Hungary has literally been a hot spot of thermal bathing for two thousand years. In Obuda (Old Buda) the ruins of Roman baths can still be seen today.
Baths were already a part of Magyar culture even before the Ottoman Turkish invasion in the early 16th century. Bathing was actually enhanced by the Turks who brought their own designs and philosophy in tapping Hungary’s fertile mineral springs.
After the Turks were forced out, bathing continued to grow in popularity. The Hungarians constructed thermal spa baths that are now known throughout the world. Budapest has rightly been called the “world’s spa capital.”
But it’s not just Budapest the entire nation contains an abundance of “fürdő” (Hungarian for baths) of every imaginable temperature and configuration. These were built with both healing and pleasure seeking in mind. Tucked into a suburb of Miskolc – northern Hungary’s biggest city – is the community of Miskolctapolca.
It contains one of the most unique thermal spa facilities in the whole of Europe. Known as the Cave Bath (Barlangfürdő), it consists of thermal pools set amidst scenic chambers and rocky walls. Bathers soak in the ambience while they recuperate in these soothing waters.
The site’s history dates back to a Greek Orthodox monastery that constructed the first pools, albeit outdoors. Periods of development and neglect followed until Miskolc purchased the site in the early 20th century. The city coveted the site first and foremost as a supply of municipal water.
The springs definitely filled this obligation as even today they supply half of Miskolc’s drinking water. Just before the onset of World War II, a thermal bath was opened on the site, but not within the cave. It would be another twenty years before the cave bath was ready, but when it was, Miskolctapolca became a major attraction.
At the same time, due to heavy industrialization during the socialist era Miskolc became the second largest city in Hungary (today it is fourth) and the baths grew even more popular. New rooms and passageways were opened utilizing warmer waters. Start your bath at 30 C (86 F) then warm all the way up to 36 C (96.8 F).
Stay in the waters (and chambers) as long as you want. Whereas many of the thermal waters in Hungary have a high concentration of salt, the relatively low salt content at Miskolctapolca means it is safe to soak for hours. What a way to relax after traveling through the nearby Bükk Hills.
This amazing complex awaits the weary traveler with delights both below and beyond the surface!
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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