3. Experience the culture.
Over the years, European spa towns have blossomed into cultural and historical gems, rich with theaters, opera houses, drinking halls, and even some of the earliest forms of sports games: tennis, horse racing, and golf, to name a few. Make sure you visit the hippodrome in Vichy to take in a horse race. We enjoyed the carriage horse races, and I even won after I placed a bet on a horse named after one of my dogs.
Sparked by the cultural activities, these towns boasted some of the first community festivals, too. Some of these festivals remain celebrated today in one form or another – a combination of tradition, community connection, and great entertainment.
You can also find casinos in some of these towns, with roots as more of a social club that eventually evolved into what it is today.
One of my favorite spa towns in Europe was Wiesbaden, Germany. Even though this was my second trip to the region, I was still blown away by how much culture, history, and flavor this town had to offer. I loved the Museum Wiesbaden's Art Nouveau Collection (and I’m not typically a museum person). We also indulged in amazing chocolate cake (and lunch) at Cafe Maldaner.
But the Nassauer Hof Therme (one of Wiesbaden’s best thermal baths and luxury hotels) was the shining star of the city. Here, I relaxed in the warm thermal pool, designed like a conservatory so you feel like you’re outside when you’re bathing.
After that, I enjoyed a facial treatment at the Artemis Beauty Spa with Artemis of Switzerland treatments, which smartly blend nature and technology. I finished off the day with a tasty dinner at Nassauer Hof, feeling relaxed, pampered, and like a German dutchess.
4. Immerse yourself in nature.
Thermal springs are a gift from Mother Nature, and they come packaged in other outdoor opportunities, as well. Spa towns are also known for their stunning parks and gardens that you can incorporate into your visit. They’re also frequently embraced by forests, hills, lakes, rivers and stunning landscaping to be used for outdoor exercise, as well as the connection with nature. Historically, visitors wove gentle exercise into their healing waters excursions, and you can still do that today.
One to check out: Bad Homburg, with its sprawling parks with springs you can drink from. This destination makes a great day trip from Wiesbaden (only about a half-hour drive away). My favorite activity here was relaxing at the Kur Royal Day Spa; I could do this every day. The “royal” in this spa’s name isn’t an exaggeration. It has a history of attracting kings, princes, and even the German kaiser.
This spa offers more than a dozen separate stations to indulge all of your spa dreams, from an herbal steam bath (herbal essences stimulate circulation via fir branches strewn on the floor that also pleasantly stimulate your foot reflex zones) to a odorium (naturally pure essential oils and essences evaporate in 45 degrees celsius). I was challenged to pick my favorite room at Kur Royal and definitely plan to return as quickly as possible.
Tip: Before your spa day, visit the local tourism office to pick up a classic drinking vessel or spa cup. The special shape of this porcelain cup has a spout leading from low down on the body, so the vessel looks like a cross between both a teapot and a cup. These cups are used to drink mineral or thermal water directly from the actual spring source.
Then visit all of the public thermal springs of Bad Homburg as you promenade around the well-manicured park to not only get your steps in for the day but to also experience the city the way it was intended to be experienced. Each spring is said to treat different ailments and has a list of minerals for you to review beside the spring.
My friend Mia and I also did some forest bathing in Le Capucin Forest overlooking the French town of Le Mont-Dore which was next level. Our venture started with a funicular accent up to the forest. If you believe “the journey is part of the adventure,” you have that here. The forest features fitness activities and relaxing places built from the natural surroundings. My friend and I relaxed in a wooden ship that had natural lounge chairs, a unique memory I’ll take with me forever.
5. Plan a healthy well-cation.
Since 2020, health and wellness have been even more at the forefront of our thoughts than ever before. Whether you need to recover physically or mentally (the mental stress fallout from the Covid-19 changes is real), many spa towns offer special programming and offers designed to help you truly relax, recover, and give your mind and body a much-needed boost. Certain spa towns used to be prescribed by doctors for different ailments – and for good reason. Some springs were only available to people with a doctor’s prescription and dosed by attendants
For example, the French Le Grand Hotel offers specific “certified cures,” such as a six-day thermal cure for breathing disorders.
The results of my tour of Europe’s best thermal towns? My skin feels the best it has since I was in my 20s, and now I’m rethinking all the water I put into my body. I always appreciated German mineral water, but now I need to find a way to also bring more Vichy minerals into my life.
Incorporating the history, culture, and health of European thermal towns will completely transform your mindset about travel. Whatever you are working on in your life right now, if you sit in the Earth’s powerful waters long enough, the answer will find you.
Even though I set out for a restorative experience, I have to admit: I felt like royalty many times while relaxing in the thermal waters because I did not have a care in the world. That’s when I started to comprehend the effects of “taking the waters.”
I now understand why so many people visit historic thermal towns to experience the good life. And now I’m hooked. I want to visit all of the towns on the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns. Packed with fine dining, activities, art, spas, and more on a European vacation, these hidden gems are exactly what this spa gal was looking for. Just like other discerning travelers since Roman times.
Spa Travel Gal wants to remind you that spa and wellness treatments are not a luxury, but essential to your body, mind, and soul!