Last year in 2021, UNESCO created a new designation called the "Great Spa Towns of Europe." It is a list of 11 famous historic spa towns and cities in seven countries and includes some of the most famous bath towns like Bath, England.
In the United States, one of the first places to be protected was the hot springs in Arkansas which are now protected as part of the Hot Springs National Park. Those springs are developed like in Europe, but if one would like to find undeveloped springs, there are plenty of hidden undeveloped hot springs to discover in Oregon.
What To Know Of The Great Spa Towns of Europe
The Great Spa towns are located in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. They represent a unique cultural phenomenon that peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries - they are one of the great heritages of Europe and compromise some of Europe's most stunning and charming towns and cities. All of them developed around natural mineral water springs (some of them with traditions dating back to the Romans).
The eleven spa towns are Baden bei Wien (Austria); Spa (Belgium); Františkovy Lázně; Karlovy Vary; Mariánské Lázně (Czechia); Vichy (France); Bad Ems; Baden-Baden; Bad Kissingen (Germany); Montecatini Terme (Italy); and City of Bath (United Kingdom).
- Spa, Belgium: The Town Of "Spa" Gave Its Name To "Spa Therapy" Today
The European spa culture led to the emergence of grand international resorts that had spa buildings such as baths, buildings dedicated to therapy, pump rooms, drinking halls, colonnades, and galleries designed to harness natural mineral water resources.
In these towns, one will see elaborate bathhouses. Outside of the bathhouses, these old resort towns typically also feature old casinos, theaters, villas, and gardens.
- Heyday: Europe's Spa Town's Heyday From Around 1700 to the 1930s
All of these spa towns are different, but each shares a number of things in common that enable them to be grouped together - to the point that UNESCO now considers them one "property".
There are too many to go through here, but we will discuss a few of them. For a dedicated website and guide visit the Great Spa Towns of Europe website.
Bath of England
Perhaps the best-known spa town is Bath in England. It is famous for having some of the best Roman ruins anywhere in the United Kingdom. It is equally famous for its grandeur and stunning Georgian architecture.
- Where: Somerset, England
- Latin Name: Aquae Sulis Literally "The Waters Of Sulis"
Bath has been a resort town for a very long time and today it remains one of England's greatest attractions. The town is very compact and so it is very easy to explore.
Today visitors can see these Roman Baths (the buildings above them are Georgian) and walk on the original Roman pavements. The ruins of the old Roman Temple of Sulis Minerva are still visible.
- July - August: 9.00 am - 10.00 pm Daily
- September-October: 9.00 am - 5.00 pm Weekdays (6 pm Weekends)
- Weekend Cost of Admission: 27 Pounds Or $37.50 Per Adult
- Weekday Cost of Admission: 25 Pounds Or $35.00 Per Adult
Vichy In France
While Vichy may be better known for its role being the French collaborationist capital during World War Two, it was one of France's top resort towns.
Vichy was originally established by Roman legionaries in 52 BC when they found the hot mineral springs there. During Roman rule, Vichy became a fairly prosperous town because of the supposed medicinal value of the thermal springs.
- Founded: By The Romans In 52 BC
- Population: 25,000 Residents Today
- Location: Central France
In the 1600s Vichy began to have a revival and they became popularized after the waters were claimed to cure ailments. Luxurious thermal baths were built by the French in the 1700s and in 1799 Napoleon's mother visited to be cured.
Today is a stunning French town of around 25,000 people with beautiful architecture that one should visit if one is in the center of France.
Baden bei Wien In Austria
Baden is from the German word for "Baths" and is a spa town just 16 miles south of the glorious Austrian capital city of Vienna ("Wien" in German). It is a perfect day trip for anyone exploring the great historic imperial seat of the Habsburg Empire.
- Location: 16 Miles Out Of Vienna
Baden was long a favorite summer resort of the Emperors. The town is stunning and combines the architecture of the beginning of the nineteenth century (“Biedermeier”) with the architecture and infrastructures of the turn of the twentieth century (when Baden became a world-class spa resort).
- Temperature: Between 72 and 97 °F (22 and 36 °C)
- Number: 14 Hot Springs
Baden is located in the Vienna Woods at the mouth of the Schwechat River's St Helena Valley. It has 14 hot springs - these vary in temperature from 72 to 97 °F (22 to 36 °C).