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Global Hot Springs & Bathhouse Traditions


There's an important, fun, and relaxing cultural and wellness tradition so many countries around the world share: their love for community bathing and bathhouses! One of my favorite memories of Budapest was enjoying a relaxing dip at Gellért Thermal Bath, and my best ever arrival day treat was swimming in all the thermal pools at Fonteverde Lifestyle & Thermal Retreat in Tuscany after my overnight flight. I hope this article inspires you to envision a trip filled with spas, thermal hot springs, and historic batthouses!

Excerpt below from Virtuoso article dated 7/26/2023 by Ingrid K. Williams can be found here.

Communal bathing houses and hot springs are ideal for travelers looking to dive into local culture. The history of bathing culture dates back to ancient civilizations. The Greeks took ritualistic mineral baths, and the Romans considered communal bathing an integral part of daily life. Grand bathing facilities, known as thermae, constructed throughout the Roman Empire, were dual-purpose places for washing and socializing. The remains of some of those bathhouses from antiquity still stand, from the well-preserved Roman Baths in the English city of Bath to the Terme di Caracalla in Rome.

Centuries later, bathing traditions have evolved in different ways around the world. In the U.S., bathing is almost always done privately, at home. But in South Korea, for example, groups of friends will often socialize at jjimjilbang, popular 24-hour bathhouse complexes featuring hot tubs, showers, saunas, and spa facilities. And in Morocco, locals regularly visit the neighborhood hammam to be steamed, soaked, scrubbed, and caught up on the latest town gossip. More than simply a place to get clean, these locales are societal touchstones, and ideal spots for travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture.

While there are many different ways to bathe – in hot air, as in a sauna; in heated tap water, as in your bathroom – for many, the idea of communal bathing is tied to hot springs. Iceland, one of the most volcanically active places on the planet, is dotted with natural hot springs, many of which have been transformed into spa-like destinations, such as the famous Blue Lagoon and the new Sky Lagoon outside Reykjavík. Far from the tourist crowds, in the northern village of Húsavík, the geothermal spa GeoSea lures bathers to its clifftop infinity pool filled with piping-hot seawater believed to have a variety of healing properties, from soothing skin conditions to easing joint pain.

Similar health benefits have been attributed to the mineral-rich water bubbling in hot springs around the world. In Tuscany, for example, the tiny village of Bagno Vignoni has long been renowned for its therapeutic geothermal springs. An early rest stop for Christian pilgrims looking to soothe their aches and pains in the Middle Ages, the village remains popular today for its restorative terme, or thermal resorts. And in Hungary, the capital of Budapest earned the nickname “City of Spas” due to its abundance of curative thermal baths, some of which date back to the Roman Empire. Many of Budapest’s spas are also architectural stunners, such as the palatial Széchenyi Baths, with its canary-yellow, neo-baroque edifice and outdoor pools, where local retirees often play chess in the steaming water.

In areas without thermal springs, bathing traditions often rely on steam and heat to cleanse the body. In Istanbul, visitors to a Turkish bath, or hammam, prime their skin in a steam room, followed by a vigorous scrub and wash, often performed by an attendant. These cleansing and purification rituals, once necessary for public hygiene and religious purposes before indoor plumbing was available, remain cherished traditions for relaxation and laid-back socializing.

In Finland, another place that has been bathing in heat and steam for centuries, the sauna is considered an integral part of the national identity. In 2020, UNESCO added Finnish sauna to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – high praise for the simple ritual of sweating in a small heated room or hut.

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