If You Don't Have Enough Money To Go To A Spa, Here's Some Totally Free Overseas Spas You Can Go To On Holiday Instead
The Debrief: Don't spend £80 on a massage in the UK, head to some thermal spas abroad to fix your rubbish skin, and get a holiday to boot
I need a massage because my back creaks and my skin is dry and flaky because I live in rubbish London. Sometimes you just need a bit of TLC, right?
But I don’t have £75 for somebody to rub ylang-ylang into my pores, and I doubt that spending £120 for a therapist to place rocks on my back will turn me into Madonna. So, I must take my aching joints and my quarter life crisis elsewhere - to a place that has healed Europe’s joints for centuries. Behold, the thermal spas that are yours to frolic, heal, and soak in, for the princely sum of ... nothing.
'It smells like farts,' says my friend, Jen, who is trailing behind me clutching both a towel and her side at the same time. She’s right. We’re on the side of a hill in Samothrace, an island in the north Aegean sea, and we’ve been on the hunt for some free thermal spas for hours.
'Well, follow your nose,' I reply tersely. The strenuous hike is causing my lower back muscles to twinge.
And then we find some holes in the hillside with steam rising up from them and what looks like a shed. Inside, we find a local man pulling up his trousers and pulling an oversized plug out of a roughly hewn hole. 'Yours,' he grins, his white teeth startling against his tanned skin.
At the bottom of the hill is a perfectly nice spa centre, but you have to pay for that one, so we shun it. This is far more rustic. We turn the standpipe on and out gushes hot, mineral-heavy, farty water. We lower ourselves in. 'It’s not half bad,' says Jen, who sounds robotic as she tries not to breathe through her nose. But it does the job. Half an hour later, the sun has begun to set over the hillside. The flaming oranges and reds turns the sea into fire as we lean back in our smelly hole and become aware of our heavy limbs, which have relaxed, and turned leaden in the water.
Get there: Fly to Thessaloniki return for £43 with Ryanair. Take a bus from the airport to Alexandroupoli (3 hours, £10), the jumping off point for ferries to the Aegean.
Some 20 miles south of Siena sits Petriolo, a natural spa situated in the type of beautiful natural scenery that British people would erect monuments to. Used by the Medici family to cure ailing joints in the 15th Century, at weekends the hot waters - which reach up to 43 degrees Celsius - are packed with families. Come weekdays however and the milky blue waters are deserted save for the odd nonna and her farmer beau.
The spa comes with mud Cleopatra would swear by: soft grey clay that makes your body feel as though it’s just gone through the deep clean. It made me smell a bit chalky, but my skin felt so supple after I thought I was going to get a casting call from Olay.
What makes Petriolo divine is that it gathers water in different pool depths: this is nature putting two fingers up at expensive spa complexes and sneering: 'Look at what I can do. I win.'
Get there: Fly to Pisa (Ryanair £40 rtn) and either drive (1hr 16 ) or take the train (1hr 42) onwards to Siena.
Il Sorgeto hot springs, Panza, Ischia
It’s hard to believe this steaming cove is just an hour and a half away from the busy port of Naples. Located on the other side of the bay of Naples, the island of Ischia is less exclusive than Capri which suits me fine. Here I can afford to buy an ice cream while I scramble down to the cove of Il Sorgeto, which steams with both geothermal energy and the barely disguised smouldering lust which passes between Italian teenagers lounging in tight swimwear. I can only suggest going sometime near exam season, so your lethargic, pasty body won’t attract the scornful frowns of teenagers who are all, most likely, fervent acolytes of the Sophia Loren fan club.
After immersing yourself in the so-clear-you-could-play-chess-under-it water, clamber around the naturally formed rock pools where hot bubbles of volcanic water occasionally ping to the surface. The beauty of these pools are the different temperatures, so you can dunk, dip, and splash from boiling to cold in seconds.
The man at the local tourist information showed me a picture of somebody cooking langoustines for dinner in one of the hotter rock pools; thankfully nobody was trying to do a Gordon Ramsay when I was soaking. Who wants prawns with a layer of sun-cream oil and sulphur anyway, I thought, drying off and bidding farewell to this magical, smoking Italian cove.
Get there: Fly to Naples, £52 return, one hour bus ride to Ischia.
Forget paying 45 Euro to visit the Blue Lagoon. You could throw a penny over your shoulder in Iceland and you’d probably hit a thermal water source. Although Reykjavik has a rather fine geothermal beach, it’s still within striking distance of the rather grotty port area. So plan ahead and get to Landmannalaugar, an unpronounceable yet dreamy place located in an orange-hued canyon.
Located on the edge of the Laugaharan lava field, the baths are free to dunk into and are a comfortable 36-40 degrees year round. Several hot streams mix with cold water to create perfect soaking conditions and it’s just an hour or so drive away from Reykjavik.
When I first visited Landmannalauger, I had just completed the famous Laugevegur trail, one of Iceland’s most popular multi-day hikes. After seeing some of the most knock-out scenery I’d ever experienced, I was exhausted, so I let my body sink into the water. An hour later, my skin and joints felt rested, and I’d nearly drowned after dropping off.
Visit any time outside of August and the freezing wind will keep you alert, and alive.
Get there: Fly Wow Air, £74 return.
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Picture: Eylul Aslan
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