Five Super Scenic Hot Springs | FinancialTimes

California’s Hidden Zen Destination

Tassajara springs in California © Erin Scott

Calistoga, Orr, Beverly, Desert: these are the Californian hot springs you may already know. The one you probably don’t know about (and I’ll be the butt of some serious ire at home for bringing it up here) is Tassajara, hidden deep within the Los Padres National Forest, inland from Big On. Affiliated with the San Francisco Zen Center, Tassajara is accessible via a 22 km dirt road and for much of the year operates as a retreat and is therefore closed to day visitors. But from late April to mid-September, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., those who wish to make the trip can enjoy the bubbling springs that were used by the indigenous Esselen people for centuries before California was even a territory of Mexico, yet. least one US state.

A bridge over the stream at Tassajara Hot Springs

Visitors to Tassajara can cool off in the creek after their swim © Erin Scott

The experience is held in open-air public baths for men and women, both of which border a cool creek you can jump into after a hot soak. There’s no WiFi or cell service; but there are meditation sessions, hiking trails and delicious vegetarian meals in the canteen. The stars coming out after sunset alone are a reason to make the trip.

STAY: If you are not doing a full Tassajara retreat (they start at three days), your best base is the Carmel Valley Ranch; for a splurge, the lush Bernardus Lodge is pretty Monterey-Colonial. In Carmel-by-the-Sea, the Cypress Inn, long owned by the late Doris Day, is a mainstay; most of the cozy rooms have fireplaces and there’s a nice restaurant in the courtyard. sfzc.org, retreat costs from about $288; day pass $35. bernarduslodge.comstarting at around $435. cypress-inn.comfrom $279


Semi-secret spa bliss in Tuscany

Bathers relax in the waters of Bagni San Filippo in Tuscany
Bagni San Filippo in Tuscany © Shutterstock

Italy has some of the best thermal waters and spas in Europe, with Saturnia and Fonteverde in Tuscany, both of which have dedicated (and chic) ​​resorts in mind. Less familiar to foreign tourists – and a little wilder and, as a bonus, completely open to the public – are the Bagni San Filippo, in the small town of the same name (about 100 inhabitants), and the Terme di Petriolo. At first, a cascade of sulfuric waters with a preponderance of calcium carbonate deposits offers both therapeutic benefits and a camera-ready landscape: the sulfur soothes the muscles, while the calcium carbonate has formed limestone deposits fantastically shaped.

Calcium carbonate formations at Bagni San Filippo in Tuscany

Calcium carbonate formations at Bagni san Filippo

The exterior of Podere Sant'Adele, a farmhouse outside Cetona

Podere Sant’Adele, near the medieval town of Cetona, for 10 people

The latter (just off the Siena-Grosseto highway, so very easy to reach) has hyperthermal water rich in hydrogen sulphide which is around 43°C and large shallow natural pools. And historical credibility: good enough for Gonzaga and Medici, good enough for us. Come early in the morning or at dusk for maximum atmosphere and fewer crowds.

STAY: The Castello di Potentino by Charlotte Horton and Alexander Greene is a unique wine-agriturismo-cultural event venue in southern Tuscany. The eight bedrooms are outrageously atmospheric, with antique beds and hand-painted tapestries and ceilings. For families, the stylish Podere Sant’Adele, just outside the town of Cetona, sleeps 10 with a lovely swimming pool and its own vegetable garden. potentino.com, rooms from €180. Podere Sant’Adele, from €7,830 per week, up to merrioncharles.com


High desert and soothing waters of Chile

Bathers in the mineral thermal waters near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Mineral thermal waters near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

They are 30 km from the town of San Pedro de Atacama and nearly 11,400 feet above sea level. The invigorating altitude and rugged surroundings only add to the appeal of this handful of connected pools, whose crystal-clear mineral thermal waters average between 25°C and 30°C, cooling as the pools descend , some connected by waterfalls that also serve as natural hydromassage facilities.

The thermal waters are lined with pampas grass and red peaks

The thermal waters are lined with pampas grass and red peaks

There are various lounging platforms and stepped walkways that lead to prime soaking areas, plus simple change rooms on-site (but no cafe or shop, so bring plenty of water). Lush vegetation and blades of blond pampas grass and rushes are interspersed with massive boulders, and jagged red peaks frame a deep blue desert sky.

STAY: Noi Casa Atacama in San Pedro offers contemporary rooms set around a pool and authentic, solid sustainable designs. noihotels.comfrom 262 €


Immerse yourself in Iceland’s ‘Steam Valley’

The natural swimming pool of the Ion Adventure Hotel
The natural swimming pool of the Ion Adventure Hotel

The Blue Lagoon is perhaps one of the most famous hot springs in the geothermal powerhouse that is Iceland (and the one with the fanciest accommodations); but Reykjadalur, in the south of the country, gets its money’s worth. The name translates to “Steam Valley”, and the healing waters here take the form of a real river (thermal pools and mud baths also abound, but they’re far too hot to swim in – keep an eye out on the temperatures listed as you go). You have to walk 3 km to reach the therapeutic parts, but the reward is a magical landscape: verdant slopes lined with drifts of lace of steam, streaked with livid sulphur, dotted with silver-blue thermal pools. The further up the river you go, the warmer the water.

The Northern Lights seen above the Ion Adventure Hotel

The Northern Lights above the Ion Adventure Hotel

A few wooden walkways have been added, and here and there are deeper lagoons, indicated by rock walls, which make for nice dip points. And the long, long summer days here mean that in June a midnight swim is not out of the question.

STAY: The Ion Adventure Hotel complements the region’s thermal pleasures with a portfolio of super alpha adventures, from snowmobiling on glaciers to snorkeling between tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park. The design is a little harsh, but you’ll be looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows most of the time anyway. ioniceland.isfrom around £295

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