pools, and an outdoor swimming and manmade wave pool. You can even have a massage while there (Yes, I did!)

Spring-fed Szecheny Bath is located in Budapest City Park.
The spring waters of Szechenyi Baths were discovered in the 1880s, and by 1913 millions of people were immersing themselves in the therapeutic powers of the baths. Szechenyi is a huge public coed bath located in City Park, the largest green space in Budapest. The Neo-baroque palace was specifically built for hosting Szechenyi Baths, which includes a total of 18 indoor and outdoor pools, some fed by hot springs and others featuring cooler temperatures.  Ten saunas and steam baths are also available for guests, as are aroma therapy massages and other spa services.

Buildings surrounding Szechney Baths are also ornate.
Both complexes are built around huge palaces and include a maze of pools to explore, so plan to spend at least half a day sampling the different areas. It’s easy to get lost in the long corridors of lockers and changing facilities on multiple levels (don’t rely on the map you’re handed), so don’t hesitate to ask for directions when trying to find where you stashed your belongings.

Bathers enjoy the warm, therapeutic waters indoors year round.
Bring towels, flip-flops, and a swim cap if you fancy a swim indoors, as caps are required in the swimming pool but not in the lounging pools. Rentals are available as are modest food and drink options. Since the baths feature both indoor and outdoor facilities, they’re able to operate year round.

If you're into wellness and spas, don’t miss this iconic experience when visiting Budapest.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier


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