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9 best natural spa destinations
 
Spa holidays can be traced back thousands of years – Cleopatra was a regular visitor to the salty waters of the Dead Sea. Nowadays, of course, spas have proliferated to such an extent that you can have a ‘spa’ holiday staying at a hotel. For the true, authentic experience, though, seek out those rare places that nature intended to be spa destinations: those blessed with healing waters, mineral-rich muds, and steaming, soothing thermal pools. Here’s our round-up of some of the best.
The Aquitaine region, centred on Bordeaux and the Basque coast, is France’s undisputed spa capital, home to 30 of the country’s 170 spa resorts. Why? The region’s unique sub-soils enrich the water with mineral salts and trace elements. Being the world’s biggest region of fine wines, it’s the go-to place for innovative new vinotherapy treatments. Think wine body-wraps, crushed cabernet exfoliating, and vine-tendril draining.
Roman Britain’s favourite spa resort is home to the UK’s only natural thermal spa. The original Roman Baths are no longer open for bathing due to health reasons, but visitors can bathe in the same natural mineral-rich waters as Celts and Romans once did – supplemented by modern treatments of course – at the nearby Thermae Bath Spa complex.
Known as the ‘City of Spas’, Budapest has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other city – 118 in fact, providing over 70 million litres of thermal water a day. Although used by the Romans, spa bathing didn't become an integral part of Budapest culture until the 16th-century Turkish occupation. Today there are 15 public thermal baths (and many more private ones), notably the Széchenyi, a vast golden palace of steam pools and artesian water baths.
Calistoga, Napa Valley, California, USA
Calistoga, Napa Valley, California, USA
Set at the northern end of the Napa Valley, this region is rich in geothermal mineral waters and naturally occurring hot springs. It’s famous for its mud baths, which have been used for thousands of years to treat health and skin problems. The mud originates from mixing the local volcanic ash with hot spring water. Its most famous spa, the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs Resort, has operated there since 1900.
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Among Costa Rica’s verdant rainforests and smouldering volcanic peaks are hundreds of hot springs and some excellent spa resorts offering everything from volcanic mud massages to temazcal – a shamanic steam bath ritual with chanting, meditation and aromatherapy. Head to the base of Arenal Volcano for the greatest choice.
The world capital of ‘volcanic tourism’, Iceland offers spa-seekers mineral-rich geothermal pools, sourced from underground geological layers and set amid dramatic volcanic scenery. The Blue Lagoon, Iceland’s most visited attraction, has naturally warm waters especially rich in sulphur and silicate minerals – responsible of the beautiful milky blue shade and believed to be beneficial to skin conditions like psoriasis.
Ischia, Campania, Italy
Ischia, Campania, Italy
This spectacular volcanic island in the Bay of Naples is a dedicated spa destination, boasting thermo-mineral pools, steam holes, rich volcanic mud and dozens of natural springs. Many of the island's resorts operate as day-parks and the focus is primarily therapeutic rather than pampering.
Palm Springs, California, USA
Palm Springs, California, USA
The surrounding desert’s reputation as a spa mecca isn’t just fluff: the area is full of mineral-rich hot springs that people have visited since Native American days. And no destination in the desert has capitalised on that better than Desert Hot Springs, a town 15 minutes north of Palm Springs where spas pump in the therapeutic waters that are naturally heated to nearly 150-degrees for those looking for a luxurious way to soak their cares away.
Probably the world's most famous – and largest – natural spa, the Dead Sea is a natural collection point for salts and minerals, with salinity up to ten times that of ocean water. The sea’s mineral-laden waters have been revered for their magical healing properties for thousands of years – King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Cleopatra and King Herod all came to bathe here.