Winning tip: Free and easy, Finland
Armed only with a towel, a bundle of firewood (in case stocks had run out), a pack of sausages and some spring water (to drink and throw on the stove), I went one evening with my Swedish friends to the tiny, do-it-yourself Sompasauna. Built by volunteers, it’s 15 minutes’ walk from the Kalasatama metro in Sompasaari, Helsinki. Free to use, it’s open day and night all year round and kept spotless. There are no lockers, showers or staff, so it’s real back to nature stuff. After enjoying the sauna, we went for a swim in the Gulf of Finland, then had a convivial barbecue with other visitors.
Georgian splendour, Tbilisi
The old town of Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, has a great selection of traditional sulphur baths. Orbeliani is the most popular, and the beautiful facade of tiled mosaic is a landmark. Inside are private rooms that you can book by the hour. These include hot and cold pools, saunas and showers. You can also get a massage. Rooms cost from €14 an hour, depending on their size and comfort.
Urban cool, Berlin
Close to Potsdamer Platz, Liquidrom-Berlin is a fabulous crown-like space-age structure with various types of sauna (Himalayan, Japanese and Finnish). The floating pool with its underwater ambient music calms the soul immediately as well as helping you to feel really cool. We spent a wintry evening enjoying a break from the hubbub of the city, returning to Potsdamer Platz on the stroke of midnight, refuelled for the night ahead.
• Two hours from €17.50, liquidrom-berlin.de
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Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage
Affordable wallowing, Iceland
Reykjavic’s Laugardalslaug geothermal bath complex is publicly owned and has none of the glamour of nearby tourist versions, but is a fraction of the price (£6). On a bitterly cold February day, my girlfriend I and took a bus there wearing the snug woollen jumpers we had bought when we arrived in Iceland. We shivered between swimming in the big, warm pools and taking turns on the slide. We lay on our backs in the hot shallows while snow swirled in the wind. Friendly Icelanders chatted and laughed in the hot tubs. She agreed to marry me that day, and that place seems like a strange and lovely dream.
Glorious mud, Turkey
30 of the best spas in the UK
Anyone wanting the full Roman baths experience should take a boat trip up the Dalyan Bogazi river in southern Turkey and visit Sultaniye Kaplıcaları on the southern shore of this vast tidal inlet. Here you can set free your inner hippo and wallow in one of the warm sulphuric mud pits before visiting the natural thermal spa room and then finally washing off in the open air pool or simply diving into the inlet itself. All that and a view to die for. Bliss.
• Entry 70p, more as part of boat trip
Making hay, North Yorkshire
My daughter and I visited the new Spa at the Alpamare complex in Scarborough. It was a bargain £25 for a twilight session, which also includes entry to the rest of the complex. The staff were really welcoming and gave us a tour of all the facilities. The hay room was something I’d never experienced before but was so relaxing, as you swing gently on suspended recliners amid scented hay from nearby pastures. We also loved the foam room, and the 90C sauna looking out to sea. A great find during our weekend away; we will definitely return.
Thermal falls, Italy
The ancient hot sulphur springs at Cascate del Mulino in Saturnia, southern Tuscany, are the complete antithesis to a fancy modern spa, and all the better for it. The springs are in a stunning, wooded location amid beautiful hills near Grosseto, and, as you enter the water, there is a powerful sense of participating in a ritual that must have changed little since Roman times. Forget about pampering, but go there for a unique, communal experience. They’re free of charge as well.
Brimstone bubbles, France
20 of the best spas in Europe
The hotel receptionist in Ax-les-Thermes in the Pyrenees handed us a discount voucher for Les Bains du Couloubret in the centre of town. What a discovery! Turkish meets Roman meets municipal baths in the most understated, relaxed atmosphere. Sulphurous, naturally heated waters take the form of swimming pools, whirlpools, waterfalls and spa baths. With inside and outside sections, the rooftop pool offers views of the mountains. A two-hour session costs €18.50. The memories remain for a very long time – as does the faintly sulphurous scent of your bathing attire.
Slides and steam, Lithuania
Akvapark is a water park and hot spring resort in the spa town of Druskininkai, southern Lithuania. It offers swimming pools, slides, saunas of varying temperatures, steam rooms, outside jacuzzis which are great in winter, baths of healing mud and mineral water, massage rooms, relaxation rooms, and much more. This is all set in a picturesque landscape with forests and lakes. A double room at the spa costs from €80 a night, which includes use of the facilities.
Volcanic activity, Azores
After winding through the Azorean countryside (a strange mixture of volcanic and pastoral landscapes, with cows and tea and banana plantations), you reach the Dona Beija thermal pools in Furnas – four beautifully designed pools in a tropical garden. The volcanic islands supply the geothermal energy to heat the restorative spring water, and even though it was raining gently when we went, it couldn’t take away from the magic of the place. We moved from pool to pool, slowly getting into the rhythm of the place, and followed the lead of locals by applying some of the clay to our bodies.
• Adult €6, child €4, pocadonabeija.com
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