If you’ve been to Budapest then maybe you visited Széchenyi thermal baths; but did you know that with over 1,000 hot springs, Hungary boasts more medicinal spas than any other European country? What’s more, it even has a natural thermal lake – Lake Hévíz.
Hévíz (translated: thermal) is a naturally warmed lake only a two-hour drive from Budapest. It is said that 410 litres of water pump out every second from a spring 38m deep, completely replenishing the lake over a 72-hour period. The water reaches over 30°c in the summer and never drops below 23°c in winter, so Hévíz is warm enough to bathe in year round.
Their website says that the lake is rich in carbonic acid, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, and hydrogen carbonate, a thermal composition long believed to have medicinal properties.
A spa town has developed around Hévíz, with construction around the lake beginning in 1795; and the natural phenomenon has catered to a range of medical needs ever since. Built atop the lake, an 18th Century wooden bathhouse enables easy access down ladders leading directly into the warm waters. There are even mechanical chairlifts to lower those who are not mobile into the water. Amongst its facilities the Hévíz spa boasts hydrotherapy, movement therapy, a weight bath, medicinal mud, and a range of spa treatments.
If you want to bathe all you need is a towel, a pair of flip-flops, and a rubber ring. Top tip: take a bathrobe, rather than a towel. You will appreciate it! I took my parents on a day in September when there was enough of a chill in the air to make you feel cold getting out of the water.
Upon arrival you can choose what type of ticket to buy. I opted for a 4-hour pass. You receive a rubber wristband that looks like a watch. This is an automated pass that allocates and operates your locker inside. You can also use it to keep a regular time-check by swiping it at the machines placed all around the complex. Cubicles inside the changing rooms allow privacy for people not used to Europe’s unisex changing areas.
Swimming in the lake is a strange experience. Firstly, the sulphurous water emits an egg-like odour (significantly stronger in the indoor section), which gave me a headache early on – although I did stop noticing it after a while. Secondly, you can expect to feel some weeds underfoot and you will swim amongst lily pads. Informative signs explain that amongst the lake’s wildlife you might find fish and other pond-life, but I did not see or feel any of these.
Although these things don’t sound particularly pleasant, you’ll forget them once you sink into the surprisingly silky warm water and feel your aches and pains dissolving away. Because the lake is very deep, you will not be able to put your feet down; this is where a rubber ring is a useful thing to have with you – don’t worry about looking daft, everybody else will have them too! The lake manages a consistent temperature, so you can swim all around without worrying about losing the warm spots! If you want to raise the temperature a little, go inside where you can swim directly above the source where the water is hotter.
Amongst its other facilities, you will find a few kiosks selling fast food (think large sausages and fried potatoes), cafes, and a bar for beers or a glass of wine. On hot summer days you can take a lounger and relax on the sun terraces. It is easy to while away the hours at Hévíz.
As a designated wellness spa town, there is plenty on offer outside the lake too. There are many massage salons, plenty of souvenir shops, and coffee shops displaying cases of beautiful cakes. Those with a sweet tooth should try local marzipan products, which includes a yummy marzipan liquor. Of course, you must try traditional Hungarian goulash in any of the restaurants.
Visiting Hévíz is a unique experience and well-worth making the effort to visit.
I’d love to hear what you have to say about Hévíz! Have you been? Would you like to go? Have you been to any other thermal lakes? Please leave a comment below!