Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fonte Vidago

Interior design of one of Vidago's buvettes.
Probably does not depict an actual daily occurrence (unless in the fantasy of artist).

The area surrounding the town of Chaves in northern district of Vila Real (Portugal; also known as Trás-os-Monte, beyond the mountains) is reknown for it's thermal baths. 

Romans were already aware of this and had their thermal establishment in Chaves itself. But since the departure of the Romans there was little to entice the avid Portuguese soaker until the pendulum swung the other way.
'Although the therapeutic qualities of thermal water have been known in Portugal for a long time it was only in the 18th century that King Dom Jao officially recognised the therapeutic effects of thermal water (Portugal, n.d.) [1]'.
It took until the latter part of the 19th century / beginning of the 20th century before both Vidago and Pedras Salgadas, small towns to the south of Chaves, became focal points of grand baths. Establishments were constructed which sought to curry flavour with the Portuguese high society combining thermal baths with extensive gardens / parks and high class wining and dining. 

Focussing mostly on the establishment of the Vidago thermal baths, the Portuguese website of Águais Termais has an extensive entry which also lists the many advantages attributed to the thermal waters of Vidago. Other info garned comes from this source
'The hot springs of Vidago were discovered in 1863, when the first analysis was carried out, and two years later they became the property of the local council of Chaves. In 1873 the Water Company of Vidago took over the operation of the springs, building facilities and starting work on the Grande Hotel, which was not completed until 1910'.
If a republican uprising had not occurred earlier in the month, the King himself would have inaugurated the Vidago Palace hotel and baths in October 1910. However though the royal family commissioned the 'palace' hotel, they were never in the opportunity to take up residency, thanks to the revolutionaries. Thus it were the lesser aristocrats which formed it's mainstay. 

Things apparently went swimmingly until the sixties. 
Renovated during the early nineties, it still caters to the very high end of clientèle.  
Tripadvisor notes it's 5-star grade and it's travellers rating feedback also garners the maximum status excellent (this based on 90+ reviews). 
With prices for current bookings for June 2013 ranging from 130€+ (on; rates Vidago Palace at 9.4 based on nearly 300 reviews!), this may well be a bargain. But do note that with 5-stars ambiance comes bland atmosphere, see what standard wear one requires partake on the golf course (see photo below).

Heavily influenced by the Belle Époque (and Art Nouveau) construction style, the park and buildings evoke an air of former times. If not able to afford a stay (do note that this part of Portugal entertains cheaper prices than for instance the Algarve) a visit is well worth to take in the atmosphere and the peculiarities of the buildings. 

There is the main building itself as well as various smaller buildings including the obligatory buvette which is exquisite from both the outside as from the inside.


Listed as having a number of in and outdoor baths, it's soaking qualities are less obvious. 
The palace itself offers a huge range of therapies of which thermal water bathing is just one of the many. 
It's also unclear whether outside guests may enjoy some of the soaking possibilities and how. Strange how all photo's are devoid of persons. Begs the question whether the intentions are to use the facilities. 
Anyway it charges a 50€ consultation fee and 20€ application fee before the real fees kick in .... (10 minute 'bath': 20€).

The water qualities according to the hotel website: 
'Water from Vidago has been bottled since 1886 and can still be tasted direct from the source, in its highly concentrated and naturally carbonated form, from one of four spring fountains that reach the surface in the parkland surrounding Vidago Palace. The water’s chemical composition is slightly different at each spring (each housed in an ornate, Belle Epoque pavilion) but all share an exceptionally high mineral content - particularly of iron - which is said to have therapeutic properties. Generations ago, physicians would prescribe specific fountains from which to drink and encourage patients to ‘walk the water’ - by taking their daily constitutional along the forest paths that lead from one fountain pavilion to the next'.
Genuine natural soakers (includes myself) are excused from visiting Vidago alas ...

[1] Erfurt-Cooper, P., Cooper, M. (2009) Health and Wellness Tourism: Spas and Hot Springs. Aspects of Tourism 40. Channel View Publications, Bristol, United Kingdom.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Euro mud
Having previously blogged on (geothermal) mud baths in my Soaking in Southeast Asia blog, one wonders, why the need to yet again describe the essence of a mud bath?

Though mud baths exist all over the world, Europe and in particular the Mediterrarean area seem to host many of the globe's known (and used) mud baths. 
And the Euro-folk like their mud baths more so than those of other continents, whether they are volcanic in origin (preferably) or not. 
What's more, the mud baths of Europe are often an integral part of the locals' wellness strategy. This contrasts with elsewhere on the globe, where mud baths tend to be functioning for the likes of tourists and the down-to-earth enjoyment has been substituted by an upmarket fulfilment scenario: how to reap the highest rewards from the visitor.

