Winning tip: All is fine on Loch Fyne, Argyll
We were staying on the Cowal peninsula in October and took a scenic drive down to Portavadie, where there is a heated outdoor infinity pool, sauna, steam room and treatments. We had a lovely time not only because of the water but the wonderful views out across Loch Fyne. Prices start at £8 for a public swim, which includes indoor pool/whirlpool bath for 90 minutes. This was a fabulous find well worth the trip. We will return and stay to enjoy the spa, accommodation, restaurant, scenery and walks.
Azure infinity, Albania
The Bënja thermal baths in the south of the country are a true gem. The springs are reached by a rocky road, a short drive from Përmet. The final stretch must be done on foot. The spa is next to the Langarica River, a tributary of the Vjosa, one of Europe’s last free-flowing rivers. Visitors can spend the day soaking in the natural springs and coating themselves in the rich sulphurous mud, which is said to have therapeutic properties. All this while taking in the majesty of the valley, its ancient stone bridge and the azure infinity of the Albanian sky.
Thermal episodes at Edipsos, Greece
My favourite hot spring spurts into the sea at Edipsos on the Greek island of Evia (70 miles north of Athens), also known by its ancient name of Euboea. A special joy is to swim in the Aegean as it becomes warmer near the silky-smooth shell-shaped pools. Then you can move up to the hotter ones near the gushing spout where it gets too scalding to bear. The area has more than 60 springs with temperatures ranging from 34C to 71C. The backdrop is the distant mainland mountains, a lovely free experience.
Some like it hot, Italy
Surrounded by ornate walls and tucked away under a leafy canopy is the Parco Termale del Garda near Lake Garda. There are several beautiful natural hot pools, gardens, a grotto, copper boat-like whirlpool baths and attractive glass houses for changing and refreshments. Visit in the evening, as the heat and the crowds ease, for cheaper entry and easy access to sunloungers. Admission is from €25 for adults, €20 for children, and it’s open until 11pm Sun-Fri and until 1am on Saturdays.
Waves of joy, Ireland
We had the most wonderful time at the Salt and Ember mobile sauna on a quay on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Bundoran, County Donegal. It was exhilarating to jump into the bracing cold water in the quaint surf town, before warming up in the wood-fired sauna and taking in views of the waves. If you’ve worked up an appetite, Foam does excellent coffee, lunches and sweet treats. The sauna is €10 for a 30-minute slot.
Towels like prawn crackers, Budapest
About £17 and worth every penny, the Széchenyi thermal baths saved me from the Beast from the East back in 2018. My horror of the cold (and the less than clean hostel) dissipated into the steam around us as we soaked. A word of advice? If it’s winter, don’t get your towels wet before you go in. They freeze into stiff ungainly shapes like giant prawn crackers. Entry is €24 for adults.
Scenic sauna, Anglesey (Ynys Môn)
Sawna Bach – the Scenic Sauna in Porth Tyn Tywyn beach, Ty Croes, has become a regular swing-by on my way home from work. The little sauna on the beautiful beach is a beacon for the most discerning bon vivant. It’s a wood-fired shack accommodating up to eight people, who can be dipping in the Irish Sea within a few minutes’ walk or dash through the dunes. You can book into a shared session from £15. The experience as a whole is at once very relaxing and invigorating, with the effects lingering long after. Bliss.
Take a plunge, Andorra
I loved the Caldea spa. Perfect way to rejuvenate after hiking, skiing or shopping. There are various hot or cold plunge pools, whirlpool baths and a huge geothermal pool. Swimming outside is wonderful with the Pyrenees all around and reflected in the glass “cathedral” of the building. There are also glass-bottom pools over the rampaging crystal-clear Valira River.
Pure naked pleasure, Germany
The Moseltherme in Traben-Trarbach, 60 miles south-west of Koblenz, is a beautiful thermal pool and spa in a world-famous wine region. You can choose between bobbing in the indoor and outdoor pool, enjoying relaxing jets and hot tubs, or getting active in the 25-metre sports pool. The outdoor pool is a relaxing warm wonder on cold winter evenings. For those who love a sauna experience, the Moseltherme’s no-clothing Saunalandschaft has five saunas at different temperatures, a steam room and a cold plunge pool. After all that health, a glass of local wine is never far away. Prices start at €6 (€12.50 for a day ticket).
Spring in your step, Poland
Cieplice Śląskie-Zdrój in the country’s south-west has an abundance of thermal springs and good-value accommodation – plus an aquapark with whirlpool baths and waterslides (about £10 a day) to take the kids to, as I did last year for some informal fun. The town is dotted with slightly mineralised fluoride silicon springs and a vast array of treatments – each one a bargain. Spacious parks and wide tree-lined avenues with alfresco cafes add to the classy feel – at a bargain price.