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Top 5: Natural springs in Europe

Rosie Benson rounds up the thermal delights that Europe's hot springs have to offer

By Rosie Benson
Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:57 BST, Updated 7 Jul 2021, 13:34 BST
Pamukkale

Pamukkale

Photograph by Ana Raquel S Hernandes, Flickr

Pamukkale, Turkey

Best for: Otherworldly landscapes and ancient history

Pamukkale means ‘cotton castle' in Turkish, and it's hard to imagine a more fitting name. Here, 17 hot water springs flow down a vast white valley, creating multiple pools filled with sky-blue water. The site, in Denizli Province, offers a unique combination of the wonders of nature and history, being situated by the ruins of the ancient Greek-Roman city Hierapolis. Recent reviews have warned that not all the pools are consistently full, however, the unusual scenery alongside the ancient Roman amphitheatre make Pamukkale a one-of-a-kind experience.

Secret Lagoon, Iceland

Best for: A natural soak

One of the oldest geo-thermal pools in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon is located between two receding tectonic plates in a rugged UNESCO national park. Situated in the wilderness of Iceland's green and black mountains, it's a far cry from the crowds at the more famous Blue Lagoon. Created in 1891, this geothermal pool was forgotten about from the 1940s until 2014, when it was reopened with new changing facilities and showers. Come for a relaxing dip among the craggy hills, and admire the small geyser that treats visitors to bursts of water around the clock.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest

Best for: Bathing like royalty

The largest medicinal baths in Europe, Szechenyi dates from 1913 and offers a luxurious soak and spa experience in one. Set within the grounds of a fairytale inspired neo-baroque palace, there are 15 thermal baths in total, as well as three outdoor pools. Not forgetting the massage therapies, beauty treatments and 10 saunas on offer.

The water temperatures here range from 18-40C and can provide relief for everything from arthritis to post-accident recovery. The water isn't just for swimming in either — don't miss the ‘healing water' in the drinking well, which contains beneficial calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate.

Szechenyi Baths
Photograph by Shawn Harquail, Flickr

Thermae Bath Spa, England

Best for: Thermal indulgences on home turf

Britain's only natural hot springs have been famous since Roman times for their mineral-rich waters. Although the ultimate source of the water remains a mystery, their healing properties are dotted across England's history pages, with Queen Elizabeth I proclaiming that the Somerset springs should be ‘accessible to the public in perpetuity.' Despite going through periods of closure, today's baths have a thoroughly modern feel, following a lengthy refurbishment and reopening in 2006. The spa comprises natural thermal baths, spa treatment rooms, and an open-air rooftop pool with a sweeping view of the city of Bath's honey-hued Georgian architecture.

Saturnia, Italy

Best for: Spring-seekers on a budget

The sulphurous waters of Saturnia were revered by the Etruscans and Romans for their healing properties. Situated roughly one hour south of Siena, these thermal springs spill over uneven ground, creating mini waterfalls and a plethora of pools of all sizes. The exact legend of their origins vary, but they're said to take their name from the god Saturn, who split the earth with a thunderbolt during a fit of rage, causing the waters to burst forth.

At 37.5C the water is pleasantly soothing. The mud, too, is popular with visitors, who don't delay in lathering up as soon as they step in. Free and open to the public all year, Saturnia is most easily accessed by car. However, there are no facilities to speak of, so be prepared to get changed under a towel or arrive ready dressed in your swimming gear.

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