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Restoration: Hot Springs and Spa Towns of Europe

Ashley Greenwood 2017-01-30 11:42

Vals, Switzerland

The springs in Vals were originally tapped in 1891, with the Therme Spa Hotel opening in 1893. The area received an economic boost, and in 1960 a German entrepreneur bought the hotel and springs, and began to bottle the water for sale. In 1970 he opened a large spa centre complete with hotel infrastructure and apartments. But as the area developed with a new dam and skiing area, the municipality, concerned about the future of the spa hotel, bought it. 


The space was reborn in 1996 as a cool and minimalist hotel and spa, built with 60,000 slabs of Vals quartzite from the surrounding area and with a quarry-like structure that fit into the mountainous landscape. It was designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Peter Zumthor and received international acclaim as an architectural masterpiece, earning it a classification as a listed building shortly after completion. 

The water comes out of St. Peter’s spring at a pleasant 30° C, and the spa offers a number of other treatments to complement the mineral rich thermal baths.

Blue Lagoon,Iceland

Half an hour’s drive from Iceland’s capital of Reykjavík is a vibrant turquoise pool nestled into a surreal, otherworldly landscape. Unlike most of the country’s other hot springs, this geothermal spa is man-made; fed by mineral-rich water from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant, which is renewed every two days.


 Superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity. After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal water heating system. Then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. 

As one of the most visited attractions in Iceland, the silica and sulfur in the water here is reputed to help people suffering from skin diseases. You can even buy tubs of this white, silica-rich geothermal mud to use as a facemask.

Thermae Bath Spa, Bath, Great Britain



The healing waters of Britain’s only thermal spring were discovered, according to legend, by British Prince Bladud around 863BC. Enjoyed by the Celts and the Saxons since its discovery, the Romans built baths and a temple here in 60AD, calling it Aquæ Sulis ("the waters of Sulis"). The city became a World Heritage Site in 1987 and in 2006 a new spa opened, tapping the same springs that feed the historic Roman Baths. The local councils of Bath and North East Somerset remain owners of the buildings and are the guardians of the spring waters, as decreed in a Royal Charter of 1590.


Thermae Bath Spa has four thermal baths, including an open-air rooftop pool with romantic views of Bath Abbey. The main spa building, the New Royal Bath, constructed in local Bath stone enclosed by a glass also has a large steam room, 20 spa treatment rooms, and the 18th century Hot Bath. The separate Cross Bath is a grade 1 listed Georgian building contain - ing one open-air thermal bath.

Baden-Baden, Germany

Baden-Baden is a spa town on the small river Oos in southwestern Germany, at the edge of the Black Forest mountain range. The name Baden is German for ‘bathing’. 

Starting from 6,500 feet below the surface, water comes out in 12 springs, some thought to be between 12,000 and 17,000 years old. Like Bath in England, it was the Romans who built up baths around the springs, using the water and steam for medical purposes. The Friedrichs - bad Baths sit atop Roman bath ruins and follows a 17-step Roman ritual, which includes a series of hot baths, steam rooms, and brush massages. Roman Emperor Caracalla (AD 210s) visited the springs to relieve his arthritic aches. 


After years of war in the city, the springs became popular again after a Prussian queen visited in the early 19th century for its medicinal properties. The town became a meeting place for celebrities visiting the hot springs, including Queen Victoria. Under Napoleon III in the 1850s and '60s, Baden became "Europe's Summer Capital".

Terme di Saturnia, Tuscany, Italy

According to the Etruscans and Romans, the Terme di Saturnia were formed by lightning bolts, thrown by the God Jupiter during a violent quarrel with Saturn. 

A group of springs located in the municipality of Manciano, a few kilometres from the village of Saturnia, feed the baths, which cover a large area in the south-eastern valley. 


The main thermal waterfalls are the Mill Falls, located at an old mill, as well as the Waterfalls of Gorello, where water coming from the source at 800 litres per second has flowed down to the pools where you can enjoy the beautiful open and scenic Tuscan landscape. 

Terme di Saturnia is one of Italy’s premier thermal spa resorts where the water is replenished every four hours by a volcanic spring. The main pool of sulphurous spring water hovers at a toasty 37.5°C, and like the Blue Lagoon they also offer special thermal mud treatments in the spa.

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