Since time immemorial, almost every group of people from every corner of the world has believed in the healing and spiritual powers of water. Many religions include special rituals involving water and consider certain bodies of water to be sacred. Civilizations spanning from the ancient Romans to modern Japanese have placed a special emphasis on public bathing in hot springs, for cleanliness, social functions, and of course, relaxation.
Even today, many people believe in balneotherapy, the treatment of diseases through bathing in natural mineral hot springs. Some studies have shown balneotherapy may be effective in improving arthritis, joint pain, or skin conditions, although more research is needed.
Whether for relaxation, healing, or just fun, hot spring tourism has been on the rise in recent years. While springs in Japan, China, Turkey, and Europe are well known, Iran’s many mineral springs still largely remain under the radar for international travelers (while being extremely popular domestically). The town of Sarein, located in the Northern province of Ardebil, is particularly known inside Iran for its many mineral hot and cold springs, and is a must see stop for any travelers in the area.
Sarein (also spelled Saryen or Sar ‘Eyn) is located about 30 kilometers west of Ardebil. The city is also very close to Mount Sabalan, an inactive volcano, and the popular Alvares Ski Resort. Sarein is famous for its local made honey, and ‘Ash-e-Doogh’ traditional food. While it is open all seasons, the city gets particularly crowded with domestic tourists during the summer. In fact in peak years the city’s population is more than doubles in the period of May to August compared to the rest of the year. Much of the city itself is geared towards outsider travelers, giving it a much more ‘touristy’ vibe than many other Iranian cities.
The most famous feature of Sarein though, are its mineral springs. Each spring is slightly different, and recognized for curing particular ailments. The mineral composition, size, and temperature of each one differs. Some of them remain largely the same as they have been for centuries, while others have been developed into large modern spa complexes combined with medical facilities.
There are over a dozen hot springs in and near Sarein. Below are a few of some of the more well known ones:
Sabalan Hydropathy Complex — Sabalan is the large hydropathy complex in the Middle East. There are several pools, jacuzzis , dry and wet saunas, and medical staff on sight. This is the most ‘modern’ facility, all indoors, and similar to natural spa complexes in other countries.
Besh Bajilar Spa — Besh Bajilar,which means 5 sisters in Azeri, has similar facilities to Sabalan. The water for this spa comes from 5 almost identical springs. The temperature of the water is always around 35 degrees Celsius. It contains traces of chlorine, bicarbonate, sulfur, sodium, and potassium. The Besh Bajilar waters are known to be particularly good for easing joint pains.
Momtaz Coffee House Hot Spring — This spring is inside the coffee house itself. The temperature of the water reaches 48 degrees Celsius. It contains traces of bicarbonate, carbonate, sodium, and potassium and has a pH of almost 6. The waters of this spring are known to be good for pains in hands and feet, as well as for calming nerves.
General Hot Spring — This hot spring, which is located to the north of Sarein, is located 2000 meters above sea level. The temperature of the water reaches 43 degrees Celsius and the water is slightly sour and acidic. The water contains traces of bicarbonate, sodium, sulfur, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. This spring is under the open sun (no roof) and known to be good for muscular pains and relieving rheumatism.
Gavmish Goli Hot Spring — The biggest hot spring in Sarein is the Gavmish Goli, which is almost always around 46 degrees Celsius. The water does give off a faint scent of hydrogen sulfide. This spring, which is also open air (no roof) is thought to be good for a variety of ills including joint pain, female pains, and heart problems.
َIn the immediate area around Sarein are several village with famous cold mineral springs. The most famous of these, Kanzagh, is two kilometers to the east. This village’s beautiful scenery makes it a popular stop. It also contains several very old caves that were inhabited back in the Parthian era (over 2000 years ago) which are still being explored by archaeologists.
Torsh Soopi — The water from this cold spring is naturally carbonated. Many locals drink its water for stomach ailments, as well as skin disorders.
Mardaan Boolaghi — A very cold, calm spring. The water in this spring is believed to very effectively get rid of hives.
Whether for healing or relaxation, Sarein is well worth a visit for any Iran traveler. Located within a few hours drive of most major areas in Northern Iran, and only about 7 hours from Tehran, it will be a memory you won’t forget.