Few experiences calm one as a day at the spa, so I was eager to savor Hungary's medicinal waters.
"Taking to the baths" is an age-old pastime that relaxes both muscles and mind. The rich mineral content of the water is good for the skin and flushes out the body. People come worldwide to ease the pain of arthritis and joint/muscle damage as well as a variety of other ailments and Hungary is home to thousands of thermal baths, many with medicinal waters. While some are in rustic locations scattered throughout the countryside, many are housed in elaborate bath houses. My first stop was the imposing
Art Nouveau Gellert Baths in the hotel of the same name in downtown Budapest.
Dating back to the thirteenth century, the Gellert Baths are fully restored and designed so that men and women can be in separate thermal baths but can meet in the middle at the main pool or go up onto the sun deck. Alternatively, they can go into the outdoor pool which has a wave machine dating back to the 1950's. The indoor co-ed pool is surrounded by stained glass windows and statues which add glamour to the surroundings.
My time there was wonderful! The feeling of an old world spa overwhelms the visitor. The mosaics, spread throughout, are beautiful, leading down to a labyrinth of change rooms and passage ways to various bath and spa areas. The men's main pools are a bit warmer than the co-ed pool, and are indeed in a lovely setting. There is also a steam room, a sauna bath with three chambers of varying temperatures, massage rooms and a small polar bear tub.
The outdoor baths were full of people enjoying their Sunday morning. Couples clung to each other, friends stood in groups laughing, and families played in the warm water. Immersed in the warmth, we understood why Budapest is often referred to as "The Spa City."
Next stop - the baths at
Szechenyi, also in Budapest on the Pest side of the river. Szechenyi is an immense bathhouse, built in the stylish grandeur of nineteenth century Hungary and it has a dozen thermal baths and three swimming pools. It is one of the largest baths in Europe. The building is bright yellow with baroque architecture, one of Budapest's newest bathhouses. Unlike some baths that are limited to each gender on certain days of the week, it is open to both sexes. There are cabins and changing rooms nearby.
The three outdoor pools are all of different temperature. There is the warm lap pool, hot pool, and super hot pool, a bit over 38 Celsius. As in other baths, it is the place that Hungarian men come to play chess in their Speedos while relaxing in the scalding water. Perhaps the best thing about the bath is the whirlpool. In the stream, you are spun around by the power of the jets.
Our final stop was the
Thermal Lake at Heviz in Western Hungary. Located in the Lake Balaton area and covering an area of 12 acres, the Heviz Thermal Lake is quite unlike any thermal bath on mainland Europe because it is a lake, the largest thermal lake in Europe, renowned for its medicinal properties derived from the composition of minerals, including sulphur. The main buildings of the spa complex are built on stilts and protrude out into the centre of the lake giving the impression of a legendary palace.
While there are several indoor pools, Hevíz is really about the lake outside, which has abundant space to swim or float around, and apart from the lilies and some bits of peat floating about, the water is extremely clean. It is a nice experience to drift around in the open air, with so much space that you don't feel crowded as in some other thermal baths.
Deep throughout, they have installed a few railings and benches so that you have something to hold on to, but there aren't many, and even tall people are unlikely to be able to touch the bottom, so you should plan to rent or bring a float or inflatable ring. Thus equipped, you can lie back and enjoy the lake surrounded by lush trees and the newly renovated wooden buildings sitting beautifully in and around the lake.
Hungary offers a plethora of other activities to occupy tourists for weeks or even months. Many love to visit the sandy beach regions of Lake Balaton or the medieval towns of Eger, home of the famous Bull's Blood wine. Also popular is Szilvasarad, known for hiking trails and the Lipizzaner stallions. Combine all of these activities and you may enjoy the relaxing vacation of a lifetime!
Guide to Gellert:
Located in the southern part of the city centre, on the Buda side, the right bank of the Danube, very close to the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd). Address: H-1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4. Telephone: (36-1) 466-6166; Transportation: You can reach it by public transportation on tramways 18, 19, 47 and 49, or on buses 7, 7A and 86. Opening Times: 6 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday and 6 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday (May to September) and 6 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday and 6am to 2pm Saturday and Sunday (October to April).
Guide to Szechenyi:
Located in the southern part of the city centre, on the Pest side. The Szechenyi Bath includes a wellness centre, where trained instructors await guests with services, such as fat burning, weight and body-toning gymnastics, and aqua aerobics. Address: H-1146 Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 11. Telephone: (36-1) 363-3210; Transportation: Public Transportation: You can reach it by public transportation on metro line 1 (yellow line). The bath is situated in the City Park, on the Pest side of the capital. By car: it is easy to reach as it is close to where the M3 freeway runs into town. From downtown, the Andrassy Boulevard stretches out to Heroes' Square, and the bath is a few hundred metres beyond the square; Opening Times: The swimming pool and the steam area are open from 6 am until 10 pm every day. Thermal pools close an hour earlier. Massages are simultaneously available every day, but the daytime hospital is closed on weekends, so most therapeutic services are available on weekdays only.
Guide to Heviz:
Heviz Spa is located approximately 200 km west of Budapest near the Austria border. Address: H-8380 Hevíz, Dr. Schulhof Vilmos sétány 1; Telephone: +36 83 501 700 Transportation: By car: Heviz can be easily reached by car within a few hours from Budapest by driving straight down the M7 motorway. It is also relatively easy to drive from Austria and cities of Graz and Vienna. By train: Regular trains run from the capital city Budapest to Kezthely, at the end of the Lake Balaton. From there you will need to take a bus or taxi the last few miles into Heviz. Check www.mav.hu for train details. Opening Times: 6 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday and 6 am to 5 pm Saturday and Sunday (May to September) and 6 am to 7 pm Monday to Friday and 6 am to 2 pm Saturday and Sunday (October to April).
Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a volunteer to Europe, China, Tanzania and South Africa. When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans her next travel experience.
When to Go
Hungarian summers are sunny warm and long. Hungary boasts one of the highest numbers of
hours of sunshine a year in all of Europe . Spring is glorious with warm days, cooler nights and a soft breeze.
Autumn is equally beautiful although November is the rainiest month and should be avoided. Winter in Hungary
can be very cold and damp with strong winds warm to hot.