Care to join? Krinides, Greek Macedonia (Source)

And  a final reason, since that posting, the internet has once again expanded and there is need to add / expand the original posting. 

I'll also update the list of  European (natural) mud baths, there seems to be no end of the list.

Recapping that earlier blog entrance mentioned above, mud bath essentials are:
  • mud is healthy, 
  • anti-social, 
  • different, and 
  • mud is cheap. 
But increasingly mud and mud derivatives (clay, salt, peat) are becoming another treatment in the overall strategy of the wellness industry and thus a simple listing may need to expanded.

Harking back to the first point mentioned above (health), L Myers has an article which goes some way to understanding mud baths, at least from the point of view of the wellness industry. 
What do we learn?
Mud can be used as a bath or as an application on the body (really?). The author recognizes three significant origins of mud, those with
  • geothermal origin, 
  • that from the peat moors and 
  • those with a marine origin, with particular mention to the Dead Sea mud: 
    'The Dead Sea is located at the lowest part of the earth, 400 metres below sea level. Because of this, the rays of the sun are longer there than anywhere else and it has its own unique climatic biosphere that is believed to be particularly healthful'.
Wikipedia's entry on mud baths adds little to the above, though notes that some lake's muds health qualities are due to high salt / mineral content of the water and thus their silt (= mud). 
It divides the potential mud baths into those originating  from lakes, from saltwater seas/lakes, from geothermal origins and so-called mud volcanoes: often geothermal in origin but not necessarily so (Oddly, the entry in Wikipedia on mud volcanoes is far more extensive than that of mud baths; a win for science?).

The above seem to miss dry clay which added to (sea)water which can equally be beneficial of wearer; many a Mediterranean coast mud bath originates from here.

Despite the link with mineral content (and thus overall health benefits), muddy applications seem to be enjoyed solely by women, if I am to believe the internet. Women possibly having more faith in skin improvement qualities of mud rather than overall health benefits or it's easier to sell mud to women.

Many article will mention the fact that Queen Cleopatra already used Dead Sea mud to enhance her beauty. However, globally mud has always been used by locals, so possibly it's only for the records, that Cleo claims the first user.

Besides pure natural mud there are a number of other natural mineral baths / bathing options. For instance rhassoul.

Wikipedia states: 
'The rhassoul or ghassoul is a natural mineral clay mined in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco since the eighth century. It is combined with water to clean the body and has been used by Moroccan women for centuries to care for their skin and hair. Rhassoul contains silicon, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium, lithium, and trace elements'. 
Especially, the quality that it can be purchased as a clay powder, has lead to it's widespread use within the wellness culture; lighter thus cheaper ... 
Another good source of info on rhassoul can be found on this French site. mentions: 
'Rhassoul is also extremely rich in trace minerals: these minerals detoxify the skin by extracting a variety of skin pollutants. Two US clinical studies have been conducted on rhassoul, and in general it:
  • Reduces dryness;
  • Reduces flakiness;
  • Improves skin clarity;
  • Improves skin elasticity/firmness;
  • Improves skin texture;
  • Removes surface oil, and oil from inside and around clogged pores; and
  • Removes dead skin layers, resulting in a general smoothing of the surface skin.
When first mined, rhassoul clay is a brown, chunky soap-like clay.  Fine rhassoul clay is well suited for more delicate applications like facial masks.  The resulting powder is smooth and almost silky when rubbed between the fingers.  This creates a fine, smooth paste that looks like chocolate pudding and feels wonderful going on as a mask'. 
But essentially ....,  it's not really a mud bath ....

This brings us to pure (?) clay. This website has the following info:
'A clay bath is a therapeutic treatment used to reduce toxins within the body. During one of these treatments, the body is submerged in clay mixed with water. The clay works by stimulating the lymphatic system and by thoroughly cleansing the skin. It acts as a systematic catalyst, interacting with the bodys immune system. A clay bath can help to relieve any digestive burdens relating to the major organs within the body'. 
They recommend clay from Multan, Pakistan.  
Naturalnews reports: 
'Clay baths have been safely used for centuries. These days, they're used to treat everything from tired, achy muscles to heavy metal poisoning, radiation and chemical/pesticide exposure. Very recently, some surprising and encouraging results have been reported when using clay baths to treat autism.
Certain clays have the ability to remove toxins through the pores of the skin. Discussing clay baths, in his book The Clay Cure, Ran Knishinsky states, "It is a fairly simple procedure, and it can do a lot of good in a relatively short time. Because of clay's excellent drawing effect, the clay has the power to literally pull toxicities through the pores of the skin in the bath." And Wendell Hoffman, author of Using Energy to Heal, found that bentonite clay, when used in a bath, can and does draw out toxic chemicals through the pores of the skin'.
Specifically on Betonite clay: 
'Bentonite clay (also known as Montmorillonite) is an edible clay from naturally occurring volcanic ash sediments, and contains over 70 trace minerals'. 
Wikipedia though, in it's page on Bentonite, hardly mentions any health benefits, though it does mention that it combines well into a gel. Always nice for application purposes. 
What distinguishes clay from mud? Consistency? Note that for instance sand can also be used, for instance Beppu, Japan has famous geothermal sand baths.

