Budapest - Spa City
Today every city has a spa, but only Budapest can lay claim to the title International Spa City, an honour it’s held since the 1930s. Dena Roché dips her toes into the healing waters…
Thanks to its nearly 120 natural thermal springs, the highest concentration on earth, Budapest is the city to visit when looking for a true spa experience. In the last few decades, spa and wellness travel has skyrocketed in popularity, but the history of spa culture goes back to ancient times and the use of curative waters. In fact, the dictionary defines the word spa as ‘a place where water that has many minerals in it comes up naturally from the ground and where people go to improve their health by swimming in, bathing in, or drinking the water’. Emperor Marcus Aurelius built the first thermal bath in Budapest, with most of the bathhouses established by the Turks in the 16th century. Today there are over 50 places to take the waters, from beautiful Ottoman influenced bathhouses to Art Nouveau wonders and modern structures.
BRING YOUR OWN TOWEL. Picking your bathhouse is a tough choice. Most are similar with indoor thermal pools, saunas, steam room and cooler plunge pools. Some have large outdoor pools as well. Insider tip one: spas still have male and female days along with mixed gender pools, so check ahead of time. Insider tip two: swimming caps are required for both sexes at some spas – that one caught me by surprise. Insider tip three: you can rent towels, but they’re flimsy. Bring your own from your hotel instead. Many bathhouses also offer spa services, but if you want to partake in a massage you need to specify that when you buy your entrance ticket. You’ll also want to make sure you buy a private cabin for changing and storing your belongings.SMELLY WATER. For the most authentic Turkish bath experience, head to the Rudas Baths. The centerpiece is a large domed octagonal pool. You’ll also find six thermal pools, a rooftop pool and Jacuzzi that offers a stunning view of the city. For the bold, there is a drinking hall featuring mineral water from three springs. Drinking the water from the Juventus spring is said to be akin to drinking from the Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately, youth comes with the price of downing very warm, very sulpheric smelling water.
GELLERT. The most famous and certainly the best Art Nouveau bathhouse is Gellert. In the 1920s it was the heart of Budapest social life, and today intricate tile work and statues make it arguably the most beautiful bath in town. There are a whopping 12 pools to choose from including eight thermal baths, two effervescent baths and three outdoor pools. For a VIP experience, buy a couples’ private bathing ticket where you and your sweetie will have a private thermal pool and sauna, as well as champagne and fruit to enjoy in the water. While a bathhouse is an ode to the past, for a modern, luxurious spa experience you’re going to want to head to a five-star hotel spa. I start my spa afternoon at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus with lunch at world-famous Nobu. Japanese cuisine is my favorite and Nobu doesn’t disappoint with sea bass sashimi, an assortment of sushi rolls and a refreshing watermelon granita. At the spa, my friend and I relax by the pool and use the sauna and steam. I’m amused by the rack outside the sauna which stores your eyeglasses whilst you steam up inside.
MINERAL MUD. In addition to therapeutic water, Hungary is known for its mineral mud so I opt for the signature Hungary Holistic treatment. After a dry body brush, I’m slathered in the mud that is known to help muscle and joint pain and aid circulation, and then wrapped up tight. While the mud works its magic, my therapist performs a mini-facial using England’s own Elemental Herbology products. I love the smell and feel of these plant-based skin wonders. After showering off the mud, the service concludes with a light massage. The Four Seasons Gresham Palace, on the bank of the Danube, is the top hotel in the city and your ideal base for exploring all of Buda and Pest. It also has one of the best spas to enjoy another authentic experience – an Omorovicza Facial.
SKINCARE. In the 1800s the Omorovicza family built the Racz Spa (now closed). 200 years later Stephen Omorovicza and his wife Margaret experienced the baths of Budapest and were amazed by the transformation of their skin. With the help of a prize-winning lab, they created a skincare line that harnesses the power of the healing waters. The Blue Diamond Facial is exclusive to the Four Seasons spa and uses Omorovicza’s Hydro Mineral Transference delivery system and diamond peptides to supercharge cells and accelerate the oxygenation of the skin and the synthesis of new collagen and elastin. The products are driven deep into the dermis using traditional Hungarian facial massage techniques that also help lift and firm the skin. From 2,000 year-old cures, to modern science based skincare, a wellness weekend in Budapest is the perfect solution for whatever ails you.