According to the U.S. Travel Association, “leisure has been found to contribute to overall well-being by helping people maintain both their physical and mental health.”
It stands to reason that a vacation focused solely on relaxing and healing would reap great benefits.
Since before the time of the modern spa, natural hot springs have long been visited by cultures around the globe for their healing waters, which contain a unique cocktail of minerals purported to detoxify the body and heal ailments ranging from psoriasis to rheumatism.
Over the years, wellness complexes have developed around many of these locations, where the goal is to simply rest, relax and heal. This is achieved through programs aimed at alleviating specific ailments as well as a la carte treatments. Though, they are also open to those wishing only to enjoy a warm, soothing soak.
Whatever your preference, here are eight natural spas that cater to any traveler seeing a respite from their daily grind and even a chance to heal the body.
We can’t talk about spas without giving a nod to where it all began — Spa, Belgium. According to a scholarly article in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases: “The word “spa” may be derived from the Walloon word ‘espa’ meaning fountain. This, in turn, came from the name of the Belgian town Spa, where in the 14th century a curative, thermal spring was discovered.” (Though it could also have Latin roots.) The Belgian Tourist Office points to the first half of the 16th century as the time when the town rose to prominence after after Henry VIII touted the healing powers of the local waters. It became popular with European aristocrats and nobility. Health seekers can still refresh themselves at Les Thermes de Spa. The spa’s therapies use three springs, one of which provides waters that are iron bearing and carbonated, making them good to treat rheumatism. Another produces water that is used as a drink to eliminate toxins from the body. The mineral waters in the facility’s pools are 90 degrees, and offer bubble baths, hydro-massaging water jets, water bell fountains, geysers, bubble seats, bubble beds and water cannons. One day passes to the thermal springs is $41 for adults. Treatments and packages are available for an extra fee.
Banff Upper Hot Springs, Canada
The Canadian Rockies hot springs is a trio of natural spas: Banff Upper Hot Springs (pictured) Radium Hot Springs and Miette Hot Springs. The water temperature at each is kept between 98 and 104 degrees, and each contains high concentrations of sulphate, calcium, bicarbonate and magnesium. Budget Travel notes that these minerals give the water skin-healing and muscle relaxing properties. The hot springs were first used as a place of healing by the First Nations of Canada. Banff Upper Hot Springs is listed on the Canadian Register of Historic Places, and its mid-1930s bathhouse has been declared a protected Heritage Building. An adult admission to the springs ranges from $6.05 to $7.30. There are also two locations of the Pleiades Massage and Spa that offer treatments should you find yourself outside the water.
Széchenyi thermal bath, Budapest
According to the city’s website, Budapest has held the title “City of Spas” since 1934. Its healing waters were originally enjoyed by the Romans, and can now be accessed through 15 public baths (and other private accesses.) The Széchenyi thermal bath is Europe’s largest medicinal bath. At the Széchenyi Bath and Spa (pictured), guests can relax in water containing fluoride, metabolic acid, calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate that treats rhumatism and is useful for orthopedic and post-injury treatments. Drinking the well water is believed to help a whole host of ailments like ulcers, gall bladder illness, calcium deficiency and kidney stones. Day tickets start from $15. For a map of other Budapest spas, click here.
Japan is well-known for its many hot springs or onsen, as there are more than 3,000 of them in the country, Lonely Planet points out. Beppu, in the Ōita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu, has the second largest hot spring water discharge in the world, and the largest in Japan. According to Smithsonian, people have been harnessing the healing powers of Japan’s onsen for centuries. “Legends report samurai warriors soaking off the aftermath of battle and peasants trekking to famous onsen to heal cuts and burns.” “Japan’s spring water is reputed to have therapeutic value for people with skin ailments, muscle damage, and nervous-system disorders, and some onsen do contain a high percentage of trace minerals, including iron and sodium chloride,” says Travel + Leisure. Beppu gets a nod from Lonely Planet for having the best onsen/sand bath combination at Takegawara Onsen where part of the treatment involves being buried in hot sand for 15 minutes. Check out some other onsen here.
Warm Mineral Springs, North Port, Florida
Ponce de Leon might have been on to something when he was searching for the Fountain of Youth in Florida. North Port, Fla.’s Warm Mineral Springs, once visited by the Spanish explorer, are visited for their rejuvenating properties to this day. Always a “perfect” 87 degrees, the waters contain 51 essential minerals (like magnesium, potassium, sulphur, sodium and strontium) in greater concentration than any other American mineral spring. Health points out that these waters are believed to alleviate skin conditions, arthritis and gastrointestinal illnesses. A one-day pass costs $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and younger, with discounts for area residents. An adjoining spa offers typical spa treatments, as well as a hydro yoga class in the mineral water.
Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa in Iceland
The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of Iceland’s most touted attractions. It was formed after the construction of the Svartsengi power plant, and soon bathers in the lagoon noticed the effects the waters had on their skin. Indeed, the spa, whose waters hover between 98 and 102 degrees, is recommended for those with skin ailments such as psoriasis (for which there is a special clinic.)
General entrance to the Blue Lagoon, which is open to soakers of all ages, varies from 33 to 40 euro ($44 to $53) and a number of experience packages, spa treatments and meals are available for extra fees.
Dead Sea, Israel & Jordan
The saline and mineral waters of the Dead Sea are said to nourish the skin, ease rheumatism, activate the circulatory system and relax the nerves, according to the Dead Sea Research Center. But, its health benefits extend beyond its waters. As Health points out, the sea’s low elevation at 1,300 feet means “you can safely soak up a lot of sun (which can help clear the chronic skin condition) without getting burned.”
A trip to the Dead Sea might be in order sooner rather than later because, as Visit Jordan points out, diversion of the water by the two countries may cause the lake to dry up by 2050.
Kangal Psoriasis Treatment and Fishy Therapy Center,
Hot Spring Pools, Central Anatolia region, Turkey
Also touted as fierce psoriasis fighters are the “doctor fish” of Turkey. As Everyday Health reports, the Garra rufa are members of the carp and minnow family and they live in hot springs pools in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. Outside the 95 degree springs, these guys are bottom feeders, but since there’s little sustenance for them in the hot water, they eat the scaly skin of humans bathing in the water. (Yahoo has more about how that works.)
Long-term 14 and 21 day treatments are available through the Balikli Thermal Treatment Center as well as the Kangal Psoriasis Treatment and Fishy Therapy Center. It’s worth mentioning, though, that doctor fish treatments have been banned in at least 14 U.S. states as of 2010, according to Bloomberg. Critics site the risk of infection from contaminated reason to support the ban. So, you might want to double check with your doctor on this one before diving in.