The Soaking Life

The Pursuit of Health, Good Food and Hot Water

Exploring Budapest’s Grandest Spa

We are very pleased to present a guest post by Krisztina Fazekas, a gifted Hungarian photographer whose work we featured in a previous post. You can view more of Krisztina’s  photographs at her website, Erre-Arra

Do you recognize this Budapest spa?

On a day of record high temperatures in Budapest, we decided to visit one of Hungary’s most elegant thermal baths and record our impressions of “the soaking life” in another part of the world.

Soakers of all ages enjoy the balmy outdoor pool

This spa is not just one of the grandest baths in Budapest, but also one of the largest spas in Europe. After viewing six of the baths inside the building, we were soon convinced of that fact—and we hadn’t even visited the whole spa! To satisfy our curiosity, we continued our exploration. We found 15 indoor pools of different sizes, ranging in temperature from 18 to 38 degrees Celsius.

A water exercise class at one of the spa's indoor pools

And which of Budapest’s many thermal baths did we visit? If you haven’t guessed by now, we visited the Széchenyi Baths. Once you pay the entrance fee, you can soak in the pools as much as you’d like.

The operators of the Széchenyi Baths make a great effort to attract the younger crowd, especially during the summer season. On Saturdays the daytime “Uncle” and “Aunt” outdoor swimming pools are transformed into summer party pools where young people love to soak and play. In August, during the famous Sziget Festival, “Islanders” who attend the event get a 20% discount off the Széchenyi entrance fee so that they can cure their hangovers (and get a great tan at the same time).

Spa guests soak indoors under a light-filled dome

During our visit I documented not only scenes from the baths but its signs and textures. Almost all of the buildings of the Budapest medicinal baths are wonderful. Residents of Budapest are proud to say that the building’s baroque facade and its interior atmosphere are among the most beautiful in the world.

We can thank Vilmos Zsigmondy, a mining engineer who used deep drilling technology to tap into Hungary’s hidden geothermal springs, for the existence of the Széchenyi Baths. Designed by Győző Czigler and completed in 1913, the structure reflects a magnificent neo-Classical and neo-Renaissance style. If you didn’t know that the building was a spa, you might mistake the Széchenyi for an ornate castle. To examine the building from the outside is pure excitement as you imagine what’s hidden behind its walls.

An example of the spa's elegant interior architecture

Inside the building, where we spent time relaxing in the indoor pools, you can find saunas and other spa services and treatments. Outside you’ll find a large swimming pool and two leisure pools. A whirlpool corridor, underwater jets, a neck shower and water beam back massage are built into the walls and benches of the leisure pools.

The spa's rejuvenating waters offer refreshment

To nourish our bodies with spa water both inside and out, we went to the aquarium building, which is located in front of the Széchenyi Baths. The attendant in the photo filled our half-liter bottles with deep-healing 76-degree water.

After it had cooled, this geothermal water—which comes from 1,267 meters below the earth’s surface—was a delicacy to drink on an evening of record heat in Budapest.

On the balustrade overlooking the outdoor swimming pool

 All photographs and text copyright Krisztina Fazekas, 2012

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