10 Top Hot Springs around the World

By Paul Bloomfield


Bath is called Bath because… well, you guessed it: the city is named for the hot springs that bubble up and feed the Roman Baths – and which also keep the pools at Thermae Bath Spa steaming. Who discovered them? Legend has it that was Prince Bladud (father of Lear, Shakespeare’s tragic king), possibly in the 9th century BC. Living in exile as a swineherd after contracting leprosy, he noticed his piggy charges were healed of blemishes after bathing in warm mud. Bladud decided to follow them into those squelchy waters – and was cured.


So you’ve admired the Roman Baths and steamed in Thermae Bath Spa – but have you simmered in any of these hotspots worldwide?

1) Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Float in milky blue waters at a soothingly constant 38°C, smug in the knowledge that the minerals and algae are working wonders with your skin. Over recent years the Blue Lagoon, on Iceland’s south-western Reykanes Peninsula, has become rather commercialised and is understandably hugely popular with both locals and visitors – booking ahead is essential – but for a reason. It’s sensational. Top tip: the Blue Lagoon is just a little south-west of Iceland’s international airport, so it’s possible to squeeze in a dip before your flight home. 

As an aside, did you know that you can snorkel between tectonic plates in Iceland? At Silfra, in Thingvellir National Park, the American and European plates meet – don an insulated drysuit to swim in this icecube-clear (and chilly) water.

 

2) Széchenyi Baths, Budapest, Hungary

The Hungarian capital is dotted with thermal baths – the Romans got in on the act here, too, and Turkish occupiers also steamed in some of the 120-plus hot springs around the city during the 16th and 17th centuries. Bathe amid Art Nouveau glory at the Gellért, go authentic Ottoman at the Király or Veli Bej baths, or – our pick – challenge the locals to a semi-submerged game of chess in the open-air Széchenyi Baths.

3) Aguas Calientes, Peru

Soothe those weary bones after completing the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu by taking a dunk in the small hot springs at the town beneath the ancient Incan site. Granted, neither the town nor the springs are the most beautiful, but it’s a bit of a rite of passage for trekkers. And if you prefer to soak in more salubrious surroundings, try the Cocalmayo Thermal Baths a little further along the Urubamba valley near Santa Teresa.

4) Hot Water Beach, Waikato, New Zealand

Don’t like commercial pools? Try making your own thermal bath – all you need is a spade… Head to this lovely beach on North Island’s Coromandel Peninsula less than two hours either side of low tide, dig a hole, watch the hot water seep through the sand – and in you go. You won’t be alone – it’s a popular spot with surfers and families – but with good reason: it’s a natural treat in a country awash with volcanic marvels.


5) Baños, Ecuador

You don’t need to look far from your pool to spot the source of that hot water you’re lounging in at Baños – mighty Tungurahua, the feisty volcano whose lava heats the springs here, looms over this town three hours south of capital Quito. The baths themselves are fairly workaday, but the views of the surrounding green-flanked Andes are tremendous. The town is a bustling backpacker centre, with plenty of options for rafting, biking and Amazon adventures.

6) Takaragawa Onsen, Japan

In a land where al-fresco steaming is a national pastime, there are plenty of beautiful places to experience the customs of the onsen (thermal baths). But Takaragawa, 120km north of Tokyo, is arguably the epitome of the stylish soak. Four open-air rock baths (three mixed, one women-only) set amid lush forested hillsides and elegant traditional wooden buildings are fed by natural hot springs whose water reputedly treats muscular pains, bruises, arthritis and, er, haemorrhoids…

 

7) Puritama Hot Springs, Atacama, Chile

If you’re gaped breathlessly at the Tatio Geyser Field near San Pedro de Atacama, chances are you’re cold – the high-altitude eruptions are best at sunrise, and at a height of over 4,300m, the air is mighty chilly up here. To warm up, stop off at the Puritama Hot Springs, set in a canyon en route back to San Pedro – pricey, but lovely. 

8) Bains De Dorres, France

Bathe like the Romans at this ancient complex in the Pyrenees near the Spanish border. Actually, though it’s called the ‘Roman Baths’, there’s not much historic about the architecture – but the experience of soaking in waters up to 40°C in a cosy little set of pools, with panoramic views of the mountains, is close to legendary. A word of advice: hold your nose – the sulphurous waters can be, well, aromatic…

9) Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

For more splashing amid spectacular mountain views, delve into the Canadian Rockies. At the Banff Upper Hot Springs you can soak in natural waters bubbling from the aptly named Sulphur Mountain (more nose-holding needed here), in a modern complex with timeless views of the Rockies. On a sunny afternoon, with the snow-capped peaks glistening above, it’s an epic way to relax.

 

10) Peninsula Hot Springs, Victoria, Australia

Just 90 minutes south of Melbourne on the Mornington Peninsula, this chichi natural spring complex and spas is certainly commercial, but it’s also stylish, with attractively landscaped pools, treatments and fine eating to boot. 

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