Poprad is so much more than a 'nondescript town in south-west Slovakia' as called in a recent Guardian travel piece. This is both incorrect geographically and unkind.
For a start, Poprad is in the north-east of the country, nestling at the foot of the mighty Tatra mountains making it an ideal base for family skiing, hiking, spa holidays. The town has an industrial past and some blocks from the sixties that are not too pretty but the town centre square has been pedestrianised and painted and is lined with excellent bars, pubs and restaurants.
There are several good museums and the Tatra mountain resorts are 20 minutes ride away on the wonderful elektricka electric train. There is also a 'suburb' of Poprad, the beautiful medieval town of Spisska Sobota which contains some of the best restaurants and pensions in Slovakia.
All in all, Poprad has everything and SkyEurope flies from the UK several times a week.
There is also the fabulous AquaCity, one of the most environmentally friendly spa lido hotel complexes in the world. The Slovak people are really welcoming and the food and accommodation are world-class. The Slovak beer, wine and slivovica must be tried!
Mountain Sanctuary is a fantastic setup in Chamonix providing holistic retreats in the most stunning of environments. You stay in an idyllic alpine chalet with Mont Blanc as your backdrop and indulge yourself in the holistic treatments. They have tai-chi, yoga, reiki, nutrition and life coaching specialists on hand to cater for your every need.
The ultimate day spa in the centre of Liverpool, the beauty secret of babes like Abi Clancey, Jennifer Ellison and the cast of Hollyoaks.
I love to visit APt when I am feeling in the need for a little pick-me-up, it's like a weekend break in a spa!
Hanover Street, Liverpool
I picked up a great map for free in one of the tourist offices but I think you can order it from the Czech cartographer company SHOCart.
It's called 'Slovensko Kemping, Termalne Kupaliska' which means 'Camping and Thermal Pools in Slovakia'. It details every pool and campsite in the country and is very useful and inspiring for planning a trip.
There's no less than three months of great beach weather in this spa town tucked between historic Gdansk and modern Gdynia.
It should only set you back around £40 for a return ticket fom London Luton or Stansted.
Around 20km from Gdansk Airport.
The Thermae Spa in Bath offers what most do not – flexibility. A visit is easily slotted in before a shopping trip, after lunch or when your feet need a rest after exploring this stunning Georgian city. There is no need to book.
Although there are full ranges of treatments available, it is not really necessary to book one to have the full spa experience. A two-hour spa session at £24 is a relatively cheap and wonderful way to relax. That gives you plenty of time to use the four scented steam rooms, swim in the enclosed thermal ‘Minerva’ pool and have a glass of something in the Springs café. Finish the visit by floating in the naturally warm spring water Rooftop Pool overlooking the picture perfect Bath Spa rooftops.
The modern spa does feel a little utilitarian in places, after all, the council part owns it, but that adds to a unisex vibe that means men won’t feel as though they landed in the middle of an episode of ‘Sex and the City’. But remember, Bath being a tourist magnet, it is worth avoiding during the busiest times of the week.
On a week's holiday in Reykjavik last November, I went swimming every morning outside(!) in the thermal pool at Vesturbaejarlaug.
The pool is in a suburb of Reykjavik and filled with all the local grannies gossiping in the (very) hot tubs and school children doing lengths. There is a sauna and steam room and it's a fabulous way to mix with the locals and get a real taste of Reykjavik life. So refreshing. It's great to walk around outside in just your swimming costume, you don't feel cold, but if you do, the hot tub will cook you up like a lobster.
Hofsvallagata, 107 Reykjavik
+354 411 5150
Google map: bit.ly/hj16Fw
Open Mon-Fri 06.30—22.00
Entry 360ISK adult, 110ISK for 6-18 years, free for seniors and under 6
Sauna 450ISK extra
Entry, towel, swimming costume 850ISK
Entry, towel, swimming costume, sauna 950ISK
Poprad in N.E. Slovakia is a great winter city break.
I recommend staying at the wonderful AquaCity hotel spa resort.
You can sit outside, wallowing in the healing thermal waters and gaze at the snow-capped High Tatra mountain peaks in the distance, or move into the watery cocktail bar and try a typical - and very warming Demanovka liqueur while still wallowing in the water.
Aquacity even offers cryotherapy, a subzero healing treatment recommended for sportsmen and women, which is said to prolong life!
Budapest is THE perfect destination for a winter city break. Accessible all year round on cheap airlines (Wizzair does returns for less than £50), but especially inviting in winter. Sit outside in the hot thermal water of the gorgeous Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő Baths, luxuriate amongst the yellow Baroque walls and watch old guys play chess on floating boards. Visit the steamy Turkish baths of the Rudas or Gellért Hotel, then chill out with a hot coffee and a chaser of the national drink Unicum, sitting amongst Hungarian poets and writers in the Művész (Artist) coffee house on Andrássy út, Pest's grandest boulevard.
Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (health spa)
1146 Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 11.
Telefon: 06 1 363-3210
Művész eszpresszó kávéház és cukrászda
1064 Budapest, Andrássy út 29.
Open daily 9am-11.45pm
This restored Arabian bathhouse down a tiny alley in the Santa Cruz district is the perfect escape from the baking afternoon heat. It's mixed, and you can bring your own bathers. After cold mint tea in the relaxation room you are invited to dip into each of the three pools (warm, hot and then cold), steam yourself in the hammam, relax in the whirpool and then float gently in the salt pool.
A soothing, indulgent atmosphere is created by the glistening white of the marble, and the illuminated blue water that plays patterns across the dark red plaster walls, faded wooden ceilings and archways. Your journey through the baths is guided by shimmering scented candles and Arabic lamps. Visits last for 90 minutes but you must book ahead, as they limit numbers due to its popularity. It is open until midnight, if you fancy a late dip.
Aire de Sevilla, Calle Aire 15
It might not seem like the typical choice for this area but one of the best family breaks I have taken has been at Center Parcs Whinfell Forest in the Lake District. There was something for everyone in my family to do including my seven-year-old son who never wants to do anything. My husband and I even managed to break away for a couples spa at Aqua Sana, Center Parcs' own spa. I never knew it but Whinfell Forest has its own native red squirrel population, which is one of the last colonies in the UK. In all it was an excellent holiday and I hear that the villas are being redesigned this year and I cannot wait to go back!
08700 673 030
You should definitely visit the modern Caracalla spa (Friedrichsbad is the older, rougher around the edges and also more expensive bath house) when in Baden-Baden or the local area.
Entry can be purchased for 2, 3 or 4 hours for 12, 14, 16 Euro accordingly. I'd advise picking 4 hours for the extra 4 euro as time flies once you're inside. With over 3000 square metres of indoor and outdoor pools, it rivals any spa I have visited at 4 times the price elsewhere in Europe.
Once you have spent an hour or so relaxing in the pool and loungers make your way upstairs to the Roman sauna scape. Be warned though, this area is completely nude as a multilingual sign warns you on the door and you discover quite abruptly upon entering.
My boyfriend and I were quite shocked at first being of a classically prudish English nature but when in Rome as they say. After removing your swimwear you are free to enjoy a wonderful series of connected saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, hot tubs and relaxation areas at your leisure. Especially recommended are the outdoor Swedish and Norwegian log cabin saunas (and ice cold outdoor showers between the two) along with the blue space room where you lie on plastic pods in a dimmed blue aura and feel ambient music vibrate inside the bed and through your body. Be careful not to fall asleep as we did though and miss your time limit, a penalty fare of 3 euros per 15 minutes is charged when leaving the spa.
For those who may also feel a little prudish, I can say after our initial nerves we found the atmosphere upstairs to be very respectful and relaxed as well as obviously highly liberating and invigorating. The unwritten rule seems to be very much a stare into middle distance with the odd curious glance down or across permitted, definitely no staring or pointing though. We visited on a weekday afternoon and the majority of visitors were middle aged men and women both single and in couples but it was also refreshing to find younger French and German couples and singles in their early twenties, like us, enjoying the sauna without any qualms.
One final word of warning for ladies though, 95% of girls on the continent seem to be opting to visit waxing salons for Brazilians or Hollywoods before their visits, whether or not this was inspired by our own WAGs visit to Baden Baden earlier this year I wouldn't like to say.
Caracalla Therme Spa website:
Stuttgart is second only to Budapest for the number of mineral baths in the city. Teenagers go to Leuze, while those wanting to relax visit MineralBad Cannstatt, which has an extensive sauna area upstairs. Many baths have specialised treatment pools, (eg. for high blood pressure). When it gets hot, Stuttgarters head for the nearest open air pool. Perhaps the best is Freibad Rosental in Vaihingen, with a large freeform stainless steel pool landscape, springboards, and a children's pool. There are play areas, sunbathing, grills, food stands and plenty of opportunities for people watching.
Leuze: Am Leuzebad 2-6;
tel: 0711 216 4210
MineralBad Cannstatt: Sulzerrainstraße 2;
tel: 0711 216 9241
Freibad Rosental: Rosentalstraße 21 Stuttgart-Vaihingen;
tel: 0711 216 4837
General information: www.stuttgart.de/baeder (in German)
IF you are in Tokyo and it is a bright sunny day ... ditch your plans and get an ODAKYU line Hakone Free Pass from Shinjuku Station (Cost 3,400-5,000 Yen depending on day of travel and duration of pass). This will pay for your train to Odawara then train a beautiful zig-zag ride through gorgeous mountains and trees up to Gora, where you get on the cable car (known as a ropeway in Japan) ... see the sulphur springs and the gorgeous view of Mt Fuji, which appears from out of nowhere in awesome symmetrical beauty...
