Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nature understood

Confusion
Something that never seems to bore me is the variety of bathing fashions applied by the globe's population. Some have evolved through the ages, adjusted to fashions and require some forehand knowledge. Others are rather straightforward and seem to ignore standard health issues.

Myself a natural bathing enthusiast if available or possible I tend to adjust if required (though reluctantly) and the experience is always lesser especially if the logic for non-naturalness is far from, well logic itself.

But that's me.

As enthusiastic as I am, note be that bathing in Europe is very different, varying from type of bath to country-wise to local custom, whereas in some cases it's up to the individual him/herself.

And this seems to confuse. Europeans themselves. And non-Euro's. For instance why are beaches in France liberal, but sauna's often not? Why are Greeks prude but their beaches a haven of freedom? Why are Dutch beaches conservative but their wellness sector often freedom loving?
'N'allez surtout pas croire qu'on allait se baigner nu comme des hippies dans des sources chaudes. De toute facon la photo est floue alors y a pas de preuve que c'est nous'.
French surprise at freer Greek (soaking) spirits. Source
So many questions ...

Trauma
Starting this blog intermezzo off is a report. The icelandweatherreport (Nov. 5). It has an entry on the public institution of Icelandic public and payable hot springs: having to take a public shower, naked, prior to taking the waters (clothed!). 
Note we are talking about gender-segregated showers. So what is the issue?
Apparently Iceland habits require a soaker to be 'clean' before taking the waters. Not so strange. 
And this requires a naked shower. Not so strange.

Unless of course your social setting differs. Excerpt:
'Here in Iceland we are so used to showering naked among strangers at the swimming pool that we think absolutely nothing of it. We’re brought up with it, and most of us have been doing so since before we can remember. And obviously the reasoning behind it is pretty basic – we want our pools, which most of us like to visit regularly, to be clean and to stay clean'.
And the way to ensure this Icelandic basic bathing rule is to have the pool guards check out the showers every now and then to make sure the foreigner adheres! But locals will do the same seemingly making the simple process of showering naked (if already daunting) something to put off the more prudish foreigner. 
The report also refers to a Icelandic language video on the subject which has some interviews with Americans. Quotes on the practice of public gender segregated naked showers: uncomfortable & shocking.

German wholeheartedness at Icelandic natural Hrungalaug hot spring. 
Note that only commercial and more visited (by foreign tourists) hot springs require bathing couture. Source
 
On the same issue (Icelandic hot spring showers), another take from 4 worn passports (Oct. 25):
'When we walked into the locker room, I tried to stare straight ahead. It was hard to look for a locker because every time you glanced around, gaggles of naked woman would be undressing. We eventually found a clothed lady that was friendly enough to tell us what to do. When we found a locker, we undressed and wrapped our towels around ourselves, unlike everyone else. We then made our way to the open showers. No curtains or closed stalls of any kind. But luckily, there were three stalls, sadly without curtains, that we snagged as opposed to open showering.
You could feel the Icelanders and the other Europeans, who were accustomed to this, entertainingly watching our uncomfortableness. After washing ourselves, we made a mad dash for our swimsuits and slipped them on over our wet bodies. With relief, I realized our traumatic Icelandic locker room experience was over'.
Smariorganics (Nov. 7) chips in on the first:
'Icelanders love swimming. They do a lot of it. If you go and visit Iceland, and if you get to experience life as the locals do for a bit, you’ll likely encounter opportunities to take a dip at a local swimming pool. But do not forget to take a shower beforehand. And we don’t mean that brief rinse-off kind of shower that you Americans do at the swimming pool or beach. No, we don’t mean rinse your toes or twirl once beneath the shower head.  We mean:  fill your palm with soap and lather yourself head to toe.  We mean:  remove your bathing suit.  We mean:  be naked, and scrub the areas of your body that sweat the most and grow hair. We’re serious–look at the sign in the shower and you’ll see:  genitals, arm pits, and scalps must be washed!'


