Beneficial for mind, body and soul, the thermal baths in Budapest are an essential city experience
Budapest is known as the City of Spas for a reason. Bubbling underneath the streets of the city is a network of natural thermal springs, bringing rich mineral waters to spas across Budapest. With a host of benefits for mind, body and soul, a dip in one of the best thermal baths in Budapest is a must for visitors. We sat down with Gabriella Szajcz, spa manager at Corinthia Hotel Budapest, to find out what makes Hungarian spas and their hot waters so special.
Hungary is home to more thermal spas than anywhere else in Europe. How did the Hungarian bath develop?
Hungary is a land of more than 1,000 thermal springs. The first baths were built by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago on the lands of Pannónia Aquincum (now northern Budapest). The second significant period of our thermal history dates back to 16th century, when Turkish people brought their own bath culture to Budapest during the occupation. They also brought their striking architecture – a few of these beautiful Turkish baths are still in use today.
Since 1934, Budapest has held the title City of Spas. With more than 100 thermal springs that feed more than 50 bathhouses and thermal spas with 70 million litres of thermal water each day, Budapest is unique among the world’s other capital cities.
Thermal baths are filled with mineral waters. What makes these waters so special?
Mineral waters contain various beneficial ingredients such as sulphate, calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate and sodium, to name just a few. Depending on its makeup, thermal water has many different impacts. It can relieve stress, maintain a healthy heart, reduce high blood pressure, improve skin tone and treat calcium deficiencies. It’s also perfect for rehabilitation after injuries and can help prevent issues like degenerative joint diseases.
Thermal and mineral waters contain dissolved minerals so they are suitable for bathing and, occasionally, drinking. However, the temperature of these waters is between 21 and 78 degrees Celsius, so it’s important to keep to the recommended bathing time in the water.
Please tell us about the best thermal baths in Budapest.
Széchenyi Bath is one of the most popular, and largest, spa complexes in Europe. The beautiful, historical bath was built between 1909 and 1913 as the first thermal bath in Pest. Guests can enjoy 18 indoor and outdoor thermal water pools, plus a steam room, saunas, Jacuzzis and medical services such as balneotherapy and mud therapy.
Gellért Bath at the foot of Gellért Hill is also an excellent choice. It has separate thermal water for ladies and men, and additional rheumatology, physiotherapy and inhalatorium services. Finally, if you’d would like to enjoy a traditional Turkish ambiance, you can visit one of city’s three Ottoman-style baths: Király Bath, Rudas Bath or Veli Bej Bath.
What part do thermal baths play in modern Hungarian culture?
People like to visit public baths and spend a few hours with their family or friends. Although we can find many elderly people visiting for their different health concerns, Hungarian baths have started appealing more to young people, too, who like to organise parties during spring and summer
Many thermal spas in Budapest offer hydrotherapy. What are the benefits of this type of therapy?
Hydrotherapy takes advantage of the physical qualities of water and uses water as a cure. This type of therapy is regularly offered by doctors and can include baths or showers, hot or cold compresses, body wraps, inhalation and aromatherapy depending on the client’s needs and concerns. It has many excellent effects, for example, it can reduce pain, improve muscle and skin tone, boost the immune system, clear up skin problems, soothe muscles and joints, treat stress-related illnesses and promote relaxation.
Outside of Budapest, Hungary is home to many spa towns, built around thermal springs. Which is your favourite?
The best-known spa town in Hungary is Hévíz. It’s home to the world’s biggest biologically active, natural thermal lake. The water temperature is between 33-36 degrees Celsius in the summer period and does not drop below 23-25 degrees Celsius during winter. Hévíz started out as a spa village in the 18th century and finally became a town in 1992 following the construction of a bath house and holiday homes. Spa towns have attractions for every age group, such as thermal water baths, water-based theme parks, thermal lakes and medical caves.
Please tell us about the history of the Royal Spa at Corinthia Hotel Budapest?
The beautiful spa, originally named Körúti Bath, was built by Hungarian architect Vilmos Freund in 1888. With its central location and unique salt and steam baths, it was one of the most luxurious and well-equipped baths on the boulevard. After the death of Mr Freund, his heirs sold the building to the neighbouring Grand Hotel Royal and the bath was operated by them until 1944, when it closed for a long time. The historic space was almost turned into a parking lot but, thanks to local support, this proposal was rejected and in 2006 the legendary spa was reborn as the Royal Spa at Corinthia Hotel Budapest.
Please tell us about the Royal Spa as it stands today.
The spa has been restored to its former glory with its original architectural style and grand ambiance. During the renovation, it was important to keep the authentic splendour but the services are very different now. Originally, it was a thermal bath with services and treatments offered by a doctor. Now, instead of medical treatments, we concentrate on wellness and luxury treatments with the ESPA brand. Royal Spa still has a prime focus on water, however, with a wide range of facilities including a 15-metre swimming pool, two Jacuzzis, two Finnish saunas and a steam bath, which our guests can enjoy before or after treatments.
Among the treatments on offer, what would you recommend for visitors to try?
We offer a great selection of solution-led ESPA body massages, body treatments and facials, depending on our guests’ needs and concerns. ESPA Body Ritual, one of our signature treatments, combines a whole body exfoliation, a detoxifying algae gel or marine mud wrap, and a relaxing aromatherapy massage. It brings deep relaxation to mind, body and soul, and leaves the skin nourished, rejuvenated and glowing.