Ah! Spa

An Eastern European approach to wellness

According to the International Spa Association, American spas clocked more than 156 million visits in 2001. To keep pace, spa treatments -particularly those associated with luxury hotels -have become increasingly exotic, with ingredients such as chocolate, oatmeal, or fruit blends like mangoes and berries.

For a decidedly different -though no less exotic -respite, why not “take to the waters” like Europeans have for a millennium. In Germany, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, for example, the spa culture is thriving in elegant bathhouses and historic hammams. Their mineral-rich, thermal waters provide both relaxation and health benefits. Therapeutic massages are also available.

In Europe, where national healthcare plans cover most residents, physicians routinely prescribe spa visits -in some cases up to a four-week stay -for preventive medicine and convalescent care. Treatment programs are available for a variety of illnesses, including cancer.

Accompanying warm and cold baths, are exercise classes and group sessions with a psychiatrist. Three meals daily are included, plus leisure activities.

England’s King Edward VII so favored the thermal waters in the Frankfurt suburb of Bad Homburg, Germany, that he made annual visits to relieve his many ailments. Today, those primed to be pampered can visit the Kaiser-Wilhelm Bad, including its Kur-Royal Day Spa. In the evenings, cross the park from the Steigenberger Hotel and visit the elegant Bad Homburg Casino.

At Bayreuth, Germany -in Bavaria’s Franconia region -where composer Richard Wagner lived, the Lohengrin Thermal Spa will complement a visit to the town’s annual Wagner Music Festival.

In the Czech Republic, fly to Prague -the “City of a Hundred Spires” -and stay overnight in the music-themed Aria Hotel. The next morning, board a train for Marienbad, the spa town, in the Western Bohemia region. Here, 40 mineral springs are combined with expert medical care to treat a range of conditions. Of course, beauty treatments and relaxation regimens are available. Stay in the deluxe Hotel Esplanade Praha, an oasis within an oasis. For recreation, spend an afternoon playing golf.

The “City of Spas” is how Budapest, Hungary, is best known. There are 118 natural springs, whose temperatures range from 70 degrees to 172 degrees, Fahrenheit. Check-in to the elegant Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, then prepare to relax. St. Gellért Spa, opened in 1918, is Budapest’s finest thermal spa. The Széchenyi Spa is one of Europe’s largest spas in Budapest’s City Park.

For added value, take your medical reports with you and request that the medical staff develop a routine tailored to your health needs.

For more information:
German spas: Bad Homburg, www.bad-homburg.de; Bad Hom-burg’s Steigenberger Hotel, www.bad-homburg.steigenberger.de; Bayreuth, www.lohengrin-therme.de and www.bayreuth.de.

Spas in the Czech Republic: www.marienbad.cz; Prague’s Aria Hotel, www.ariahotel.net.

Hungarian spas: www.gellertfurdo.hu; www.szechenyifurdo.hu; Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, www.corinthiahotels.com.

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