Aprons
In Hungary things seem to be adjusting to the rise and rise of tourism. And conservatism. Tourist induced conservatism.
From earlier this year is Gellert Spa (Budapest, Hungary) announcement that their famous lack of dress code has changed:
'The Dress Code in Gellert Spa has recently changed when the thermal baths has turned into a mixed spa bath complex on January 01, 2013. Before Jan 2013, men and women had separate thermal pools, so guests were often nude, or just wearing an apron'. 
A step back? Or how to entice more commercialism?

Coward
An American in Poland. And a salt cavern. Question mark. 
Well nothing out of the ordinary but the author (Sep. 8) combines this with a visit to Termy Maltanskie.
'For slightly more than $29 I could spend the entire day wandering between the traditional Turkish Bath, rose steam bath, salt-water bath, aromatic steam bath with fragrance oils, dry sauna, stone sauna, a snow cave, and Roman Bath cold plunges, among others. In the dressing room I climbed into my bikini and headed for the first sauna. Just as I was abut to open the door I noted a illustration of a bikini-clad woman with a red circle around it and a slantwise slash through the picture. “Oh, this one must be a nude sauna,” I thought, and moved to the next one. But the same sign was posted at the second door, and the next one.  Puzzled, I looked around and realized that the other customers, both men and women, were clad only in towels.
I headed back to the check-in desk and the attendant confirmed my suspicions – the entire facility was nude and co-ed, except for Mondays, which were reserved for women only. Of course, it was Wednesday. What to do? It only took a split second to decide. “Lord hates a coward.” I returned to the dressing room, shed the bikini, and joined the towel-clad throng. By the time I’d tried out the second sauna the only time I wore the towel was moving between the different rooms'.
So no worries in the end.

Czech freedom tasting in the eaux chaudes of Prats Balaguer, France Source

Mimicry
Meanwhile in Germany. Another spa experience. Au naturel.
Ianandebe (Nov 17) got naked with Germans:
'In general , I love German's ability to strip just about anywhere. They treat the human body as if it were nothing more than what it is - a helpful and sometimes attractive tool to walk the earth. (Versus the American view that our bodies are nasty dirty sin-seekers that must be covered lest we lose our immortal souls AT ALL TIMES.) I may not love walking around nude in unfamiliar situations (hello showing a room full of German patients and doctors my nude bottom-half), but I admire the German stoicism and do my best to mimic it (even when I am dying on the inside).
When we entered the spa complex we had no idea what to expect. We tried some weak water foot massages things and generally wandered around, still in swimsuits with towels. When we saw our first nude hot tub with a saggy full moon being submerged, we realized what was happening here. Ohhhh! This is the nude area.
We didn't plan on sharing our bodies with others for the first time on our anniversary - we aren't that interesting. But when the opportunity arose to do so with little fanfare, I figured public nudity was a way better gift to ourselves than fruit, flower or appliances'.
Fact of the matter Europe sees different attitudes towards bathing and bathing naked. Note the more remote and the more wild the higher acceptability of clothing optional. Payable soaking sites might require clothing but not if there is separate wellness area. 

Also note that what makes travel so rewarding is it's ability to show us that the world is varied and it never seeks to show us that thinking outside of our own box is rewarding. And challenging ...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

N for natural

With the year drawing to an end it's hard not to draw a conclusion after searching for 18 months for great and natural soaks in Europe. 

I would like to say that Europe is home to the best soaking in the world, with naturalness listed high on Eurosoakers list. But ... it's not.

What has happened? Over the centuries hot springs have fallen victim to the upper echelons of European society. Natural occurring springs have been developed into exclusive retreats hoping to offer the affluent an elixir to possible eternal life. Wake-up call: there's none.

No, despite all medical claims and the overt medicalization, hot springs in Europe are still just a side-line to a healthy life. In the process of medicalization, the spiritual life has been sacrificed. healthy mind, healthy body?

Now soaking is available to all, leading to question whether hot springs are just a gimmick in the leisure and wellness industries?

'Baño nudista en el nacimiento de aguas termales de El Saladillo'
Spain. Source.

Naturally there are exceptions. And it seems that these are more often then not to be found on the rims of what Europe is. Greece, Italy, Spain and Iceland for instance.

