Friday, November 2, 2012

Train of soaks

Where are the origins of the soaks of Miño? 
Spa City
Many cities and larger towns around the globe have made a name due to the fortitude of having ample natural thermal bathing waters. Think Beppu (Japan), Rotorua (New-Zealand), Budapest (Hungary), Vichy (France), Baden-Baden (Germany) and Laguna (Philippines).

Added to the list should be Ourense. Located in the interior of Spain's northwestern comunidad autónoma of Galicia (Galizia), Romans decided to settle here for it afforded a wadable place on the Rio Miño and there existed a thermal spring or two. 

Nowadays Ourense is a provincial capital with lots of office workers. Tourism is of marginal importance.

But that shouldn't be the case. With the increasing popularization of the so-called wellness industry, Ourense has on offer a smorgasbord of soakable sites. Some websites, do refer to Ourense as the spa city
'Imagine taking a dip in a large open-air thermal bath, by day or night, any time of year, in water with a temperature of over 40 degrees centigrade, and right beside the Miño river. All this can be experienced in Ourense, a city with a hidden underground ocean with five spa areas to enjoy for free, and where you can even see the mineral and medicinal waters bubbling out of the rock. A total privilege for your health and wellbeing. You can also visit private Japanese-style spa centres (like Zen temples) and relax with seaweed- and chocolate-based beauty treatments. And to make it even more convenient, you can also explore this area (a circuit of about four kilometres) by taking the Spa Train. And right in the historic centre, make time for a visit to the Fuente de las Burgas spring, where mineral and medicinal waters bubble up to the surface at a temperature of 67 degrees centigrade, and where the ancient Romans dedicated an altar to the water nymphs'.
Tripadvisor has only three things to do in the city, no.'s 1 and 2 are visits to free soaks; no. 3 the local cathedral ...
Smack in the center of town are the springs of As Burgas. Ourense's official tourism site:
'The current layout of the spring is the result of various works that followed from the 17th century up to the present day. In the garden of the lower part you will find the "Burga de Abajo" (lower Burgo), a Neoclassical style fountain dating from the middle of the 19th century. Some steps take you up to an esplanade with a pond and two recent works of sculpture. In the upper part you will find the "Burga de Arriba" (Upper Burgo), a fountain dating from the 17th century'.
Despite the prominence it has in the city's history and location in the center of the city, there's surprisingly little info available on the web. The most noteworthy among them is of course the Wikipedia page dedicated to As Burgas, alas in Spanish. After applying Google translate, one learns the additional:
  • Water temperatures vary between 64 and 68 degrees centigrade.
  • Flow rates are 300 ltr per minute. 
  • The origin of the name:  
'some authors may come from the Celtic "beru" meaning hot, but the most accepted etymology indicating their origin from the Latin "burqa" which means stack, referring to the bathrooms used by the Romans as spas'.
  • In 1975 one of the springs dried up after nearby construction work.
The Galician wikipedia entry adds the addition of a pool in 2010. 


After traversing the inner city of Ourense we finally came upon As Burgas right in front of the city tourism office. The water is indeed scalding and on this hot midday there's nobody taking any interest in the wall-encapsulated fountains. 
Surprisingly it's only now that I discover the existence of the pool. It even has it's own web site (in Galician). The bath is located above the springs on the other side of the square.

Just downstream of Ourense city (in a not so particular nice stretch of Spanish surburbia), the city has done itself a favour by developing the Ruta Termal. The banks of both sides of the Miño river have been beautified with a path stretching from the Ribeiriño bridge to the futuristic Ponte de Outariz. 

Besides the above mentioned spa train (all aboard!) there is also the possibility to cycle the route. At various locations there are bicycles available for hire (see photo below)

Coming from town the first hot spring one comes across is that of Chavasqueira. 

As it's close to town it functions as one of the city's most frequented soak. It's hard to resist a visit to this soaking site: expansive lawns have attracted many a sun-seeker with the added bonus of having the possibility to use the hot spring pools as well as refreshing in the river itself. 
Despite this being a week-day the soaks are busy and the surroundings account for many visitors enjoying the sun. The facilities are clean and there are even guardians on duty. 
Such is the attraction of the place that one would have problems leaving ... 

