Budapest is renown for its spas — even the zoo has one, with many animals having their own thermal baths (and, apparently, a very high reproductive rate). On a glorious spring day I stood outside the belle epoch Széchenyi Baths, the phrases ‘taking the waters’ and ‘frequented by royalty’ running through my mind. Even the entrance to the baths was a work of wonder.
Inside was all high ceilings and chandeliers. An authoritarian attendant ushered me into a small change room, returning later to lock my clothes away. I shared my change room with half a dozen others — this was no place for false modesty.
And so, to the waters. Outside were two enormous baths (one at 30 degrees C, the other at 34) with a lap pool between them. Inside were another 15 or so baths, each catering to different needs.
Being such a glorious day, I headed outside. Simply stepping in to the warm water felt both relaxing and soothing. Steam swirled around me as I gently bobbed in the water. Soft bubbles rose from the floor to caress my feet.
Between them the two enormous spa pools had an incredible array of jets, all at different angles and pressures to ensure no part of the body was missed. Despite being crowded, there was room for all, and enough jets and fountains to share. Many simply relaxed in the sunshine. In one corner of the pool, two men sat playing chess.
I ventured into the lap pool — a word of warning, take a cap or else the attendant will blow his whistle and send you away — but afterwards returned to the ‘medicinal waters’. Despite spending all morning floating, swimming and drifting in endless circles in a whirl pool, I didn’t turn into a water-logged prune. Instead my skin felt incredibly soft, and my muscles so relaxed it bordered on ridiculous.
One day I will return in winter, and float in the waters as the steam rises around me to greet the falling snow.