The art of pampering oneself silly has a very long history: the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans all enjoyed plunging themselves into baths of varying degrees of heat and coolness. The ritual was very much part of everyday life, especially for the Romans who spread the practice around their empire. When the empire crumbled, many of the centres fell into disuse, but others kept going and continue today. The town of Spa, in the east of Belgium, became famous in the 14th century for its natural spring, with its medicinal, mineral waters. In the UK, Cheltenham, Leamington and Bath were all built up around similar springs; the latter has recently reopened its renovated spa facility. In the 18th and 19th centuries, visiting spas to ‘take the waters’ became popular with the upper classes and today various European countries include trips to thalassic centres as part of the national health service.
Nowadays the variety and types of spas are increasingly wide-ranging and sophisticated. Catalunya has a long tradition of enjoying natural springs, starting with the Greeks and Romans at Empúries. Balnearis—centres offering water-based therapies under medical control—are scattered throughout the region, and have long been popular with locals. Now, as the tourist industry seeks new ways to attract visitors, a whole range of different spas has been created for taking time out. So sit back, put your feet up and relax, as we lead you around some of the tranquil, spirit-cleansing Catalan spas.
1. Special waters—Hotel Balneari Vichy Catalan, Caldes de Malavella
Avinguda Doctor Furest 32, Caldes de Malavella; open all year round
Making the most of the mineral water that (in its carbonated, bottled form) is famous as a hangover-busting drink, the Vichy Catalan group has created a hotel-balneari in a 19th century Modernista building. The water comes out of the ground at 60ºC, and in the pool is between 36 and 38º, making it an appealing place in which to immerse a tired or stressed body. There’s an impressive range of services on offer—specific treatment programmes can last from two to seven days. Although these options aren’t cheap (in low season the seven-day programmes are over €1,000 per person), there’s a good selection of treatments and the price includes full-board accommodation. Of the treatments themselves, the stars of the show are—of course—those using the Vichy Catalan water, such as pressure and massage showers.
Sample prices: Thermal swimming-pool - €15 Vichy shower - €37
Inhalations of thermal water and menthol - €11
2. Pyrenees—La Central, Maçanet de Cabrenys
Surrounded by nature in a beautiful spot in Alt Empordà, La Central is housed, unusually, in a Modernista former electricity plant. Forests encircle La Central and nearby are two rivers. The building has been renovated, retaining original features whilst becoming a comfortable hotel with 15 bedrooms. The main spa feature is the heated hydromassage pool, which is inside a glass-house, meaning that bathers can enjoy the amazing surroundings no matter what the weather. There’s also a Finnish sauna overlooking the pool and the exterior, and a steam bath with room for five people. Complementing these are the therapies offered that include massages, aromatherapy, reflexology and anti-stress treatments. Low season special deals are available, including accommodation and use of the thermal facilities.
Sample prices: To use swimming-pool, sauna and steam bath - €15
Coffee treatment - €75 Gold mask facial - €65
3. Luxury—Alva Park, Lloret de Mar
Alva Park Resort and Spa, Francesc Layret 3-5, Platja de Fenals, Lloret de Mar
Pure luxury. If you’re looking for somewhere to give yourself—or anyone else—an extremely special treat, this is the one to head for. The spa is run by plush British beauty company Molton Brown, so each of their upscale treatments uses top-quality Molton Brown creams and oils. Apart from the spa, other pampering facilities at the hotel include the Indian Princess bath, a sumptuously-decorated warm salt-water pool for floating and unwinding to underwater music. Massages come from around the world, including Tibet and Thailand, and there’s also a well-equipped fitness room that features a steam bath, sauna and ice fountain. And if one day’s not enough to enjoy it all, you could pay the €500 or so required for a night at the hotel and do it all over again.
Sample prices: Lifeforce nourishing facial (60 mins) - €120
Equilibrium facial for men (60 mins) - €120 Cloud walking reflex foot therapy (60 mins) - €95
Purifying grapeseed anti-oxidant body cocoon and massage (90 mins) - €180
4. Further afield—Caldea, Andorra
Tel. 902 932 025 or +376 800 999;
The largest mountain-based termoludic centre in Europe was opened thanks to the hot springs rich in sodium and sulphur found in this part of the Pyrenees. The main part of Caldea (the Espai Termolúdic) is a large swimming pool, and has water-jets and jacuzzis. A channel runs outside to a smaller pool with waterfalls and fountains, where bathers can enjoy the 32º-water in the open air, even in winter. There is also an Icelandic bath, with ice or very cold water to stimulate circulation, and Indo-Roman baths, where you move between hot (36º) and cold (14º) water. The treatment area (‘the Club’) has a pseudo-jungle feel and use of its exclusive facilities comes free with any treatment. There are also shops, children’s entertainment, a panoramic bar and three restaurants, one of which has a Michelin star.
Sample prices: Three-hour entrance to Espai Termolúdic - €30.50 (adults), €23 (children between 5 and 12 years old)
Entry to the Club and hidrojet - €76
NB - All entry fees to the Club include five hours to spend there and in the Espai Termolúdic.
• Balneari—an establishment with medical supervision where you can enjoy treatments in the thermal (warm) and mineral waters that have been officially declared for public usage.
• Centre ludic i termal—a place where the thermal and mineral waters of a traditional balneari (see above) combine wellbeing with leisure facilities.
• Centre de benestar i salut—offering a more rounded service, these centres focus on health and provide extras like physiotherapy and anti-stress treatments.
• Spa—the focus in these centres is heavily geared towards beauty and relaxing, although health services are also available.