Should hot springs be natural? 
Yes. Maintaining the heat is not so difficult thereby offering more the access to natural sources of aqua heat with there being bodily and spiritual advantages. 
And enjoying these au-naturel offers more opportunity for deep thought, which assists the spiritual reflection and stepping out of the info age based on an imaginary and fantasy world which everyone seems to pine for. A time. Out.

Can the tide be turned? Let's hope so.

With some trepidation I publish the following: natural soaks, some ancient others to be enjoyed naturally. Open to free air. Without chlorine. And mostly free of charge.

Let's hope the list can expand in the years forward!

Albania
  •  Gjirokastër: Benja (natural)
Armenia
  • Azrakan (ramshakle)
  • Hanqavan/Hankavan (enclosed, still quite primitive bathing place)
  • Karvachar (free and natural) 
  • Sisian: Vorotan (little enhanced, free)
Austria
  • Kärnten: Maibachl, Villach (seasonal, natural)
Bosnia
  • Ilidza (small free pool, somewhat enhanced)
Bulgaria
  • Blagoevgrad: Rupite (free, natural)
  • Varna (beachside pool, fee paying)
Croatia
  • Varaždinske Toplice (Roman remains, soaking attributes?)
Czech Republic
  • Ústí nad Labem: Teplice (natural)
France
  • Ariege: Merens Les Vals (free, natural)
  • Auvergne: La Bourboule (free, enhanced riverside tub)
  • Cantal: Chaude Aigues (many streetside fountains)
  • Corsé: Sartene - Caldane (small fee, little enhanced pool) 
  • Hautes-Alpes: Plan de Phazy (warm spring, free, open air)
  • Languedoc: Bain de Saint Thomas (fee-paying, outside, enhanced (not really wild))
  • Languedoc: Bains de Dorres (fee-paying, outside site)
  • Languedoc: Canaveilles (see below for an impression!)
  • Languedoc: Les Bains de Llo (fee-paying, outside)
  • Languedoc: Prats Balaguer (free, no development, truly wild)
  • Pays-Basque: Gamere / Camou (free, cave entrance)
Bains de Canaveilles, source

Georgia
  •  Borjomi (open-air concrete pool)
  •  Tbilisi (many ancient but still functioning sulphur soaks)
Greece
  • Central Greece: Evia-Epidos (small fee, beach hotspring)
  • Central Greece: Thermopylae (free, faded development)
  • Chios: Agia Markelle (beach hot spring)
  • Drama: Termies (free, little enhancement)
  • Edessa: Loutra Pozar (fee-payment, open-air some wild)
  • Ikaria: Loumakia (free, beachside)
  • Ikaria: Agia Kyriaki (beach hot spring)
  • Kavala: Eleftheron (free, faded development)
  • Kea: Kynthos - Thermia (ancient / enhanced)
  • Kos: Agios Fokas (beach hot spring)
  • Kos: Agia Irini (beach hot spring)
  • Kos: Nisyros - Avlaki (beach hot spring)
  • Lemnos (Limnos):  Agiasma (enhanced with mud bath)
  • Lesvos: Eftalou (enhanced, ancient)
  • Lesvos: Panagia (free, bath tub)
  • Lesvos: Loutra Geras (fee-paying, ancient)
  • Lesvos: Polychnitos
  • Milos: Ta Bania (little enhanced)
  • Milos: Lutra Lukkou (enhanced)
  • Milos: Paleochori (beach hot spring)
  • Milos: Tria Pigadia (beach hot spring)
  • Milos: Kimolos - Prasa (fee, enhanced)
  • Samotharki: Therma (free, little enhanced)
  • Samotharki: Pigi Frikion (free, wild)
  • Samotharki: Pigi Podoloutron (fee, open-air)
  • Santorini: Palea (free, wild, only reachable by boat)
  • Santorini: Plaka (free, little enhanced)
  • Serres: Agistro (ancient)
  • Xanthi: Termes (free, older development, newer facilities also available)

