Across millennia and continents, despite differing cultural traditions and medical practices, there’s one thing we can all agree on: There’s no better cure for what ails you than a long soak in a hot spring. And while “taking on the waters” is always delightful at some thermal pools—especially in the winter—the experience feels straight out of a fairytale. The following 11 hot spots are no mere man-made hot tubs, either; they mix straight-from-the-earth healing waters with straight-out-of-your-dreams surroundings for an experience that’s downright magical.
1. Tabacón Thermal Resort & SpaTabacón Thermal Resort & Spa
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s oldest thermal spa, Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, is a jungle paradise. The springs are actually a series of stepped, naturally flowing waterfalls and river pools buried deep in the jungle. The springs have views of Arenal volcano on one side and Arenal Volcano National Park on the other, and while the water has a high mineral content, the sulfur content is (thankfully) low, keeping the area as fresh as the surrounding tropical flowers. Tabacón is home to pools of all different shapes and sizes, from large pools with waterfalls you can hide behind, to smaller, more private pools; most dips range from 72°F to 105°F, but there are also a few cold pools that provide an invigorating ice plunge.
2. The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat
The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat is nestled in a 16-acre valley and sheltered by towering, rugged limestone karsts. It may be just two hours outside of Kuala Lumpur, but with each of the 25 villas featuring lush garden views or perched over the neighboring lazy river, it feels like a world of its own. The retreat is built around a large, emerald geothermal pond, shaded by a canopy of jungle trees, also featuring dipping pools ranging from 98°C to 128°F, a waterfall, and a complex of geothermal caves. While the caves’ pools are too hot to bathe in, one chamber functions as a natural sauna and the others as mystical, naturally warmed meditation rooms, lounges, and even a restaurant.
3. Takaragawa Onsen
According to local myth, the legendary Japanese prince Yamato Takeru no Mikoto once fell ill near modern-day Minakami and followed a white hawk to a nearby hot spring where he was cured. The area is still a popular hot spring destination today. In particular, Takaragawa Onsen is a jewel of an onsen hidden along the Takaraga river. The traditional and charming pinewood lodge was built in 1955 under the shade of cherry trees and later expanded. The spa boasts four large outdoor thermal pools and two indoor baths, as well as the largest open-air bath in Japan. But despite the pools’ roomy capacities, Takaragawa’s remote riverside location makes it an utterly tranquil destination.
4. Lake Heviz
Yes, there is such a thing as a geothermal lake and it’s just as incredible as you’d imagine. Lake Hévíz is Europe’s largest thermal lake and one of the most sizeable swimmable thermal lakes in the world. It is also the ultimate rehabilitation destination, home to Spa Hévíz and the Szent András Hospital. Because the lake is fed from both cold and hot underground springs, the temperature evens out at a perfect 90°F, so you could really spend all day floating among the water lilies or sinking up to your thighs in the therapeutic peaty mud along the lake’s edges. Spa Hévíz opens the lake to visitors and retains all of its 18th-century charm throughout its thoroughly modernized facilities, including nine indoor pools.
5. The AQUA DOME
If the Jetsons ever vacationed at a thermal spa, it would look exactly like the AQUA DOME Hotel. Formerly known as the Längenfelder Baths, the waters that bubble beneath this particular part of the Tyrolean landscape have been known for their healing powers since the 16th century. These days, the AQUA DOME’s 13 indoor and outdoor pools form what is quite possibly the world’s most futuristic thermal pool complex, with three raised pools with temperatures ranging from 93°F to 97°F, a river basin complete with gentle current, and two centerpiece thermal baths encased in a towering, illuminated, faceted glass cone. All that and a panoramic view of the surrounding Ötztal mountains make for an out-of-this-world geothermal experience.
