Resorting to spas was a widespread phenomenon in Europe from the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century. The “Bader’s Lexicon” of 1854 listed 652 major European resorts, but only a few of them have been preserved in their original form. The foundation of each resort was natural mineral waters, which were used for healing before the advent of industrial medicines. Unique urban forms are complemented by unique architectural ensembles that include resort homes, colonnades, churches, theaters, casinos, specialized hotels, and guesthouses. The “Great SPA Towns of Europe” project brings together 11 historic spa towns throughout Europe, centered around natural mineral water sources, which not only formed fashionable health and leisure centers, but also became pioneers of tourism.
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Montecatini Terme, Italy
Located in the hilly countryside of Tuscany, about an hour’s drive northwest of Florence, Montecatini Terme is not a typical European spa town, as there are unfortunately no public baths here. Many of the magnificent Art Nouveau baths built in the 18th century and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2021 are now boarded up or abandoned.
Spa is a Belgian city in the province of Liège that gave the term “spa”. The city has been used as a bathing place since the 14th century. Paradoxically, however, the resort town grew up in the oldest metallurgical center in the province of Liège. Today it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Belgium, known for its natural mineral springs and production of Spa mineral water, which is exported to all countries of the world. In 2021, the city became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Great SPA Towns of Europe”.
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Baden-Baden
The town of Baden-Baden, located in the German Black Forest, began its history 2000 years ago as a Roman settlement. In the 19th century, it experienced a renaissance as a spa resort. Today, visitors can relax in the modern Caracalla baths and the historic Friedrichsbad baths, which are located in an elegant 19th-century building that imitates traditional Irish and Roman bath complexes.
Baden near Vienna
Not far from Vienna is the charming resort town of Baden near Vienna, known of course for its “golden” healing waters. After relaxing in the baths or enjoying treatments with thermal water, visitors can also follow in the footsteps of many famous past visitors by exploring the Kurpark and its extensive forests with a beautiful view of the Alps from picturesque pavilions above the city.
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Františkovy Lázně
Although thermal springs have been known here for centuries, the resort town of Františkovy Lázně was founded only in the late 18th century. The historic center is an ideal town planned in a strictly geometric order. The most important resort buildings are located on the main square, and the mineral springs are located in the park around the historic center. All spa hotels, pavilions, and colonnades are painted in the same style. Before World War I, the resort had a high reputation among European nobility and the upper class.
The Mariánské Lázně resort, also known as Marienbad, is located in the same region as Karlovy Vary. It is another fantastic example of an old European resort filled with charm, unique culture, and luxury, with many elegant buildings interspersed with green parks. Famous people flocked here in the 1800s to bathe in waters rich in carbon dioxide. Among them were Edison, Goethe, Chopin, Wagner, and members of royal families.
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Karlovy Vary
Karlovy Vary is a city in Bohemia, in western Czech Republic. It is a well-known spa resort and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Czech Republic. You can find celebrities from all over the world here!
About 500 years ago, doctors recognized the healing properties of the rich mineral sources in the local area. Today, their therapeutic and preventive effects have been scientifically proven. There are 23 sanatoriums, 9 private clinics, and a sauna complex available for guests of this famous Bavarian resort.
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Bad Ems
The glamorous royal spa resort of Bad Ems is Germany’s answer to Nice. The cozy resort town on the River Lahn in the Nassau Nature Park is a special place that attracts everyone who cares about their health. Bad Ems is known for its healing mineral and thermal springs. The local thermal spa center, Ems, is one of the most amazing spa complexes in the country and the first in Germany to have a floating sauna on the river.
Located an hour and a half drive from London, Bath is the only British city included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is a real living museum, and its main attraction is the Roman baths, built in 43 AD!
Great SPA Towns of Europe: Vichy, France
Located two hours east of Lyon in the volcanic region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in central France, Vichy is steeped in history. Today, the modernized resort town, which has undergone a massive rebranding in the last 10 years, is a unique luxury clinic.