 Eleftheron

Hungary
  • Heves: Egerszalók (salt mountain with fee paying open air pools, maybe not so natural)
  • Northern Hungary: Miskolctapolca (fee-paying hot spring cave)
  • Zala: Heviz (fee paying, natural hot spring lake)
Iceland
  • East: Laugarfell (small natural pool)
  • Northeast: Ostakarið (tub with natural thermal water)
  • Northeast: Hólsgerði (small hot pool) 
  • Northwest: Biskupslaug (natural small pool)
  • Northwest: Hveraborg (natural pool, free)
  • Northwest: Grettislaug (stone lined pool) 
  • Northwest: Reykjavellir (small natural hot pool)
  • Reykjanes: Skátalaug (natural pool)  
  • Snaefellsnes: Landbrotalaug (natural small tub, free)
  • South: Seljavellir (natural swimming pool fed by hot spring, free)
  • Southeast: Hveravellir (natural pool, free) 
  • Southwest: Gunnuhver (geothermal plant overflow, free)
  • Southwest: Hveragerði (natural warm river) 
  • Southwest: Marteinslaug (natural pool, free) 
  • Southwest: Rjúpnabrekkur / Rekjaladur (hot river, varios soakable places) 
  • Southwest: Sundlaug (natural hot spring pool)   
  • West: Grafarlaug (swimming pool with warmish water)
  • Westfjords: Drangsnes (open air hot tubs)
  • Westfjords: Hellulaug (small hot pool) 
  • Westfjords: Hörgshlíð (small hot tub)
  • Westfjords: Nautaeyri (natural small pool)
  • Westfjords: Pollarin (small tub)
  • Westfjords: Reykjafjörður (large pool, free)
'Rjúpnabrekkur, wasserfallbaedli'
  
Italy
  • Calabria: Caronte (free, wild, slightly enhanced, spa overflow)
  • Calabria: Grotte delle Ninfe (warmish developed springs with mud and original hot water cave)
  • Campania: Ischia - Nitrodi (hot showers, but expensive!)
  • Campania: Ischia - Sant'Angelo (fumarole on the beach)
  • Campania: Ischia - Sorgeto (beach hot spring)
  • Lazio: Castelforte - Suio (pools)
  • Lazio: Viterbo - Il Bagnaccio (free, slightly enhanced)
  • Lazio: Viterbo - Bullicame (free and wild)
  • Lombardy: Bormio - La Pozza (small, wild riverside soak)
  • Piemonte: Craveggia (ruins, but with a soak)
  • Sicily: Aeoli, Vulcano - Fanghi di Vulcano (small fee, open air geothermal hot spring with hot spring off-shore)
  • Sicily: Aeoli, Lipari - San Calogero (free, very small pool)
  • Sicily: Pantelleria - Bagno Asciutto (free, sauna cave)
  • Sicily: Pantelleria - Gadir (beachside thermal pool)    
  • Sicily: Pantelleria - Venere lake (free mildly warm large lake with lots of thermal mud!) 
  • Sicily: Terme di Segesta (open air sulphur stream)
  • Toscana: Bagni di Lucca (enhanced /r uins?)
  • Toscana: Bagni di San Filippo (free use of hot stream)
  • Toscana: Bagni di Petriolo 
  • Toscana: San Casciano (concrete pool)
  • Toscana: Saturnia (fee-paying, natural) 
  • Toscana: Vignoni (lake, enhanced, but no usage?; but some free usage possible)


Saturnia. Source

Macedonia
  • Debar - Banjiste (possible still undeveloped with a few sources)
  • Smokvica (free shower at pipe head)
  • Stip, Novo Stelo - Ldzi (low flow hot spring, drinking only?)
  • Strumica, Bansko - Parilo (hot pipe, no bathing, byo?)
Portugal
  • Azores: Graciosa-Termas do Carapacho (geothermal seaside pool)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Caldeira Velha (natural pool)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Caldeiras da Ribeira Grande (small open air pool)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Furnas (free and natural)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Poça da Dona Beija (free concrete pool)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Ponta Ferraria (small hot pool bay in Atlantic)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Termas da Ferraria (free and natural)
  • Azores: São Miguel-Terra Nostra (natural pool)
  • Azores: Flores-Agua Quente (remote and wild)
'Caldeira veiha - Natural warm water (30 C degrees). AZores'

