The buzz about Budapest has been steadily building since Hungary joined the European Union in 2004. Tourists and multinational companies alike have gravitated to the city's humming core. But the former imperial capital owes at least some of its prosperity to centuries of experience with slowing down, taking a breath and sinking neck-deep into blissful relaxation.
Budapest - a growing hub
For the harried business traveler — or anyone else who could use a respite — an escape to one of the city's seven public thermal baths provides a soothing glimpse into that history while being just a quick subway ride away from the city center.
The Romans were the first to harness the area's hot springs, setting up a regional capital here partly because of the steamy mineral water burbling below ground. The ruins of those grand temples are still visible in the northern part of the city. More than 1,000 years later, the Ottomans established the city as a trading post during their 150-year rule and built two baths that still operate.
The oldest, the Rudas Baths, features an octagonal room dating to 1550 with one main pool encircled by four smaller ones of varying temperatures. A 30-foot dome covers the stone echo chamber, where steam wafts up through colored beams of light coming from the plate-sized pieces of stained glass in the ceiling. The sulfuric water, which has supposed curative properties, can be so pungent that it stings the nose, and the smell lingers. So lather, rinse and definitely repeat.
If you go to Rudas for the history, try the Szechenyi Baths for the grandeur. Built in stages in the early 1900s, the gilded neo-Baroque facility is one of the largest thermal spas in Europe.
Ornate, blazing yellow buildings form a courtyard that encloses three huge naturally heated pools. Classical statues of reclined bathing nudes surround the pools, which are open year-round and simmer between 26 to 38 degrees Celsius. It's like soaking in the world's fanciest hot tub.
Another 15 smaller pools indoors range from a chilly 18 degrees Celsius up to a skin-tingling 40 degree Celsius. Also inside are saunas, steam rooms, silent relaxing areas and massage services. Be prepared to get a little frustrated with the lockers, since the electronic key which is already confusing was broken on several of them during a recent visit.
Sections of both spas are available until 10 p.m. For early birds, some parts open as early as 6 a.m. Fortunately, the water at Szechenyi smells much less than at Rudas, so a dip there before a breakfast meeting is that much easier.
Access to both baths costs R205,00 for a day pass with a locker.
Local Baths :
Warm up this winter with these top natural local springs
1. Goudini Spa,
A natural Hot spring located in Rawsonville - it is self catering accommodation and offers a surplus of recreational activities for the whole family.
2. Warmwaterberg Spa
Located on Route 62 from Montagu to Oudtshoorn this natural spring is set at 44 degrees Celsius and is filled with natural ions - making it a healthy and relaxing experience. There are also a number or 'Roman Baths' located on the property and offers a select bath salts for a more luxurious experience. The accommodation is self catering but also offers a few restaurants if you are not in the mood to cook.
1. Gooderson Natal Spa
Home to a natural hot spring with stunning views of the Bivane River and natural bird life. The hot thermal baths are between 35 - 34 degrees Celsius. The waters are known to help alleviate insomnia, stress, arthritis, fibrosis and gout- just to name a few.
2. Shu- Shu Hot springs
Located in Zululand, Eshowe - these natural springs are created as they bubble up to form around a small island in the Thukela river. Many familes flock to these natural springs during the July winters in order to heat up the body.
1. Bela Bela 'Warm-baths'
Located in the province of Limpopo which is 200 kilometers out of Jozi - the natural hot spring water is harnessed from the Waterberg mountain and transported into the many fountains and pools located at Bela Bela.
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