Go organic
On peat/moor/turf Dr Lisa explains: 
'Peat is formed from organic materials and extracted from specific bogs around the world. It is high in vitamins, minerals and other substances, all of which have high biological activity.
Why does it work?
Microspores inside the structure of peat allow high efficiency temperature retention. This means it has the ability to keep the water at a consistently warm temperature. The increased heat along with the peat content allows for anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and antioxidant effects. It can also reduce pain, elevate protein synthesis and increase circulation'. 
She also adds the following which seems to discredit her credentials: 
'Please bring your bathing suit as the more skin is exposed to the peat, the greater the benefit'.
So why not starkers?
'However, any old peat won’t do. In clinical settings, the peat of choice has often been sterilized and checked for quality'. 
The Wikipedia entry on peat baths doesn't help us much, in fact just a short paragraph, that seems to have been translated from the extensive German version. Germany seems to be the last bastion of the moor bath. 
There is also a German language wiki on Moorheilbad (peat spa baths) which includes a listing of many peat baths in Central Europe, though by no means complete.

Soaking in Southeast Asia has an interesting final paragraph on moor baths and their declining popularity ... (not sterile enough for picky people!). Der Zeit, in an article from 2011, believes that moor baths are in a renaissance. Their previous popularity was due to state sponsored wellness financing. With the gratis finance gone, the moor baths went into decline but now on the back of wellness popularity they are now regaining popularity.

Well, it may not be a natural bath, but it certainly looks like fun.
 Bad Buchau may afford you this pleasure ... 

Depending on where the peat originates terms such as turf (Ierland/England) or moor (South Germany) are used, but as many of the above, there isn't any natural occuring peat baths .... Or so it seems.

Finland adds it's own variation: turvesauna. A sauna while prior to entry the sauna entrant is 'blackened' by application of peat. This actually circumvents the need to wait for summer or heat a peat bath.

Extreme confusion
Salt soaks, not to confused with bath salts. explains the pluses of a salt bath: 
'Salt bathing works partly because natural mineral salts restore mineral balance via the skin. Medical research has long established absorption of medicinal factors through the skin. Natural salt contains many minerals, including magnesium, which helps the nervous system, relieves stress, and can relieve water retention. It also helps bring about a healthy calcium balance, which strengthens bones and nails. The salt also contains potassium, which you need for your blood after exercise, and which you need for moist, healthy skin and all-over energy. Bromides in the salt heal and relax your muscles. And of course you need the sodium for healthy immune system as well as for appropriate fluid balance in your body'. 
This implies that any seawater might double up as a salt bath, nothing new there. However, it is in locations where salt content of water is much higher where natural occuring salt baths can be taken. Think Dead. Sea. And many a lake around the Black Sea or Mediterranean.

No Wikipedia entry on the reverse (bath salts) though they do have the following
'The term bath salts refers to a range of water-soluble, usually inorganic solid products designed to be added to water during bathing. They are said to improve cleaning, improve the experience of bathing, and serve as a vehicle for cosmetic agents. Bath salts have been developed which mimic the properties of natural mineral baths or hot springs'.
But as in this blog we focus on the natural, this entry also focuses on the natural enjoyment of Euro mud baths. Following is a list of known natural mud baths of Europe. Note that a list of peat baths can be found on Wikipedia, gt refers to geothermal, pt to peat and st to salt. Some of the non qualified are from clay or I didn't find sufficient info to qualify them. Italic printed are natural baths, though not necesarily gratis.
     'Bulgarian mud baths' 
(note that Bulgaria is famous for it's mud. Even Hitler is said to have ordered 3 train wagons full of mud. A great experience article)
(note, it seems that the only mud bath available in C.R. are peat baths ...)
(note, mud bathing has gone into decline due to the public's preference for sun(bathing) = sand)
(note, there are many more moor baths in Germany, see prescript above the listing)
 Arillas beach, Corfu (source).

'Mud Bath in Iceland

Hot Springs Hotel is a SPA hotel, situated in South Iceland in the middle of the activity circle and at the edge of the country´s most impressive and active volcanic area'.
The fanghi of Vulcano (source).
Source, a Romanian mud bath from the 1980's ...
Popular in Spain are especially the mud (and clay) baths on the Baleric islands. Above Espalmador island near Formentera. (Photo source).
The former link notes:
'Specific microclimate, splendid lanscape of the Donetsk Switzerland provide health recreation and keep your temper'.
So, let's keep our temper ...

Euro soaks visited