For 800 years the waters around Cieplice have treated the cream of central European society as well as US ambassador (later president) John Quincy Adams. Such folk demanded frescoed dining salons, broad parks and splendid swimming pools, all of which remain. The thermal springs are particularly rich in sulphur, iodine and radon. Among the 70 treatments, the focus is on rheumatology, urology and dry-eye syndrome (common in our screen-led world), and each therapy is a no-nonsense bargain. A 15-minute paraffin session is £3.50 and eye rinsing with thermal aerosols £3; but a peat enema is an eye-watering £12. Recover at the Ceiplice Aquapark (£7), with outdoor jacuzzis, lazy rapids and waterslide.
• From £266pp for a week in a double room including three treatments a day, full-board, uzdrowisko-cieplice.pl
Karlova Studánka, Czech Republic
The Hapsburgs filled this Alpine valley with hunting lodges, log cabins and saunas. The spa resort at Karlova Studánka, near the Polish border, occupies the entire village. Treatments include peat wraps (£11) and magnet therapy (£10), designed to boost blood circulation, plus additive and pearl baths, whirlpool hydromassage and reflexology. The surrounding Hrubý Jeseník mountains are a sylvan wilderness. Two cycle routes (ebikes available) and a long-distance hiking trail run to the Bílá Opava waterfalls.
• £125pp including private spa, sparkling wines, massage treatments and two nights’ half-board accommodation with three -course dinner,, horskelazne.cz
Sanitorium Ozerny, Belarus
Some Belarussian sanatoriums feel like they’re back in the USSR, but Ozerny, on the shores of Lake Beloe near the Lithuanian border, isn’t like that: it even has an indoor aquapark and a summer pedalo fleet. Treatments use ozokeritotherapy (intense heat wraps) and soothing organic mud, and extend to the endearingly titled “magnetic stimulation of pelvic organs” and “life without gout”. Visa-free travel makes it easy for EU spa tourists to visit this spot 20 miles from handsome Grodno city, and couple of hours on the train from Białystok in Poland.
• From around £50 a day for the basic programme, extra massage £7; honey or cranberry wrap around £15, ozerny.by
Baile Herculane, Romania
The Romans put the life-giving waters of Baile Herculane on the map. The 15 thermal springs, named after deities including Diana and Neptune, were equally beloved of the Hapsburgs, who added splendid rococo lodges. Soviet health-seekers also adored the sulphur-rich waters, and added the giant concrete blocks that today house much of the resort accommodation. The Grand Hotel Minerva offers an affordably classy blowout. Inflammatory, spinal and neurological conditions can be soothed by ozone therapy, magnet therapy and herbal plant baths, as well as complimentary access to thermal pools and saunas for all package guests.
• £258pp for a five-night (Sunday to Friday) half-board package, including four daily therapeutic procedures such as massages, mud packs and thermal wraps, hotelminerva.ro
The benefits of Truskavets, near Lviv, were first prescribed by a Polish doctor in 1578. Empires from Austro-Hungarian to Soviet later basked in waters rich in sodium, sulphur and more. Truskavets is one of the few spas that encourage visitors to actually drink the stuff. Even modern resorts like Chale Graal offer ancient treatments such as speleotherapy (sitting in a salt cave to extract moisture from lungs) and hirudotherapy (leeches to you and me). Modern treatments like computer-aided spinal traction, to slowly unlock the vertebrae, are also offered.
• £161pp for seven-day package including consultations, mineral baths and colonic hydrotherapy session, chalegraal.com
Hungary is Europe’s hot spring champion. Life, love and leisure revolve around its 1,300 thermal spas, and visitors can choose to soak in the glitzy (Budapest’s Gellért baths) or the rural (Héviz, a massive thermal lake) or opt for sulphurous, salty or carbonic waters. Bükfürdő, near the Austrian border, was discovered in 1957 when oil prospectors unleashed a 70-metre geyser of potassium- and calcium-rich waters instead. The resort is large and family-friendly, with some 30 pools, plus lots of saunas (Finnish rock, herbal cabin) and slides, plus mobile homes and a campsite. A 25-minute goat milk mud bath costs €22, an hour’s wellness massage €41. The resort is particularly strong on osteoporosis regeneration.
• €155pp for a seven-night package, including 10 traditional treatments and unlimited spa access (but not accommodation), plus €74 for seven-day entry ticket, bukfurdo.hu
Banjisht, North Macedonia
From an aquifer high on the Albanian-Macedonia border, 39C water bubbles up alive with minerals. People have sought healing here for centuries, and in the 1970s scientists designated it one of Europe’s most healing spas. The Banjisht resort still majors in fangotherapy (where thermal mud pulls out toxins as it dries). There’s also electrotherapy to cure muscle spasms and increase circulation. Nowadays a beauty and wellness department assists with 21st-century treatments including waxing, detox baths, fruit facials and teen facials (to treat blackheads and whiteheads). Nice. The rambling resort hotel is ringed with trees that thrive in a sun-blessed microclimate.
• £122pp for four-night package, including several daily treatments and all meals, bdcapa.com
Spa Dudince, Slovakia
Slovakia hosts 21 thermal resorts. These range from rococo classics (such as Bardejov) to medical spas (Brusno) and family-friendly aquaparks for snow and sunshine frolics (Thermal Corvinus). Spa Dudince, in the south close to the Hungarian border, offers the best of all three. Its thermal springs, which mirror the famed life-enhancing properties of Vichy in France, are partnered by 70 procedures ranging from underwater massages to peat baths. Outside, a water park offers an Iceland-style mix of mineral bathing, jet pools and slides, alongside giant chess, volleyball and summertime animation for kids. The resort also offers bike hire for jaunts into the surrounding Stredoslovenská wine region.
• A Medical Silver stay costs €52 a night (four-night minimum) half-board with two treatments and use of the pool, kupeledudince.sk
Istarske Toplice, Croatia
Istarske Toplice is the ne plus ultra of Croatian thermal spas, just outside the truffle’n’booze capital of Motovun. These waters have been soothing rheumatic joints since Roman times. Istarske Toplice is big on hot water bathing, inhalation and 40C curative mud – helpful for lung and skin complaints. A full-body wrap costs £20, an hour of lymphatic draining massage £25, and cryotherapy (which will literally make you cry with cold) a paltry £3. This being Istria (Croatia’s Tuscany), wine and truffle treatments also proliferate. Three fabulous cycling routes pass nearby.
• Four nights half-board at Sveti Stjepan hotel, including massage and use of saunas, £235pp, istarske-toplice.hr
Atomska Banja, Serbia
There are spa resorts dotted throughout Serbia. Any town with the word banja in its name is a legacy of thermal worship by Romans (such as the gorgeous resort of Vrnjačka Banja) or Ottomans (Novopazarska Banja). Atomska Banja, in south-central Serbia, dates back 2,000 years. Here, waters rich in sulphur and sodium are infused with traces of uranium and radon, leaving visitors glowing ever since. Hydrotherapy is Atomska Banja’s USP. Massage, lymphatic drainage and electrotherapy also feature strongly. The surrounding forest of white ash, linden, oak and elm offers a final dose of health. Serbia’s spas are among the least expensive in Europe.
• A resort stay costs £14 a night-full board. Treatments like hydromassage cost £2.50, while kinesitherapy is £3, atomskabanjagornjatrepca.rs
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