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Mere mention of a European spa town conjures work-stopping images of soothing hot springs, bubbling fountains and stunning landscapes. And who couldn’t use some of that in the middle of winter?

It’s a popular time of year for travelers to seek out wellness experiences, but for the great spa towns of Europe, therapeutic waters are a year-round affair.

Once, there were approximately 600 major European spas. Today, only a handful still exist in their original form, and many of the towns have even been nominated for UNESCO inscription (think: Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic; France’s Vichy; and Spa in Belgium). They have been celebrated as both therapeutic retreats and luxe destinations, known for stunning architecture, glamorous resorts and idyllic countrysides.

Spa posters tempted travelers in the days before mass tourism.
Spa posters tempted travelers in the days before mass tourism.
Sure, the high-class spa resort is a travel confection largely perfected in European spa towns. In fact, you can trace a direct line from the spas common in many hotels and resorts to the great European towns that flourished around the mid-19th century. And though many of these destinations are known for having catered to royalty, it’s possible to plan a city spa weekend on a budget. Some of these spa towns have even welcomed familiar points hotels.
Of course, pretty buildings and gorgeous landscapes notwithstanding, at the heart of every great European spa town is, well, water.

German Spa Getaways

Germany’s best known spa town is probably Baden-Baden. This famous spa destination, on the edge of the Black Forest, dates back to 80 AD and is known for entertaining great artists and notorious politicians alike. But the historic spa town has plenty to offer contemporary travelers, who can use Marriott Rewards points (25,000 per night) at the Roomers Baden-Baden, an Autograph Collection property that debuted in 2016. And Hyatt is supposedly still transforming a 16th-century castle into a grand hotel with, you guessed it, a spa.

Czech Spa Getaways

One of the most famous spa towns in all of Europe, Karlovy Vary is said to be the biggest spa town in the nation, with seven elegantly colonnades and arbours fed by various springs. Tourists interested in taking full advantage of Karlovy Vary’s therapeutic offerings should bathe in the mineral waters and then wander through trails that snake through the surrounding forests.

Italian Spa Getaways

Like San Pellegrino water? Well, you can literally bathe in it at Italy’s QC Terme San Pellegrino, just a short drive northeast of Milan in the small town that’s home to the namesake spring. The therapeutic, magnesium-rich waters of San Pellegrino are heated to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and were said to be a favorite of both Roman emperors and Leonardo da Vinci. The modern bath complex incorporates original frescoes with sybaritic spa facilities and a signature indoor and outdoor “thermal path” linking 30 spa experiences. A daily pass is €48 (about $55).

One of the most celebrated Tuscan spas is Terme di Saturnia, in the tiny town of Saturnia, and its main outdoor thermal pool is fed by a hot spring of volcanic origin. The warm, mineral-rich water is constantly replenished and is reputed to have myriad health benefits. Day passes for the thermal pools start at €18 ($21), and there is a luxury hotel on site, too. Aesthetically, the setting is simply stunning: You’ll feel rejuvenated long before entering the healing waters.

And then there’s the Tuscan spa town of Montecatini Terme, home to a number of spa facilities and considered one of the most important spa towns in Italy. Though the spa town officially dates back to the late 1700s, its grand columns and fountains place it squarely in the Art Nouveau movement.

The falls at Terme di Saturnia. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
The falls at Terme di Saturnia. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

French Spa Getaways

The best-known French spa town is probably Vichy, which has long been hailed as the Reine des Villes d’Eaux, or the Queen of Spa Towns. But there are plenty of new spa destinations in France to be excited about right now.
In the French Alps, for example, there’s the new QC Terme Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, which sits at the intersection of Italy, Switzerland and France. In addition to typical baths and pools, the wellness spa also features Vichy showers, hydromassage tubs, whirlpools and a number of other ways to commune with water.

Swiss Spa Getaways

Switzerland has a wealth of hot springs, around which numerous spas are focused. The largest spa in the Alps is Leukerbad, in the French-speaking canton of Valais, east of Geneva. More than one million gallons of water flow into the town’s thermal baths every day. Day rates for use of the expansive thermal bath complex start at 30 Swiss francs ($31).

Leukerbad spa in Switzerland. (Photo courtesy of Leukerbad)

English Spa Getaways

Bath, in the lush Somerset countryside southwest of London, was famous as a spa town even in ancient Roman times. The actual Roman baths are today a museum, but travelers can experience the town’s spa traditions at the Thermae Bath Spa. The indoor Minerva Bath is the largest in the complex, but the views over historic Bath may be our favorite. Basic entry is £36 (about $46). Book a room at the Gainsborough Bath Spa, which opened in 2015, for access to the Spa Village Bath, a circuit of saunas, steam rooms and natural pools fed by the famed thermal springs.

Photo courtesy of The Gainsborough Bath Spa / YTL Hotels.
Photo courtesy of The Gainsborough Bath Spa / YTL Hotels.

Belgian Spa Getaways

Before going to the spa could mean just about any wellness center, there was Spa, in eastern Belgium. According to UNESCO, European aristocrats flocked here for the rumored healing powers of the waters, and an entire town developed around the primary spring. Unlike many other destinations on this list, you can even use points for a stay here at one of two Radisson Blu hotels (one across from the main thermal baths and another just outside town). Both are available from 44,000 points per night.

Hungarian Spa Getaways

OK, so this one’s a spa city. But we’d be remiss not to mention Budapest, home to the famous Széchenyi thermal baths and grand, Art Nouveau Gellért Baths, among others. You can bliss out at either of those for as little as around €20 ($23) a day, making it one of the best options for budget-conscious spa lovers — especially because it’s filled with great points hotel options.

The Gellert Thermal Baths. (Photo courtesy of Expedia)
The Gellért Thermal Baths. (Photo courtesy of Expedia)

Greek Spa Getaways

Greece is not typically thought of as prime European spa country, but it has a number of hot springs, many of which are in the town of Edipsos, on the island of Evia. At the site of Thermae Sylla, Greeks have been known to “take the waters” since the 4th century, but unlike Aristotle, you can overnight in a luxurious wellness hotel after your soak.

Featured image via Shutterstock.

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