Monday, September 3, 2012

Feel free

Within Europe there are great contrasts in the way hot soaks are regarded and/or experienced. Some countries have managed to transform the natural phenomena into spa's which nowadays only vaguely refer to their natural origins. Other countries have medicalized their waters and restrict their use to 'patients' (see Aquistas).

Spain though, despite it's cultural forwardness in prior times (Romans, Moors, conquistadores) has let many a soak fall into disrepair / neglect. Notes in case are Tiermas, Santa Fe, Hedionda, Alhambra and Arnedillo (Rioja) to name a few.

Included in this listing should be the termas of Bande or as they were known in the Roman time as Aquis Querquennis: a Roman camp with an adjacent thermae. And such is the wish of the local tourism office, they would like the name to stick; but Bande is much more easier to pronounce (and spell) ...

Termas de Bande or Baños de Bande are located in Ourense province, along the Conchas reservoir on upper reaches of the Rio Lima

Background info in English on these soaks is scarce, so we'll have to make do with what's available in Spanish (or Galician) and pray google translate is able to come up with something remotely understandable.
A good point to start with an internet search is the blog site of Las Termas de Bande. Oddly, it only contains two entries which does not help us much, as well as the rather short text. A summary: better in winter, it's then quieter and there's a lower level in the adjacent reservoir?

More pictures from the termas while the reservoir levels are lower on this blog published in Portuguese.

More info comes with assistance of the all-natural soakers. Lugaresnaturistas has an entry on Bande termas. Noting it's temperature of 40C, it adds:
 '... you can sunbathe in the most naturalist, because nobody looks at anyone here and the feeling of freedom is full'. 
Or as this website puts it, au-naturel bathing is habitual:
'En las termas la mayor parte de la gente toma los baños desnuda ya que es algo habitual y luego, como zona de playa, está las proximidades a estas termas'.

Down stream
Downstream of Bande hot springs closer to the border with Portugal are the hot springs of Torneiros and the Lobios Caldaria thermal spa resort.
Starting with the former, this 85 rooms, 4 star resort features a hot spring and belongs to the Caldaria concern:
'The Thermal Spa has two entries one directly to the hotel and one that connects with the exterior. The treatments follow the line of those of Thermal Spa Laias Caldaria**** and Arnoia Caldaria***.
The water is hyperthermal, with low mineralization, bicarbonate soda, chlorate, and it appears with a spring temperature of 77,1º Celsius, and can be drank or used topically after being submitted to a naturally cooling process. The Riocaldo river waters are specially indicated for chronically digestive problems, respiratory and rheumatic affections, skin problems and dieresis cures. Besides that its specific characteristics make them ideal for the development of aesthetic treatments and Stress cures. The Thermal Spa is divided is two floors: in the upper floor one can find the hydro therapy techniques. In order to increase the communication among our clients, we made a Termarium, a place where different group techniques can be developed – dry and moister heat cabins, aromatic showers, tonus massage, jacuzzi, relax thermal spa swimming pool and warm couches. At the Termarium we reproduce ancient techniques that were commonly used by the Romans. In this floor we also have the inside thermal spa swimming pool, equipped with swan neck jets, underwater jets and a marvelous view over the Xurés Natural Park mountains.
In the lower floor there’s a quiet ambience for a correct use of the mass therapy and aesthetics. Besides the massage and aesthetics rooms our clients can also find a small gymnasium where physiotherapy techniques can be developed as well as physical exercise tabs (bicycle, mechanical walking, etc…)'.
Objectively, this resort scores a 7.8 on, garnered from 28 reviews; heed that tripadvisor's reviewers are less enthusiastic.

Torneiros looks like a great natural soak. A couple of pics from this blog. More extensive is this Portuguese website.....

  'A piscina e as termas'.
More info on the surroundings of the Bande termas.
There is quite a bit of info on Aquis Querquennis (AQ). Mostly in Spanish and focussed on the non-soak site, there is still quite a bit of info both on the history as well as current conditions of the hot spring. Why the camp here? According to
'The place was chosen because it’s an easy place to access, with pastures, big amount of firewood and thermal springs'. 
Other data are the origins (around the year 0) and the fact that the archaeological digs started in 1975.

The camp site reminders

Originally there was a village in the reservoir, Baños de Bande was submerged in 1947 (source).
Access to the hot springs and archeological site is very straightforward, highway OU-540 which goes straight from Bande to the Portuguese border. There is an official website concerning the Aquis camp remains and museuem.

So my personal experiences ...
Coming from Bande, in the hamlet of Portoquintela there's a turn down a narrow alley which after 200m opens up to a broad street. To your right is a good (snack)bar, left a cobble stone street heading to the AQ museum and ahead is a treelined parking space. The museum is a very flash affair, free entry though.

Despite the emphasis of the museum of the roman camp, two signs on the entrance door sufficiently emphasize that the visitors are mostly coming for the hot springs. One sign reads 'aguas de banõ de calidade insuficiente' (bathing water of insufficient quality) the other 'recoméndáase non bañarse' (recommended not to bathe). We shall see ...


Inside the museum, are a great amount of halls dedicated to the archaeological finds further down the street. In all, it certainly provides tremendous heaps of info, if only I could read Spanish ....

So after the museum (we were 'forced' to follow the complete tour by the singular lady at the reception. Despite being the only visitors, ambling randomly was not an option!)
Where was I? So after the museum, down the street, towards the reservoir, where the Roman camp once existed. Continuing from the camp site remains onwards one comes to ruins of a Roman villa and then the hot springs themselves, located at the top of an inlet of the reservoir.

The Roman villa. Far side is where the hot springs are ...

There's separate access here, a few locals were checking out the scene, having a soak or setting up camp themselves, it was a Sunday after all.


So despite all the warnings locals keep soaking ...

On my visit, most of the sources were submerged, rendering them mostly lukewarm soaks in the otherwise chilly reservoir. One source though was not submerged and was very hot and afforded a great soak.

Author mentally preparing himself for ensuing soak (or adjusting the feet to the temps ...)

Termas de Bande, a great place to feel free(dom) and soak.

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