Sustainable Travel

Soothing the Body and Soul Through Water

There are special waters that can soothe a weary traveler, ease the stress of modern life, and heal the body. Searching for these healing waters is a search for respite, even if just for a short time.
— By Pamela Grant

Water has been a source of healing for the mind and body for thousands of years, and some things never change. People still believe, so they go on quests to find the waters with special properties that time has not left behind.

There are healing waters flowing from an ancient underground ocean at Toskana Therme in Bad Sulza, Germany, and a disappearing Dead Sea in Israel. People today still seek out the thermal waters of Pamukkale, Turkey, following in the footsteps of ancient Phyrygians. There is the sacred oasis of the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in New Mexico and the famous Huaqing Hot Springs in Xi'an, China.

As people search for true moments of relaxation in a hectic world, they find themselves stopping for a while to immerse their bodies in water, succumbing to the power of nature to holistically embrace a person in a way that defies anything else.

Immersing in Cultural Waters
Water is a cultural element in many places in the world.

Ancient Greeks believed in the supernatural powers of local mineral springs, and Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, bathed in the therapeutic waters of Mexico's Agua Hedionda Spa after a strenuous battle.

Thalassotherapy, from the Greek word thalassa (sea), is a curative method that has been used for more than 200 years but calls upon what people have known for thousands of years – water can heal. It offers the therapeutic properties of sea water in a medically supervised environment, along with treatments that utilize everything the sea has to offer – mud, seaweed, algae, and sand. Thalassotherapy centers first appeared in France in the early 1800s, and today spas must meet strict French government regulations before they are allowed to use the term thalassotherapy in their descriptions. It is serious business.

A search for the soothing waters can lead to a trip to the next state or a trip around the world. Travelers can mix a desire to enjoy the waters and eco-travel by choosing places with historical significance, sites offering economic advantages to local people through tourism, or waters that may not be here in future decades. At many water sites, travelers can meet all three requirements. There are spa, lake and sea destinations in Italy, Japan, Israel, the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Germany, the United States and so many other locales.

It is your choice, and a glimpse at a few places are sure to lure you into the same irresistible waters that have lured people for so long.

Elegant to Rugged Locales
If you think of all natural spring spas as rugged places where water gurgles out of the surface of the earth, think again.

The Toskana Therme in Bad Sulza, Germany, has natural warm saltwater from an underground ocean along with seven pools located under a very modern dome. You can enjoy the waters and in five of the pools listen to music and feel the vibrations.

Kusatsu Onsen, which is a two-hour drive from Tokyo, is a place deeply embedded in Japanese culture. It is located 3,937 feet above sea level in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture. Since it is not on a major train line, the spa is not overpowered with international tourists and offers a traditional Japanese experience. The water flows from the volcano Mt. Shirane and is naturally heated. The spa water is not adjusted or treated in any way, so you get a true natural healing water experience.

You could visit the Natural Hot Spring Travertines of Pamukkale, Turkey. A travertine is a sedimentary rock that is formed by deep water heated by volcanic lava that dissolves white calcium. The water carries the calcium to the earth's surface, runs down hills, cools, hardens, and creates beautiful white calcium streams and landscapes frozen in time and stone, all looking like beautiful snow. The calcium-covered terraces are called travertines but are referred to as the Cotton Castle by Turks.

The Natural Hot Spring Travertines are white natural hot pools located along the mountain terraces. When fully relaxed after time in the pool, you can visit the nearby ancient city of Hierapolis, a UNESCO heritage site. The travertine spa sites open to visitors are so beautiful in their pure whiteness that it is difficult to describe in words. Many of the travertines are now off limits to visitors because excessive use was damaging the natural environment. The pools created for visitors are a joy for those who appreciate the government's efforts to protect this natural treasure.

Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs in New Mexico offers sulphur-free, geothermal mineral waters that has the unique distinction of being the world's only hot springs with pools that have four unique minerals – iron, soda, lithia, and arsenic. People enjoying the springs or the mud area are in a whisper-zone that is considered sacred by Native Americans.

Fearing for the Waters
Some healing waters are threatened by overpopulation and climate change. One of them is the Dead Sea in Israel.

Famed for its salinity that offers healing properties, the Dead Sea has receding shorelines as water is drawn by Syria, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank populations from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee, the main water sources for the Dead Sea. Climate change is aggravating the situation.

The Dead Sea is actually a lake and it has already lost a third of its surface area. It is still shrinking by 1 to 1.5 meters annually, and sinkholes are consuming many areas along the shoreline. There are still beaches open, some private, but these are healing waters you should not put off visiting. You can immerse yourself in mud at Kalia Beach or wade into the waters at Ein Gedi Public Beach, for example.

Another Thousand Years
This is just a sample of the waters around the world that beckon people looking for the magical powers of nature to heal.

Visit Huaqing Hot Spring in China and enjoy the warms waters that Emperor Xuanzong of the Tank Dynasty visited, or soak in the milky aqua water of the Banjar Hot Springs in Bali.

Just the thought of the thermal waters is enough to warm the body and bring peace to the mind, so the actual experience is far more than anything the mind can conjure. These are waters that have served people well for thousands of years, and hopefully thousands more.