She Sizzles in Szechenyi
When visiting a place where you don’t understand the language, it is generally good practice to be prudent and observe the locals in what they do before participating in an activity yourself. That said, if I had followed my own advice I probably would not have ended up branding my rump in a sauna in Budapest.
Szechenyi Spa is housed in a beautifully ornate Neo-Baroque building. With fifteen indoor and three outdoor pools, it is probably the most popular thermal bath complex in Budapest, and definitely one of the largest medicinal spa complexes in Europe. The water, supplied by two thermal hot springs, contains a mixture of minerals and metabolic acid, and is said to have healing properties for joint and orthopaedic conditions.
The large outdoor pools have magnificent temperatures of up to 32oC, perfect for those like me who prefer their water to be bath warm. While you immerse yourself in the healing waters, or have your stress massaged away at one of the neck showers, you can watch some serious chess players relaxing their bodies whilst exercising their minds on the pool steps. Enthusiasts can issue a challenge, but I’m told these veterans are difficult to beat.
In the basement of the building is Budapest’s own version of hell
Inside the yellow and white palace it is humid, and a very faint smell of sulphur slightly offends the nose. Alongside more thermal pools, the indoor spa houses steam rooms, saunas and plunge pools of various temperatures. In the basement of the building is Budapest’s own version of hell; the 60 degree Celsius sauna. A giant barrel of ice at the door should have alerted me to the fact I was about to enter a place so hot I would feel my nostrils burn as I breathed. Bemused locals positioned just inside the door smile knowingly as they watch visitors walk to the vacant slats at the far end of the sauna. It’s only when you hear the sizzle as damp flesh meets wood that you notice they are sitting on ice-filled folded towels, and realise why.
But this place has its heaven too. There is a pre-bookable beer spa where you can relax and soak in a blend of thermal water mixed with hops, yeast and barley. Said to ease stress, tiredness and hangovers, it is difficult to determine how much of this can be attributed to relaxing in the beer spa, and how much is the result of the unlimited Czech beer available on tap within easy reach of your tub!
Best advice for a visit to Szechenyi is to book tickets online before you go. This allows fast track entry to the baths which is especially convenient if, like me, you arrive two minutes after a coach tour. I also pre-booked an amply sized Victorian style bath cabin where I was able to change in private and store my personal belongings securely.
Fast track private entrance and use of a private cabin costs 21 Euro and allows you to stay all day until 10pm at night, but you must enter the spa before 6pm or your ticket is invalidated.
Hiring a towel costs HUF 2000, with a further returnable deposit of HUF 2000 (you can pay by card at the cashier, but once inside the baths it is cash only, no cards) or you can buy a towel with the Szechenyi baths logo and keep it as a souvenir for HUF 4200. Swimming caps and swimwear are also available to rent. Take your own flip flops.
Spa opening hours: Monday - Sunday: 6am - 10pm, 365 days a year. Check current prices and hours on their website. On weekdays 15 pools are available to the public, 18 on weekends.
Can you really travel to Budapest and not visit a spa? If for nothing else than to enjoy a warm, healing and relaxing experience, play a game of chess in an unusual venue or simply admire some beautiful architecture, a trip to Szechenyi should be on your list.
© 2019 The Quirky Tourist