Spas developed in response to the need for rest, recreation and cures for chronic illness. Many ailments had no known medical cures. So what did Roman soldiers, European Royalty, and ailing Popes do?
They went off to the nearest spa for natural treatments. Spas were usually built around hot thermal springs, often in lushly forested areas, or up in the mountains where the air was pristine.
Archaeological evidence suggests there was human activity around the hot springs in the City of Bath around 8,000 BC. Surely, that can’t be right.
A lot later than that, legend tells us that Prince Bladud – supposedly the father of King Lear – was cured of leprosy around 863BC after bathing in the hot muddy waters of Bath Spa.
By AD 70, the Romans had taken over. They developed a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva.
The first medical treatise using ‘the waters’ was written by William Turner in 1562. He made big improvements to the Bath drainage system, and banned naked bathing! (This edict did not last long.)
In the early 17th century, spas were developed at Tunbridge Wells, Epsom and Harrogate. Entrepreneurial Doctors set up the first ‘Spa Hotels’. You can read about some of them in Sebastian Faulke’s book, Human Traces.
Overseas spa resorts were popular with adventurous King Edward VII. He travelled the world widely, often in pursuit of foreign policy interests with Japan, France and Russia.
When he needed light relief, Edward VII visited Mariánské Lázne, the youngest of the West Bohemia spa towns (Czech Republic). He did so ‘under cover’ on nine occasions, posing as ‘Lord Renfrew’ or ‘The Duke of Lancaster’, and always arriving in August.
Some of those who helped popularise this spa were the Nobel Prize Winner Albert Schweitzer and the composer, Antonín Dvorják. Emperor Franz Joseph the First of Austria, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and American author Mark Twain also hung about the precincts a lot.
Germany has a particularly long history of spas – nearly 900 of them. The best-known of these is at Baden Baden.
Other people with TB and other chronic disease went to salubrious spas in Switzerland, Poland, and Austria.
Personally, my idea of bliss is to combine spa hopping with music, as it has such wonderfully healing properties. One of the best placed hotels I’ve come across in Poland is Hanza, a boutique hotel in Gda?sk, situated on the Mot?awa River.
The reason this stands out for me is that it has a lovely position, just a hop over the river, so to speak, from the new Philharmonic Hall in Gdansk. I was lucky enough to attend one of the first concerts held there – a lyrical performance of Carl Orff‘s Carmina Burana.
The Philharmonia has been built on the former site of a late 19th century thermal power station and the antique Royal Granary on Olowianka Island, right opposite the Hanza.
Even better, if you book the Hanza through Hotel Auctions, you will save enough to pay for a seat or two at the Polish Baltic F. Chopin Philharmonia Hall.