Go down to Lake Ashino and either take a bus to your choice of four ONSEN areas or back to Odawara and Tokyo OR take a tacky Pirate ship across the lake. If Fuji-san is in view ... it may be worth the Pirate ship experience for the views.
For the truly luxury oriented, stay at a traditional Ryokan for a night to enjoy the ONSEN and JAPANESE FOOD experience. It will cost around 15,000 yen each ... but it is truly worth it. Remember the Free pass will pay for everything including the cable car, funicular and buses. It is really good value for money. Family passes are also available.
IF you have time, get of at the stop BEFORE GORA and visit the Hakone Outdoor Sculture Museum.
ODAKYU HAKONE FREE PASS from SHINJUKU ST, TOKYO OR ODAWARA ST. (SHINKANSES runs to ODAWARA for JR PASS holders)
MAPS are available from there.
1. English speaking Ryokan
Senkei Ryokan and Hotel HAKONE YUOMOTO
PLEASE REMEMBER TO TIP YOUR MAID IN THE RYOKAN....WE DIDNT REALISE...VERY EMBARRASSING.
2. CHEAPER Minshiku, especially for foriegners with private outside and inside onsen for family or couple use.
FUJI HAKONE GUEST HOUSE, SENGOKUHARA
Great little massage salon to treat yourself on your hols - you'll feel brilliant afterwards. The therapist is British - friendly, accommodating, really knows her stuff and can also give you plenty of tips about what to do and where to go in Prague. A great experience!
(+420) 739 237 285
Steeped in history dating to Simon van der Stel's era, this working wine estate is set in the fertile Constantia valley. Once the bread-basket supplying the former emerging settlement now it is only a twenty minute drive from the urban centre of Cape Town. Still holding its rural charm it offers the choice of three restaurants, hotel accommodation, spa facilities and a cricket oval as well as wine tastings seven days a week. History buffs and green-fingered enthusiasts can opt for tours of this restored and popular homestead and gardens. There is a selection of brandies and olive oils for sale in the wine shop as well as advice on food and wine pairing.
The recently revamped River Café offers a menu of affordable seasonal produce from Uitsig's own organic garden which is accompanied with specially sourced home-made breads, meats and cheeses. Understated and relaxed this bistro is open for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea throughout the year bar New Year's day.
La Colombe is the winner of numerous awards for both its service and predominately French cuisine but also offers diners a selection of Asian- inspired dishes. The estate's selection of prestigious wines only heighten the experience of fine dining.
Situated in the original manor house on the estate, The Constantia Uitsig restaurant focuses mainly on rustic Italian favourites for lunch and dinner. The best quality ingredients are used and this heartfelt approach adds to the convivial ambience.
With the option of three restaurants, fine wine, stunning scenery and a slice of Cape history this dining experience fails to disappoint.
After a fantastic walk through a limestone gorge, the restaurant El Ventorro is situated next to a lake with a great terrace and delicious food cooked on open fires.
Next to the restaurant is their new, Moroccan style spa with swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and plunge pool. You can take the day to walk there, relax in the spa then have a fabulous lunch before heading back to Alhama.
El Ventorro Restaurant
Alhama de Granada
Popular since Roman times, the hot springs in Alhama are a must-see. Adjacent to the spa hotel where you can have a whole range of treatments, there are four natural hot spring pools which you can enjoy for free day or night. Relax under the trees and let the minerals in the waters rejuvenate you. Recommended early in the morning or last thing at night.
18120 Alhama de Granada
In an over-stressed world, time has become the greatest luxury of them all. During my last vacation with my family all I wanted was a hassle-free ambiance. My kids are grown so I left them off to discover Rio de Janeiro. My husband went on his cultural exploration of the city and I headed to the spa. Guilt free and ready for the hours of relaxation. This quiet little spot in Ipanema deserves my good word! I assure you that somewhere during your experience, before you float out the door feeling like you've got your head in the clouds, you will thank the all mighty forces for the relaxing time you had.
Rua Prudente de Morais 729, Ipanema
UK travelers should make a point of visiting one of the many local hammam baths in the Medina. It is easier if you get one of your hotel staff to take you to the baths and help you pay and make arrangements at the door. Even better if you can go with a same-sex friend. The communal, noisy and sociable atmosphere is unlike anything spa at home where the bather is passive. If you are just going for a short break buy your supplies beforehand, and find out how the traditional products are used - savon noir, the sensual exfoliating mitt, rhassoul clay, and argan oil. The Moroccan hammam system is one of the most ancient and intact washing systems in the world. Don't miss out on this amazing cultural experience.
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