Romania
  • Caras: Baile Herculane (small open air pool, possibly free?)
Serbia
  • Jošanice Banja (a few less developed and freely available springs)
  • Knjaževačka (warm water stream, freely available)
  • Lukovska Banja (a few free concrete outdoor tubs with muddy thermal water)
  • Sokobanja (ancient hamam)
  • Zdrelo (pipehead shower; not very natural) 
Slovakia
  • Sklené Teplice (cave bath seems natural ...)
Spain
  • Cantabria: La Hermida (free, natural, riverside pool)
  • Castellon: Montanejos (free, riverside pool, 25C)
  • Granada: Alhama de Granada (free, spa overflow)
  • Granada: Alicun (free, spa overflow) 
  • Granada: Santa Fe (free, wild)
  • Malaga: Casares, La Hedionda (free, ancient)
  • Murcia: Saladillo / Mazzaron (free, wild) 
  • Ourense: Bande (free, wild)
  • Ourense: Chavasqueira (free, enhanced)
  • Ourense: Pozas do Muiño das Veigas (free, enhanced)
  • Ourense: Ribadavia (free, natural)
  • Ourense: Tinteiro (free footbaths)
  • Ourense: Torneiros (enhanced) 
  • Rioja: Arnedillo (free, natural, riverside)
  • Teruel: Ariño (22C, free, enhanced)
  • Valancia: Ontiyent (not even warm, but very natural)
  • Zaragosa: Alhama de Zaragoss (hot lake?)
  • Zaragosa: Tiermas, Yesa (free, wild, dependent on lake levels, great mud)
 Santa Fe: wild and free, but so natural as you wish ... Source

Ukraine
  • Crimea: Arabat (open air, little enhanced, fee payment required)
If you know any others feel free to contact me!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Exposure

Feels like home
Naked bodies are everywhere. Yes, that's what you get when you visit Thermae 2000 on a sans vêtements day! Logical, isn't it?

The large pool which traverses from an inside basin along a canal to a large outside relax and whirl tub from where one can swim back to the start contains a 100 hundred or more of the aforementioned bodies. 
Below on the terraces overlooking the drop to the town of Valkenburg (Netherlands) are also pretty busy with bodies clothed in their birthday suits soaking up the sun. 
And beyond in the adjacent sauna complex where nudity is nearly always obligatory there are ..., well ..., more natural bodies.

This home of hedonism though is temporary, only twice a month does the management of Thermae 2000 allow soakers the ability of an all-natural soak. Other days suits are required with exception of the sauna section. There nakedness is obligatory and afterwards when one wants a swim it's back into your soggy and chilly swimmers!
Note though that every Tuesday the prudes take over, with suits de rigeur everywhere on the complex, sauna included. Apparently this appeals more to the youth!?

It is busy and it does seem to be the case on the naked days, though the non-naked days also have their addicts, so says the Thermae 2000 receptionist. Guessing from the array of assorted tan-lines these are not all customers who practice a natural sun-bath commonly. 
Then there is also the bathrobe brigade who seem to only drop their clothing guard in the brief meters between clothes hook and the pool and feel quite awkward.
So maybe not every one is up to date with today's dress code.

Naturally,  I am completely at comfort with the lack of clothes which enables one to enjoy the thermal waters as nature intended it to be. 

But, as much as this lifts me spiritually, Thermae 2000 is still a mass of steel and cement with no proof of it's natural source. Can this be regarded as a natural soak at all? Hmmm.

Going Dutch
Thermae 2000 is one of the just three natural thermal baths of Holland. Spread along the east of the country (bordering Germany), the northernmost thermal spring are the baths of Nieuweschans; centrally is the Sanadrome of Nijmegen and Valkenburgs Thermae 2000 in the south. 

Nieuweschans has little or no historic reference but Nijmegen as well as Valkenburg trace in some way their soaks back to the Roman times.

In Valkenburgs case archaeological finds of a nearby ancient Roman bath house are to be seen in the Thermen museum of Heerlen. The collection also displays other artefacts from the same period. Note though that the bathhouse had no natural hot water. So no historical connection?

