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Thermal Waters to Keep You Young

From the heart of the Old Town in Villach, it's a 4km (2 1/2-mile) drive to Warmbad-Villach, a town known for its thermal swimming pools and mineral springs. This spa, on the southern fringe of Villach, is the only place where visitors can swim at the source of the thermal waters, which are supposed to counteract the aging process.

The warm springs at Warmbad were used by the ancient Romans, and there was a road that passed through Warmbad en route to Italy. During the Middle Ages, Villach became a thriving market town.

Beginning with Europe's spa craze in the late 19th century, a handful of spa hotels sprung up around Warmbad-Villach, the first of which was the Kurhotel Warmbaderhof. We've recommended a few spa hotels below.

Hotel Warmbaderhof, Kadischenallée, Warmbad Villach (tel. 04242/30010; fax 04242/30011309; www.warmbad.at), is the largest and most dignified of the hotels that have sprung up near Warmbad's famous springs. Built 200 years ago, and enlarged and modernized since, it boasts a covered passageway leading directly to the town's spa facilities. Set amid gardens in the town center, the hotel offers its own heated swimming pool with a ceiling shaped like a continuous barrel vault, and an angular outdoor pool connected with the indoor pool. The two hotel restaurants serve well-prepared food. Most of the 116 rooms and 12 suites are in a modern wing attached to the establishment's historic core and are conservatively furnished. The double rate is 246€ to 402€ ($394-$643); a suite runs 460€ to 490€ ($73-$784). Rates include half-board, and there's free parking. The hotel is closed 3 to 4 weeks in November and December.

Standing in a large park, Der Karawankenhof, Kadischenallée (tel. 04242/300220; fax 04242/30022061; www.warmbad.at), offers a battery of health and spa facilities. The "bath world," as they call it, consists of whirlpools, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, rapids, a fitness center, a gym, a sauna, massage treatments, and other facilities. The restaurant serves excellent food. This sizable four-star modern hotel, open all year, rents 70 well-furnished rooms and 10 suites; the double rate is 150€ to 184€ ($240-$294) or 216€ ($346) in a suite. Rates include half-board.

Josefinenhof Hotel, Kadischenallée 8 (tel. 04242/30030; fax 04242/30033089; www.warmbad.com), functions as a government-rated four-star hotel with its own spa, fitness, and conference facilities. Although much of this hotel was built in the 1960s, its original core was established in the 1700s as a hospital. Its sun terrace stretches toward the hotel's private park. You can enjoy treatment at the hydrotherapy and beauty center, or partake of a host of health and medical services. The 52 comfortable rooms and nine suites have rows of sun-flooded windows and balconies. Bathrooms are well equipped with robes and hair dryers. The double rate is 135€ ($216). Rates include full board, and there's free parking.

Getting There -- Warmbad, no more than a cluster of buildings on routes heading into Italy, is 4km (2 1/2 miles) south of Villach, and virtually everything in town stems from tourism. A red bus (marked WARMBAD when it goes to Warmbad and BAHNHOF as it heads back to Villach) runs between the towns at 30-minute intervals all day long; the trip takes 10 to 12 minutes. In Villach, the railway station acts as the stop for the red bus, although it stops almost everywhere else in between the towns. There are also trains that come from Villach's main railway station at 30-minute intervals. For information about train schedules and fares, call tel. 05/1717.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.