Pools, sun worshippers, the river and (in yellow) the guardians.
It's not only my opinion. Take for instance the tripadvisor entry, which sees Chavasqueira earn 4.5 stars based on more than 50 reviewers. Spain's ABC publication reckons it is one the countries top 10 natural swimming pools.

Directly above the free pools are the Japanese hot spring pools, named Termas Chavasqueira or Ourense Spa. Sourced from the same springs, considerable effort has been made to somehow attract visitors who might not vouch for the free facilities, 20m away! Hardly expensive (@ €3,80 for 30 minutes), much has been done to conjure up an oriental setting, though the traditional Japanese naked communication has not been copied; amusingly the ladies sunning in front at the public soaking facilities are less dressed! 
The facilities maintain an active blog

Nothing like a touch of bamboo
Continue downstream for about 300m one comes to the Tinteiro springs. Here considerable effort has been made to produce foot baths, though they seem not to be in working fashion alas. There is though one hand pump which can pump up hot spring water.

On the website of termasourense there is a good photographic overview of the site. Note also that the parking area nearby is a much frequented haunt of camping cars.

Informative signs with pictures from before the improvements. Text reads:
'It is said to have universal healing properties and is one of Ourense's most visited springs. It surroundings have been improved by the Town Hall, firstly in collaboration with the Florendo Álvarez Foundation and later with the support of the European Union as part of the integrated restoration of the right river bank.
Classification: Mesothermal waters, weak mineralization, alkali, sulphurous, lithia, fluoride, silica.
Slightly radioactive.
Flow rate 0,02 l/s.
Temperature 44.9C'.

Flip flops
We made it as far as here. Temperatures were up and back at the car a cranky teenager was waiting. 

However if one continues the next soak is the free to all Pozas do Muiño das Veigas. Closer to the river are 4 larger pools.

 'Termas 3' 
Posted by flickr member majorshots.  The Muiño das Veigas soaks looking good. Note temperatures are 65-72C!

Directly beyond are the Termas de Outariz (Facebook page, blog), another entrance fee required private soaking facility, again in Japanese style. Also known as Outariz Onsen they certainly deserve a visit, if not already spoilt for choice. Again tripadvisor is very positive. A blog report:
 'We paid our 5€ each and got our flip flops, towel and locker rentals and walked into the Termas de Outariz for a relaxing soak in the hot water. That was exactly what we got. It was wonderful and the sun was shining which really helped getting into a bathing suit in February. Japanese-inspired, with numerous styles of tubs and soaking areas, made it a great experience. There was the soaking cave, a good number of waterfalls, really shallow pools, individual tubs, huge massage jets and a sauna. Some tubs were definitely more hot than others and one was even too hot'.
Photos of Termas de Outariz, Ourense
 This photo of Termas de Outariz is courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Continuing downstream and beyond the iconic Pasarela de Outariz bridge are the pools named Pozas Outariz e Burgas de Canedo. Or commonly known Outariz again ...

The Purple Backpacker had this experience there:
'The springs themselves were wonderful, though a bit more regulated than I prefer. They are also clothing non-optional, which is no problem but a bit weird. Having grumpy people give you a discreet death glare for talking is less than ideal. And I managed to incur the wrath of the management by not wearing flip-flops. Hint: I don’t own any, they didn’t fit in my suitcase.  Of course, the fact that I slipped and bashed my knee on a rock didn’t really help my case when I was confronted by the guard-guy'.
From the bridge

Crossing this bridge and heading back towards town one will come by the Fonte de Reza, a small spring with water spouting at just above 30C.

This sort of sums up what is arguably one of Europe's premier soaking sites. With luck the whole upmarket wellness industry can be kept at arms length, certainly one of the best experiences of Ourense are the free for all hot pools!

Elsewhere in the province, there are a number of other hot springs to be discovered, some delightfully absent from development (see for instance the post on Bande). Others might give a quality experience for those in need: Termas Prexigueiro, Caldas de Partovia and Lobios Caldaria,

Euro soaks visited