Dating from 1989 Thermae 2000 draws it's waters from a depth of 380m; so not a real naturally occurring hot spring, quelle surprise. The temperature of the water pumped is 33 degrees (source).

Thermae 2000's own web site adds:
'Thermae 2OOO is built on three sources. The healthy water that comes from these sources has been protected from the meteorological cycle around 40.000 years. This means that the water has not been exposed to contaminants. The thermal water from the inside and outside pools has a special beneficial effect on body and mind and it invites the body to relax optimally'.
The Dutch website adds little more on the subject. 
Photography is forbidden and this strict policy is followed through: 
this photo is from the Thermae's own website.

Experience
But there are some draw backs to Thermae 2000:
* Parking fees are €12,50 which seems a bit hefty (but the all the more reason to switch to a push bike, the surroundings are great places to whizz around; beware though of the climb up out of Valkenburg!). 
* Entrance fee is also another €31,50 for a day pass, no counting by hours, though if only for a morning or evening cheaper options are available.

Inside the lay-out of the pools is far from clear. The sauna complex seems not so clean with quite a lot of standing water. And there´s a constant shift of persons coming in, going out making it far from a quiet area. Lot´s of shrieking coming from cold water baths.

Thermae 2000 limits visitors to the over 12, meaning that one won´t see a young family, whether the day is clothed or not. The same applies for youths in general. 

As said there was ample evidence of more prudish visitors which might go some way in explaining the lack of more hues of skin colour. Especially as the prior visit in Aachen showed that there are quite a number of visitors with their roots from elsewhere in Europe, Asia or Africa who equally enjoy a thermal bath. One might believe that the non-clothed option is a no-no. Or that Dutch culture somehow dissuades non-Dutch from soaking?

It´s also the nearness to other such places as Aachen´s Claudius Thermen, Spa´s umm ...  Therme and Chaudfontaines Chateau that leads one to believe that the hot spring bath deal can be had on better terms nearby. 
Note also that these are all of more natural origin.

Disappearance
A discussion on the Dutch language Naturismeforum lists nudists reactions:
Too busy; yeah, no under 10's; not too many old people; visitors on this forum have no respect for elder persons; yesterday a naked day: very busy, waited half an hour to get in.
Conclusion not too positive. ...

Another Dutch language site, zoover, rates Thermae 2000 as 6.0 (out of 10), with 86 reactions. Some of the comments from the last 12 months:
staff friendly; no smoking allowed; not clean; slippery floors; expensive; too many naked people; fun; relaxing; needs to be renovated; sauna's too small!; beautifully located; could be modernized; parking expensive; clothing rules unclear; our towel got stolen; good.
Tripadvisor gives Thermae 2000 a rating of 3,5 stars from 108 reviews. Are international visitors less fussy? Some of the past years reviews on tripadvisor:
dirty; not so nice; staff is friendly; lacking in flair and style [!]; overall, great service, great food; very clean; clean; spotlessly clean; dress code is clearly explained on the website; the infrastructure is very old; not modern and up to date to the latest sauna trends; very crowded is the sauna area and therefore not relaxing at all; too busy; swimming trunks "disappeared" [oops!].
The Spaonline gives it 4.2 stars out of 5 (52 reviews) while Sauna-review notes 5.2 out of 10 (23 reviews).

From the above it's clear that Thermae 2000 seems not to live up to expectations. Maybe expectations are pumped up exceptionally as for instance it's PR functions well (Thermae 2000 also has a Facebook page) and the absence of other Dutch competition.
However many point out that correctly it is expensive and on normal days, the competition is a much cheaper alternative.

What the competition doesn't have is the all-natural day, a winner for sure.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cultural connection


Perfect Isolation
The Pomakohoria area of Xanthi region, (Thrace / Greece) lies close to the Bulgarian border. This area is best described as:
'Among the mountain villages stand out [in Xanthi region] the “Pomakohoria”, a cluster of approximately 40 villages north of Xanthi, renowned for their cultural and architectural uniqueness'.
Odd is that the most authoritative source of info in English on this area is no other than Lonely Planet Greece [1]:
'These 25-or-so villages host a unique population of Bulgarian-speaking muslims, the Pomaks [or Pomach], who spill across the borders and whose ethnic identity is a subject of some uncertainty (even to themselves)'.
Besides the physical isolation, typical of most mountainous areas, Pomokohoria was off limits in the post-second world war set-up. However with the thawing of relations between what was once West and East, this area opened up to the outside world.


