5 years, 5 months ago
We like spas a lot, and with good reason. They’re quite simply wonderful, that’s all, just wonderful. Without exception, whether it’s an ancient Therme in the French Pyrénées surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks or a traditional tiled, Attar of Roses scented Hammam in the centre of Budapest, Spas can do in an hour what a month’s total R & R anywhere else can only dream about.
But there are spas and there are spas and while we can easily appreciate the attraction of the ‘Luxury Spa Hotel’, for our money they’re all just a little bit too waffle slippers, dressing gowns and staff talking to you in voices normally reserved for the recently bereaved. Don’t get us started on the scented candles and intensely irritating music. And, when it’s all down on the table, the bells and whistles luxury spa experience isn’t ever going to be inclusive; fine for some ‘me time’ but definitely not the one for families.
No, when it comes to spas we like them naturally occurring, usually with some spectacular scenery nearby, lots of places to sit around enjoying the ‘after-spa-effect’, a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of warm, sunny weather. That would be Greece then.
Dates vary depending on whether you’re going with archaeological evidence or the words of Aristotle or Plutarch, but it’s fair to say Greek Spas (known as ‘loutra’ from the ancient Greek word for ‘bath’) have been around in their natural, warm, therapeutic and soothing state for a very long time. Today, luxury Spa Hotels are plentiful, especially on the larger islands, but the best way to use them is to ‘Day Spa’; dip your toe in luxury for a little bit and keep your independence intact to explore the more interesting, varied and authentic spas the locals and wise visitors alike have been enjoying ever since the concept of travel involved words like ‘Odyssey’.
With 100’s of loutra in just about every imaginable location all over Greece, this is by no means a definitive guide, it’s simply an idea of how good Greece is at spas and some inspiration to help you find the one (or two, or three) that work for you.
Lake Vouliagmeni, Loutraki
The resort of Loutraki is sun, sand, sea and spa just an hour’s drive from the Greek capital, Athens. This is a good choice for families, there are lots of activities, great beaches and the spas and springs are very relaxed, friendly and welcoming. Loutraki is where you’ll find the astonishingly lovely Lake Vouliagmeni, a vast mineral rich, thermal pool surrounded by cliffs and caves where visitors can swim, float around and explore for hours in warm, pristine waters. Lake Vouliagmeni has an excellent therapeutic reputation but even if the only therapy you need comes in the form of total escapism, this is the place to be.
Loutra Edipsos, Euboea
Well connected to the mainland by bridge or ferry, Euboea is the second largest of the Greek Islands and home to the country’s main spa, Loutra Edipsos. The island itself is considered to be the one of the most unspoiled and peaceful in Greece and if you’re looking for deserted beaches, mountain and forest walks, traditional villages and ancient cities Euboea could be just right for you. The spa at Loutra Edipsos is almost unique and the experience of swimming in the sea itself amongst warm thermal springs is incomparable. There are also a number of excellent spa hotels at Loutra Edipsos offering a range of therapies incorporating the spa’s natural spring water and traditional Greek herbs.
Lesvos is one of the easternmost of the Greek islands lying just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean Sea. It’s famously green and fertile with beautiful beaches, towns and villages, lots of outdoor activities and a relaxed, easy going atmosphere. Happily the news of Lesvos’ many charms doesn’t seem to have spread too far so the island is still relatively peaceful even in the height of summer. As for spas, it wouldn’t be stretching it to say that Lesvos is ‘Spa Island’. From ancient baths with underground springs to state of the art facilities, private spas to public resorts, Lesvos has therapeutic, relaxing and soothing covered from almost every angle. But Polichnitos, 60m above sea level on the banks of the Amyropotamos River, is the spa that out-spas all others. With Europe’s hottest natural springs, mineral rich healing waters and a mix of ancient and modern architecture, Polichnitos alone is an excellent reason to visit Lesvos.
Tiny Kythnos is one of the Cyclades Islands and much loved by Greek visitors for its traditional island atmosphere, gentle pace, sandy beaches and famously good food. Since Kythnos is also sometimes called Thermia it won’t come as a huge surprise to find that the island’s ancient spa is celebrated for its curative powers. Legend has it that the warm thermal springs at Kythnos originate from Vesuvius and their strong – but not unpleasant – sulphurous odour does nothing to dispel the myth.
Although Ikaria is the smallest of the Eastern Aegean Islands its hot mineral springs are considered to be some of the finest in the world. The tradition of Hydrotherapy on the Ikaria stretches back to ancient times and the island’s visitors today often combine both therapeutic and recreational spa experiences. For pure pleasure though, head for the coast and one of the many places where mineral waters meet the sea then just lie back and relax. Ikaria sits between Mykonos and Samos and is far quieter and gentler than either. The mild island climate is ideal for walking and perfect for a beach based holiday.
In January 2013 the Greek Minister for Tourism, Olga Kefalyianni, announced several initiatives to capitalise on ‘Spa Tourism’ in Greece with a focus on ‘public’ facilities. This sounds like good news for the country’s economy and will doubtless update and improve many spas, but the downside is an inevitable rise in visitor numbers. It won’t happen overnight – and most of unspoiled Greece will stay unspoiled – but even so, take our advice and enjoy the spas now before they end up on everyone’s ‘must do’ list.
Featured image by costanavarino.