Photos: Samai Haider; Collected
It was perhaps Jane Austen that first introduced me to the therapeutic benefits of bathing in thermal waters – a concept which my teenaged-self found archaic and strange. As I grew older (and travelled wider), I realised bathing in hot springs is fairly common the world over. The instant I stepped into my first hot spring, I realised why. The almost unbearably warm waters cocooned my body and I felt my muscles unwind. I closed my eyes. It was sublime.
I do not know whether the mineral-rich waters are actually beneficial for one’s health, nor do I care, to be honest. It’s the pure relaxation that I’m after. Here are five of my favourite hot spring soaks from around the globe.
Thermae Bath Spa – Bath, England
Best for: Reliving history
Bath, home to the only natural thermal springs in Britain, is where Austen would retire to take the waters. The Thermae Bath Spa is located right next to the Roman baths, where over millennia before us, wealthy Romans stretched out in communal baths, shrouded by the steam rising up from the water. Soaking in the warm waters of the rooftop Thermae Bath Spa, with the ochre spires of Bath Abbey as the backdrop, it is easy to imagine the sheer indulgence that has been enjoyed by generations.
Blue Lagoon – Grindavik, Iceland
Best for: Surreal scenery
The mere mention of thermal springs brings Iceland’s Blue Lagoon to mind, its turquoise waters and rocky slopes making for an alien landscape. This famous hot spring is actually run-off from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. This rather off-putting bit of information is easily forgotten upon entering the immaculate spa, and more so, by the surroundings. Submerged in the heated pool, drink in hand, with only your head exposed to the freezing cold, it feels even more surreal. Spa-goers are encouraged to slather themselves with the silica mud, their white, mud-caked bodies adding to the otherworldly experience.
Peninsula Hot Springs – Mornington, Australia
Best for: Stunning sunsets
Located 90 minutes from Melbourne, the Peninsula Hot Springs in Mornington is a nature lover’s delight. Rocky pools of steaming spring water lay scattered amidst the Australian bush. Visitors are able to walk around in the bush, hopping from pool to pool, taking in the breathtaking surrounds and accompanied by nature’s soundtrack of gurgling springs and birdsong. I highly recommend timing the visit for sunset. The hilltop rock pool affords a 360 degree view of the valley beyond. Lulled by the warm spring water, watching the green pastures set aflame by the setting sun, it is a breathtaking experience indeed!
Miyamaedaira Onsen – Kanagawa, Japan
Best for: Delicious local food
Food is perhaps not what comes to mind when thinking of hot springs or onsens (Japanese bath house), but most of the decent onsens have some of the best local fare on offer. The Miyamaedaira Onsen, located about a 40 minute drive from Shibuya, Tokyo is a local favourite and unlikely to be found on tourist sites. I was introduced to this shrine for relaxation by my Couchsurfing host. The onsen has a number of bedrock pools and wooden tubs to soak in, some overlooking the hills beyond. As with most Japanese innovations, this onsen was beautifully designed and everything a visitor could need is provided for, from robes and towels to soap and food. It has a fully functioning restaurant serving up local favourites. They serve the most refreshing cold soba and the silkiest chawanmushi (savoury egg custard) – the perfect way to cap off a relaxing day.
Pemandian Air Panas Soa Mengeruda – Bajawa, Flores, Indonesia
Best for: A soak off the beaten path
Set amidst lush tropical brush on the Indonesian island of Flores, about 40 minutes from the town of Bajawa, these hots springs are far from the tourist trail. Local families can be seen picnicking under wide banyan trees, a handful venturing into the turbid waters cascading down rocky outcrops. The pool located under a canopy of trees, their roots forming the banks, has hot water bubbling straight from the ground. Once in the pool, surrounded by foliage, it feels a world away from civilization.