This relative isolation has resulted in the villages and their inhabitants themselves (Pomaks) becoming a prime attraction: a way to see the muslim world without leaving Greece proper.

Luckily for the avid soaking enthusiasts there are also hot springs to visit in Pomokohoria. Located at what might be the end of the winding and hilly road originating from Xanthi town are the villages of three villages of Thermes: Ano (High), Meso (Middle) and (Lower) Thermes. All apparently host a hot spring or two, so I learnt. Also note that the wikipedia link mentioned to Thermes has a couple of photo's of the springs taken during winter ...

Nosing around
When trying to reach the Thermes, one needs to leave Xanthi city northwards, go up the valley to Smythine, cross the mountains to Echinos and cross the mountains once more to pass all three Thermes villages to arrive at Thermes itself! Or so I believe.
Thermes though is not a village but rather a number of buildings which have sprung up around a number of hot spring sources. The buildings are a school, a government office, a church, a mosque, two restaurants and something that may pass as a hotel and the bathing facilities themselves.

The modern soak pool

Opposite the hotel on a bluff above the river stand two buildings each containing a large enclosed pool. An entrance fee is required but nosing around today is also possible; it’s a slow day.

If one then walks down to the river (back north) midway down is another pool building with an outside pool. The inner pool is in a slowly crumbling once modern building, while next to this is a large (6 x 6m) outdoor pool, open to heaven and with a small opening in the otherwise very closed aluminium fence. 
A gentleman can be observed soaking here. 
We don’t know what the custom is here, are we allowed to join? Can genders mingle?

The outer open air pool with a couple of inner pools behind. The latter not so nice

So to overthink this quandrum, we wander even further down the road.

I remember that my eye caught a dome like structure on the drive in, but fail to re-see this close to the river. We wander down a side path to observe the fast flowing river and there, not more than a meter from the fast flowing river is the entrance to the elusive dome. 

The path leading to the dome soak. 
Note on the left the build up of minerals and the river to the right.

An elderly couple just pop out, presumably just having bathed. 

Next to the dome is a wall of mineral build-up which is slowly expanding from the off–flow of many of Thermes springs.

Soakability
We regather our things and enter the dome. Inside is a pool with some hooks and a crooked wooden bench. 


The once modern door can be locked but a large brick remains to somehow assist the locking process. We undress and despite Lonely Planets call 
('don't forget that since Pomakohoria is a conservative area the baths are no place for debauchery, shouting or gleeful nudity'),
undress every stitch and slip in the quite hot pool, choosing the gleeful option!

Maybe the brick was meant as a possible way to keep the door blocked but not locked so as to enable the air flow to continue because soon we are hot, very hot. Steam everywhere.

I read somewhere that temperatures of these hots springs are from 40 to 53. The soak lasts 20 minutes, during which we admire the old structure (originally constructed in 1928) and listen to the gushing sounds of the river. 
It’s a pity that one can not immerse one self in the crippling cold stream; it’s not our state of dress which is holding us back, rather the swiftness of the river which would probably take us with itself.

We redress, return to the modern world and walk up the hill for a cold drink.

What does this learn us? One would believe nature is bliss, but so is bathing in a historic building. And simple. 

Bulgarian connection
When originally built it was clear that the emphasis was on heat and body, while having a large enough pool to enable a couple of friends / family to enjoy. The river might have had another stream bed so jumping in might well have been possible then. 
It’s only since the arrival of modernity that somehow this frowned on. 

Further info is also scarce.

