The Best Historic Spa Holidays in the World

Visitors in need of rest and recuperation have long journeyed to relaxing spa towns to take the healthful spring waters, and many of these restorative resorts are still going strong today. Here is a guide to some of the best historic spa holidays around the world.

Baden Baden, Germany

During the Golden age of the spa town Baden Baden, on the edge of the Black Forest, was known as the most glamorous resort in Europe, and was visited by noted luminaries such as Victor Hugo, Johannes Brahms and Hector Berlioz, who came to taste the waters here and revive their spirits. The most famous artist to dwell in this upscale resort was probably Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote his novel The Gambler while summering here. The city was so exclusive that the hot thermal baths and natural mineral springs of this resort were patronised by Kings and Queens such as Victoria, Wilhelm I and Napoleon III. Though the city fell out of favour in the early 20th century, its impressive historic architecture of multi-coloured palaces, fairy tale castles and sedate arcades has survived to this day, and now the spa town is undergoing something of a rebirth. If you want to do this secluded retreat in style, make sure to book yourself into the Baden Casino for refined cocktails, civilised parlour games, a round of poker and elegant night-time fountains.

Bath, UK


The English city of Bath has been famed for its thermal springs ever since the Romans arrived in AD 43 and established this as Britain’s first spa town. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, visitors marvel at the Georgian architecture, built from local golden limestone, such as the Royal Crescent, The Circus and Pulteney Bridge. Yet the most visited attractions in this historic city are the baths, with the ancient Roman Bath still standing today. For a more modern experience, the recently renovated Thermae Bath Spa in the centre of town features an open-air rooftop pool heated by underground hot springs, spa treatment rooms and striking contemporary architecture.

Marienbad, Czech Republic


Not far from Baden Baden is the secluded Czech resort town of Marianske Lazne, better known as Marienbad. Known for the marvellous belle epoque architecture of its apartment blocks and mansion houses, the naturally sparkling spring water of this town was imbibed by rich and illustrious Europeans throughout the 19th century for its supposed medicinal qualities, with contemporary sources even claiming laxative benefits. The Neo-classical colonnades and pavilions in the centre of town, meanwhile, house some of the town’s 100 natural springs. Visitors who are after a spot of pampering can float in the buoyant, warm baths, or sip the iron and magnesium rich water to their heart’s content. To see this spa town at its most surreal, check out Alain Resnais’s seminal Movie Last Year at Marienbad, which is set in this utopian resort.

Saratoga Springs, USA

When New Yorkers want to replenish their spirits with a trip to a spa town, they invariably head upstate some 185 miles to the idyllic resort of Saratoga Springs. There are 17 naturally carbonated springs open to the public in Saratoga, some in the form of drinking fountains located in streets and squares, and each one with its own unique flavour profile. The town is also known for the famous race track, which hosts the annual Travers Stakes, the oldest thoroughbred horse race in the United States.

Gero, Japan

Another country with a rich spa heritage is Japan, where onsen hot springs, natural baths warmed by underground volcanic activity, are widespread through the nation. One of the most well-loved is Gero, in Gifu prefecture, where the streets are flooded with visitors donning traditional yukata gowns making their way to the steaming onsens. Make sure to stay at a historic ryoken when visiting to enjoy the best in old world hospitality. Many Ryokans offer on-site onsens, though beware that etiquette calls for you to skinny dip, so this is not an activity for the naturally modest.

Whether you are after a refined and urbane spa break, or simply want to reconnect with nature at an outdoor onsen, holidays in this resort towns are bound to replenish your spirits and leave you feeling refreshed and revived.

(Images from Flickr users, bongo vongo, axel-d)

Date posted: 3rd October, 2011

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