6. Myvátn Nature Baths (Jarðböðin)Myvátn Nature Baths (Jarðböðin)
Meet the Blue Lagoon’s better-looking younger sister. With the same milky blue water and a fraction of the crowd, the Myvátn Nature Baths are the Icelandic hot spring of your dreams. Fed from a bore hold in Bjarnarflag, the lagoon’s waters average between 96°F and 104°F and have a high concentration of sulfur—not enough to smell strongly, but just enough to be good for your respiratory system. The lagoon has a few small alcoves and underwater benches to enjoy, as well as a cold plunge, a smaller hot bath, and natural steam baths. But what takes the Myvátn Nature Baths from wonderful to the stuff of fantasy is the scenic view: The baths look out over a valley dotted with craters, volcanic rock formations, and, of course, the occasional Icelandic horse.
Pamukkale translates into “cotton castle” in Turkish, but with its dreamy white, pastel pink, and baby blue hues, we’re wondering if “cotton candy castle” wouldn’t be a better moniker. Whatever they’re called, the hot springs’ alien beauty has drawn visitors since the 2nd century B.C.E., when the Romans built the nearby spa city of Hierapolis. Today you can climb around the pearly travertine terraces (barefoot, to protect the delicate carbon deposits) and splash in the shallow pools. At the top of the 8,860-foot-long slope of stepped pools are man-made baths fed by the same source, including the antique pool—a warm, mineral-rich bath built by the Romans, which is now filled with submerged columns from the city’s ruins.
Carasana’s Roman-Irish bathhouse, Friedrichsbad, may look like it was built in Roman times, but the spa actually opened in 1877, and at that time it was the most modern and luxurious bathhouse in the world. All of that elegance and opulence remains, from the 19th-century shower fittings, to the hand-painted majolica tiling, to the magnificent sculpted and domed poolroom. Visitors feel like they’re melting away through time as they move along the spa’s 17 stations from warm showers to various saunas, thermal pools drawn from the famously curative hot spring water of Baden-Baden, and cold plunges. Mark Twain once wrote to a friend that Friedrichsbad is a place where you lose track of time in 10 minutes and track of the world in 20. It seems that nothing has changed.
9. Peninsula Hot Springs
Not only is Peninsula Hot Springs Victoria’s first natural hot spring, but the day spa has evolved to include two facilities and 30 different bathing experiences. Tapped from an aquifer deep underground, the water emerges at 122°F and is pumped into the different shared thermal pools and small private mineral pools across the two facilities, a bathhouse and a spa. The bathhouse facility includes a cave pool and a hammam, but its crown jewel is a hilltop thermal pool. Surrounded by spectacular sweeping views of the Victorian countryside’s rolling hills—especially at sunrise or sunset—you’ll feel on top of the world.
10. Terme di Saturnia
Etruscan and Roman legend holds that the Terme di Saturnia springs were created during a battle between Jupiter and Saturn, when Jupiter hurled his lightning bolts at Saturn but missed, striking the ground instead. Although there is a spa hotel, aptly named the Terme di Saturnia hotel, which harnesses the thermal magic of the springs, locals prefer to wander up river and take the waters at two idyllic gently cascading waterfalls, one of which is right next to an old mill with views of the surrounding Tuscan landscape.
11. Dunton Hot Springs
The Dunton Hot Springs are a glamping dream come true. Just across the mountain from Telluride, the resort has been a mining town, ghost town, and dude ranch, but its most recent incarnation is a remote luxury retreat that balances the rugged aesthetic of camping in the Rockies with exquisite furnishings and amenities. You can relax in complete solitude at one of the six thermal pools on the property, which range from 85°F to 107°F. Among the secluded bathing spots are the source of the spring under the stars, either the inside or the outdoor pools of the restored 19th-century bathhouse, and a private cabin built around one of the hot springs.
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Maggie Fuller Maggie Fuller is a San Francisco–based but globally oriented writer driven to provoke multicultural worldviews as a multimedia journalist. She covers sustainability, responsible travel, and outdoor adventure.