A website dedicated to Thermes by Nikolaos Kokkas has a nice write up. What do we learn? 
'The Healing Baths are in a small settlement where hot waters are everywhere springing.
...
Personal showers were added to the private baths in 1998. There are toilets also.
...
At the taverns of the area you can eat delicious cooked hot lamp or soutzoukakia (meatballs) along with other roasted meat, while you will find warm hospitality at the hostels.
...
Near the old hamam (bath) of the Thermes community, there is an older hamam that was reconstructed by the Bulgarians in 1941 but was open only till 1928 [!?]'.
Maro Kouri has a nice photo of the dome, completely white-washed (on the outside).

Interestingly, the local use of the baths / hamam stands in stark contrast to the fate of traditional hamams in general. In the blog mediterraneanespalimpst it argues the following:
'Today hammams are supported largely, and in some cases entirely, by external and internal tourism. In fact, Cichocki [2] argues convincingly that the advent of tourism saved Istanbul’s few remaining hammams in the 20th century. She interviewed the management and staff of the Cemeberlitas hammam, who claimed that without tourists their entire operation would fold and all baths in Istanbul would be closed today. Of course, to the western tourist the hammam has become the quintessential “eastern” or “oriental” experience, something viewed as authentic and necessary when visiting Istanbul and Turkey, despite the fact that very few Turks have ever set foot in one (as Cichocki notes). She also mentions the “internal” tourism of some Istanbullers today—those who use the hammam as a means to connect with their own cultural legacy, heritage and history'.
Traditional minarets adorn the countryside

Flourishing? 
Sounding similar, the hot spring of Thermies (or Thermia) is in fact quite a distance away. Located actually in Drama region it can be accessed from the town of Paranesti by heading up along the Nestos river and then heading for the Forest of Fraktos. With little local population living nearby this soak has been able to maintain a low profile and seems (hopefully for ever) to be void of many the modern day wellness hoopla. 

This website has a picture which adds not too much more knowledge and after translation we learn this:
'The sources come from the depths of the mountains are concentrated in smaller sources and there with tires arrive in specially built "pools" two to three people with restricted plates. Water is the basis of samples that have been drinking and has a temperature of 50-60 degrees Celsius.Some of the sources are so hot of course that does not withstand your body. With proper search of course but also asking residents there you will find one that suits you'.
Greece's official tourism website adds:
'The thermal spas of Thermia are located 73 km away from Drama on the road lnking Drama to Paranesti and Fraktos Forest. The thermal spring is located 25 km to the north of the town of Paranesti, at an altitude of 620 m, where an old stone-built spa provides evidence of human presence throughout many centuries. Nowadays, natural baths are used and the development of the region is under consideration'.
This website has more bad news for natural soaking enthusiasts and conservationists:
'The Municipality Paranestiou is currently drafting studies on the re-certification of sources according to the new legislation, in order to exploit the natural resources in the creation of a center thermalism'
On the other side of Xanthi city, near the airport and coast is the hot spring of  Nea Kassani.

Furtheraway, close to the Turkish border are the hot springs of Traianoupoli. Here is just one of the few links to the not yet modernized soaking facilities.
'Trianoupoli [baths] flourished during the Byzantine ages, but at the end of this period, the region became completly depopulated'. (source)
Niche
With this blog published, it draws close a four-chaptered feature of Greek Macedonia and Thrace hot springs (of which there are reputed to be in excess of 140 soaks [3]!); hopefully an area which despite current-day economic harshness will continue to maintain it's historic and natural hot springs without caving-in to short term cash gains. 

The future I believe of any hot spring is to seek a niche rather than cater to the masses.

Notes:
[1]: Miller, K., A. Averbuck, A. Schulte-Peevers, R. Waters, M. Stamatios Clark, V. Kyriakopoulos, D. Hannigan, K. Armstrong, C. Deliso (2012) Lonely Planet Greece. Lonely Planet, Melbourne, Australia
[2]: Cichocki, N. (2005) “Continuity and Change in Turkish Bathing Culture in Istanbul: The Life Story of the Çemberlitas Hamam.” Turkish Studies 6.1: 93-112. 
[3]: Anon. (2012) Thermal springs and Thermalism from Ancient times until Today in Greece. Comenius Project Italy-Spain-Austria-Portugal-Greece 2010-2012 <!--[if gte mso 9]>

Euro soaks visited