In Diplomacy & Trade’s Witty Leaks series, diplomats give their personal account of the experiences of their “excursions” to Hungarian culture, art, gastronomy and landscape. This time, the topic is the enjoyment of health spas and wine tasting.
The Japanese have a love for hot springs. Since ancient times, people have relaxed and enjoyed themselves by dipping into warm water and letting the exhaustion of the day melt away. Being a country with many volcanoes, hot springs exist all across the country. Some are well known for medical treatment with various minerals in the water. Some, particularly, those close to large cities and towns are favorite places for a large family get-togethers or for annual meetings and friendly gatherings.
In Hungary, we find very similar enjoyment. The country has many attractive hot springs and spas across the land. The oldest goes back approximately 2.000 years, to the time of the Romans. Then, in the middle ages, the Turks arrived in Hungary; another people who love hot springs and baths. Some of the attractive hot springs of today, such as Király fürdõ and Rudas fürdõ, date back to this period.
Both Hungarians and Japanese enjoy dipping into the warm water out in the open air as well as inside facilities. The satisfying feeling of a commanding view of outside scenery while your body is being gently caressed with warm water cannot be substituted. Hungary has in Hévíz a natural lake with warm water from a hot spring. Even in the dead of winter, it is possible to enjoy the warm water out in the open. In Japan, one of the thrilling experiences is to go into a hot spring surrounded by accumulating snow on the rocks bordering the spring. Sometimes, one might float a bowl or a tray with sake and some delicacies on it, and enjoy a sip or two while enjoying the serene snow covered scenery. I hope that I may enjoy a similar feat in Hungary with the snow covered surroundings but with wine or sparkling wine instead of sake.
Spa and wine tasting
The topic of wine and sake reminds me of a very attractive way to spend a few days in a modern spa in Hungary: the combination of health spa and wine tasting. My wife and I have enjoyed them in Tokaj and Badacsony, but I am told that excellent facilities also exist in Villány and Eger. Unfortunately, there is no floating of glasses of sparkling wines and foie gras on trays in the baths of those spas, but the combination of a warm water pool with jet bath, Jacuzzi and bubble bath facilities provide various ways of relaxing one’s body.
We stayed in one of these facilities over one Christmas. The water temperature was just right. Families with children and young couples were also enjoying the gentle sensation of warm water as they walked through the large pool of water aiming for their favorite corner of Jacuzzi or bubbles to enjoy stimulating sensations. There was, of course, a regular swimming pool to ensure enough exercise and to cool your body after enjoying the sauna. One of the nice things was that the spa and health facilities were designed with easy access from the guest rooms. Walking distance was minimal and one could wear gowns provided in the room over swim wear to go there. Beauty care and massage provided guests with the luxury of being given extra attention to take care of their bodies. My wife and a female friend of hers really enjoyed the aesthetic and beauty care side of the facilities.
Both in Tokaj and in Badacsony, we were treated with a good selection of wines from the local area for tasting. In the evening, after a day of physical exercise and relaxation, tasting wines with explanations of local experts (in English) gave the final touch for a satisfying day. Both regions boast good quality wines. So do Villány and Eger. Coupled with good food, which Hungary is renowned for, one could easily forget the chores of daily life.
In Japan, hot springs have always provided for relaxation of body and enjoyment of palette. When choosing which hot spring to visit, we first of all check what they have to offer: whether they have open air facility, small private facility for just one family, type of minerals the hot spring contains, secluded location or easy access and so on; but equally important are the food the hotels and restaurants offer and the local sake. Hotels, therefore, compete to satisfy their guests with good chefs, local specialties and a choice of good local sake.
While the similarities outnumber the differences in the way we enjoy hot springs, there are some differences, as well. In Japan, hot springs are associated with regular baths, that is to say, cleaning your body. We Japanese wash our bodies outside the bathtub and go into the tub only to warm ourselves. For this purpose, a hot spring is an ideal bath. Minerals heal and relax us and keep our bodies warm longer. Even now, when hot springs are used more for leisure than for washing ourselves, the Japanese people have kept the habit of going into the bath or a pool of hot spring water naked just as one would do so when cleaning oneself. So when you visit Japan and take a dip in a hot spring, you should be prepared to be totally naked. Baths for men and women are separated except for private family baths.
Another difference is the temperature of the spring water. The Japanese prefer hot water to lukewarm water. The temperature is usually around 38-40 degrees Celsius as compared to Hungarian hot springs with water temperature averaging in the low thirty degrees Celsius.
Hot springs have always been associated with health care and treatment. When one compares the types of cures and treatments between Hungary and Japan, one is impressed with the similarities. Men and women in the East and West with similar health problems have sought treatment and solace in the hot springs. In the present day world, such traditional cure is backed by the modern medical science.
I was invited to visit the town of Hajdúszoboszló and its hot-spring facilities which make up a multifunction complex of hot spring, healthcare center and amusement park. The sheer scale of the facility goes beyond any ordinary hot spring, while the most impressive part is the medical facility. For instance, I was shown a rehabilitation facility for spinal problems utilizing water to support the body weight and tools to adjust the spine to regain a proper posture and shape. The rehabilitation process, I was told, is supervised by both a medical doctor and a physiotherapist. I can understand why patients come from across Europe for treatment.
Hajdúszoboszló offers much more in addition to serious medical treatment. As with many modern spa facilities across the globe, beauty care and aesthetic treatment are also offered. I was amazed to see the number of huge ponds and swimming pools scattered over the compound. In the ponds for children, large concrete statues of whales, dolphins, elephants and other animals provide for excellent photo opportunities. Traditional hot baths in both open air and inside offer all the fun associated with the leisure of hot springs. There is some modern equipment as well such as a water ski training machine and a surfing simulator. I could not help but marvel at the innovative efforts of this traditional facility.
Playing in water and hot springs is always great fun for children and families. Parents and children having physical contacts seem to be always good for children. I find that the people of Hungary love children and place family at the core of important values. Like many of us around the globe, such people enjoy hot springs.