Ask most Americans what the word "spa" brings to mind and you'll get answers that probably include massage, facial and a manicure or pedicure. Spa treatments here, undoubtedly, involve some full-body treatment with mud or a scrub that leaves you wrapped up and left in a quiet room with gauzy lighting and New Age music, while essential oils simmer and release healing aromas. In Europe, the idea of a spa is something slightly different -- historically, it usually means a naturally occurring thermal body of water, long renowned for its healing properties. European spas, broadly speaking, usually include more than massages and facials -- many are based on what's called balneotherapy -- the science and art of bathing with the goal of improving the immune system, stimulate circulatory processes, and in general, encouraging the body's own natural healing process. Balneotherapy can include some or all of the following: a doctor's exam, thermal bath, massage, sauna and steam rooms, herbs, acupressure, and acupuncture. Massages can help cleanse your lymphatic system of toxins and release the hormone oxytocin, which helps to reduce stress, anxiety and relieve pain. We've found some interesting offers -- some of which include airfare -- designed to sooth both body and soul in Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and Italy.
Tradesco Tours (tel. 800/448-4321; www.tradescotours.com) is offering several specials to Eastern Europe, namely Budapest, Hungary, and Piestany, Slovakia. The Slovakia tour has two places to choose from and Tradesco is offering a five percent discount off their published rates, good through March 31, 2006, for the Piestany Spa Resorts (www.tradescotours.com/bro_download/spa_piestany.pdf) The Spa Hotel Balnea Splendid's rates include two treatments daily, half board, use of swimming pool, and doctor's examination. The daily rate for double occupancy is $78 for up to a week's stay through November 5 for their regeneration and relaxation stay; the curative, or traditional spa stay, includes two exams, full board, four treatments daily, a dietary plan and is priced from $104 for the daily rate, up to 14 nights. There are two other spas -- including the Balnea Esplanade and the Thermia Palace, but the latter, according to a company representative, is closing for renovations.
Additionally, Tradesco is running two specials to Margit Sziget Spa in Budapest. The Thermal Spa (www.tradescotours.com/?pa=ss&id=202&g=true), the more modern of the sister hotels, is priced from $1,899 for departures November 6-December 19, and January 8, February 19 and March 12. The deal is that you get three weeks for the price of two weeks and it includes round-trip airfare form New York to Budapest and 20 nights accommodation with half board -- buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner. There's a possibility of upgrading to full board for $512 per person, and if you are traveling with a friend and sharing a room, you can take off $130. The deal includes basic balneotherapy -- one physician's examination and five treatments per week. The other offer is for the Margit Sziget Grand Spa special (www.tradescotours.com/?pa=ss&id=201&g=true), which includes everything already mentioned, but also use of the Danubius Premier Fitness Center. The same dates apply for the Grand and there's a New Year's Eve gala dinner included for those heading overseas during the holidays -- the price jumps to $2,023. The price for this three-week special (also for the price of two weeks), good for the same dates as its sister hotel, starts from $1,799. Prices do no include airport taxes.
The German Tourism Board's site (www.germany-tourism.de) has links to plenty of spa deals all over the country, including perhaps its most well known, the 23 springs in Baden-Baden. Located in the southwestern part of the country, the spring is early and fall is long; the thermal waters in its spring are known to have curative powers for those with rheumatic, musculoskeletal problems or cardiovascular disorders. There's an offer for seven nights half-board at the Steigenberger Badischer Hof (www.germany-tourism.de/e/18813_18640.html), a former Capuchin monastery that's a hotel with close proximity to thermal pools and wellness amenities. It is also the only hotel in Baden-Baden with an indoor and outdoor thermal pool. The Four Seasons Thermal Baths Experience seven treatments with reflexology, three whole body massages by a medically trained staff and three thermal baths with relaxing herbal extracts; the price is from €763 per person (approximately $954), based on double occupancy.
Another good resource that you could get lost scrolling through is Spa Europes (tel. 800/268-4155; www.spaseurope.net). They have offers in many countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Italy, Hungary, Romania and Slovak republic. In Czech republic, there are deals in Carlsbad, in what's called the West Bohemian Spa triangle. The water temperatures are approximately 68 C. Rates are posted for various accommodations on this site, including the Spa Hotel Bristol, which is located in the old English Quarter and has five buildings with different accommodations depending on your budget. Rates, priced in Euro, up to October 31, start at €115 (approximately $143) per person per day, based on double occupancy. Between November 1-December 21 rates drop to €95 ($118) based on double occupancy. Three meals daily, a doctor's examination, unlimited treatments as per the doctor's orders and hotel taxes and service charges are all included. Of course, these deals don't include airfare so you'll have to figure out how to get there. If you are a fan of booking everything from one site, you can check airfare through the company's partner site Airfares Worldwide (www.airfaresworldwide.net).
The Romans have long claimed the health benefits of natural spas. If you want to go to Italy, Spa Europe (www.spaseurope.net/bdh/s-italy_spa_ABANO.htm) offers dozens of places to choose from. The Abano Terme area in northern Italy is home to over 130 thermal spas, formed from residual activity of a nearby dormant volcano. All the hotels that Spas Europe list in the aforementioned region and both nearby Montegrotto Terme have their own onsite physicians and their own thermal waters, with pools both indoors and outdoors. The water is approximately 87 C. The Hotel Vena D'Oro, for example, has a contemporary feel and offers mud and thermal baths (ancient mud, full of organic matter, is good for the joints), massages, water gymnastics and shiatsu. Right now through October 15 they hit high season, with a seven-night package rate available from €598 ($747) and two-week stays cost €1,110 ($1,388). The priciest spot though is the five-star Hotel President, situated on the hill of Montirone and surrounded by a private park. High season runs through October 15, with a weekly rate of €1,181 ($1,476). All taxes and service charges are included as well as two meals per day and twelve treatments per week.