Have you ever been to a natural hot spring (also known as a thermal spring)?
Thermal springs are formed when the water from a natural spring is significantly warmer than the surrounding air. This can happen for a few reasons, but the most common are:
1) Because the area has volcanic activity nearby, and thus an underground temperature elevated by the presence of lava in the vicinity, or:
2) The water travels deep below the surface before returning to the spring, thus elevating its temperature simply through the higher temperatures of the earth deep below the surface (geothermal heat).
Due to traveling below the surface to be heated, the water found in thermal springs is often also dense with minerals. Additionally, hot water can retain more minerals than cool water can. Some of these minerals are thought to ease a variety of health concerns. For example, magnesium is often indicated to treat joint pain and muscular aches. Some skin conditions may benefit from soaking in hot mineral water as well.
If you’re intrigued by the idea of a thermal spring and would love to try it out, fortunately there are options around the world, and especially across Europe. There are entire destinations even named after the natural thermal and mineral qualities, such as Bath, England, and Spa, Belgium (which actually has cold mineral springs which are artificially warmed, rather than hot springs).
Here are a few of the most well-known thermal destinations in Europe:
1) Iceland. Though not everyone thinks of Iceland when thinking of Europe, it’s indeed considered to be part of Europe and is home to several world-famous thermal destinations. The Blue Lagoon is probably the most famous, due to its eponymous blue water, which contains minerals, silica, and algae.
2) Italy. Like Iceland, Italy is known for having plentiful thermal spa options. Perhaps the most recommended is Terma di Saturnia in Tuscany—known for its warm mineral-rich spring water. That said, there are many thermal destinations in Italy, cementing its place on this list.
3) Hungary. Hungary may surprise outsiders with its plentiful thermal options. Szechenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest is a commonly-cited example, as is Heviz Lake, in Heviz, Hungary.
4) England. Though there are fewer total thermal spas in the country, no list would be complete without noting the famous Therme Bath Spa in Bath, England—which it itself a recognized World Heritage Site.
5) Germany. Germany also makes the list as top thermal destination, boasting multiple thermal locations throughout the country, including destinations in Bavaria, Berlin, and more. One of the more well-known is Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme in Weisbaden, offering spa and wellness treatments.
6) Turkey. One spa in particular puts Turkey on the thermal springs world map: Pamukkale. The name Pamukkale means “cotton fortress” – and comes from the bright white terraces formed by the mineral-rich flowing water on the side of a cliff near Denizli, Turkey.
7) Austria. Austria, like many on this list, has no shortage of thermal springs to choose from. Perhaps the most well-known is the Aqua Dome in Tyrol, Austria, nestled in the Alps.
8) Switzerland and France. Occupying a spot together on this list, we’ve added Switzerland and France. They both deserve mention, but do not have as many or as famous locations as the ones noted above. That said, we’d be remiss to not include Therme Vales in Switzerland—known probably as much for the spa’s architecture as for the thermal springs. Also worth of note is Bains de Dorres in the Pyrenees in France—an open-air natural hot spring.
While this list certainly does not cover every hot spring option across the continent, it contains a good sample of some of the most well-known thermal destinations across Europe – many of which have gained global recognition – and any of which promise to offer a unique thermal mineral bath experience.
Photo: White Limestone of Pamukkale – Image courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net