May/June 2007  





“A traditional spa cure lasts three weeks, but shorter wellness, slimming and revitalizing programs have been devised in the last few years, enabling everyone to enjoy the benefits of the thermal waters and muds.”

he statue of the crutch breaker in the spa town of Piestany is an iconic spa symbol. The spa guest breaking his crutch to celebrate his freedom from pain is a metaphor for what therapeutic spas are all about - a precious natural resource that can be used to improve health. A resource that the small central European country of Slovakia has in abundance.

Slovakia is one of Europe's undiscovered treasures - a captivating little country bridging east and west Europe and sandwiched between the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Austria and Hungary. It is a land of contrasts - modern cities, ancient buildings, 21st century shopping malls and scenic rural villages that have remained unchanged for decades. It also offers snow-capped mountains, lakes, thick forests and a spa culture that is gradually emerging from its communist slumber.

Like most visitors to Slovakia, we arrived in the capital Bratislava, a bustling metropolis that looks across to Austria over the wide waters of the Danube. As one of Europe's oldest cities as well as one of its newest capitals, Bratislava is well worth exploring. However, to experience Slovakia's thermal spas, we had to travel out of the city.

slovakia-1We drove about 50 miles north east to Piestany -Slovakia's premiere spa which is situated on an island (Spa Island) in the middle of the river Váh and linked to Piestany town by a series of attractive bridges. Ten mineral-rich hot springs gush up at an incredible 156°F from a depth of 6,000 feet and are piped into the spa treatment areas, hotels and thermal pools. Spa Island is a delightful place with lovely gardens, a 9-hole golf course and dedicated spa hotels a convenient short stroll from all the amenities. The island has recently been acquired by the Danubius Hotels Group, the largest operator of spa hotels in Central Europe, who are investing in the upgrading of all hotels and facilities on the Island. Piestany will be a star addition to their portfolio.

In Slovakian spas, as in other Central European countries, the emphasis is decidedly on curative medical therapies that use thermal waters and muds, rather than pampering beauty treatments aesthetically presented. The ambience is more clinical than luxurious, but the effectiveness of the treatments and value for money are second to none. And because of recent changes in the law regulating public funding for spas, the cost of treating many ailments is no longer covered by the state. To survive, spas must be competitive and attract guests who can pay. Such guests expect wellness and cosmetic treatment programs as well as traditional therapeutic ones.

slovakia-2In Piestany, we were booked into the four-star Balnea Esplanada Hotel, one of eight hotels on Spa Island -a rather austere building with direct access (via a ten-minute corridor walk) to the Balnea Health Spa, which is also shared by three other hotels. The spa has a team of 24 doctors who offer consultations, medical check-ups and laboratory tests before prescribing treatment programs for guests suffering from rheumatism, osteoporosis and other locomotive disorders. The spa also specializes in treating diseases of the central and peripheral nervous system and has a rehabilitation unit for children aged 3 to 15 years.

A traditional spa cure lasts three weeks, but shorter wellness, slimming and revitalizing programs have been devised in the last few years, enabling everyone to enjoy the benefits of the thermal waters and muds. Therapeutic Piestany mud is world renowned for its effectiveness in relieving pain. Extracted from the sediments in the beds of the river Váh, it matures for a year before being used in body mud packs and mud compressions to treat specific problem areas and improve the flexibility of the joints and spine.

Arriving in the spa to sample a couple of treatments, we changed and left our belongings in curtained cubicles, simply furnished with a small bed, blanket, chair and a robe hook. Our first treatment was a delicious 20-minute immersion in the large thermal pool - a silent experience as it turned out, when our exclamations of delight were admonished by a fellow bather, who pointed to a sign requesting silence in the pool. Chastised, we stayed quietly submerged until called by our therapists for our individual half hour massages.

My male therapist spoke little English, but was friendly, professional and delivered a great massage. Afterwards, feeling sleepy and relaxed, I climbed onto the narrow bed in my cubicle, drew the curtain across and enjoyed a blissful doze.

slovakia-3The following morning we strolled around Spa Island, admiring the gardens and tropical aqua plants growing in ponds warmed by the hot springs. We looked over the newly renovated Thermia Palace hotel and adjoining Irma Spa with its updated facilities. The beautifully restored Art Nouveau buildings have created Slovakia's first five-star destination spa, a sure sign of the changes to come in Slovakian spas. We couldn't leave Piestany without visiting the famous crutch breaker statue by the covered Colonnade bridge -it seemed an appropriate symbol of how, even in the 21st century, nature's bounty can help us restore and retain our health and vitality.

A wide range of accommodation and treatment packages is available in Piestany.

- 13 day Traditional Medical treatment packages from €364 per person; Slim Line spa package from €455; Osteoporosis spa package from €455. All packages include medical examinations and written reports, diagnostic and laboratory tests and individually prescribed therapeutic program with 24 treatments.

- A 13-night stay taken in combination with one of the above programs in the Balnea Esplanade including all meals, free entrance to leisure facilities and group exercise classes costs from €598 per person sharing a double room and from €806 single. Rates at 5-star Thermia Palace from €936 sharing and €1,170 single.

- 4-night Relaxation package with two treatments a day costs €84 per person; 4-night Beauty and Vitality package €136.

- Accommodation at Balnea Esplanade with half board in combination with a short package from €42 -56 per night sharing, €58 -72 single, or from €68 -80 per night sharing, €86 -98 single at 5-star Thermia Palace.
Nearest airports to Piestany are Bratislava (55 miles) and Vienna (90 miles). Transfers can be arranged on request.

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BeattieCatherineCatherine Beattie is a UK-based health and travel writer/publisher with a lifelong interest in spas. Her credentials include writing and publishing several consumer guides including Healthy Breaks in Britain & Ireland (the UK's first spa guide) and The Really Useful Guides. Catherine was founding editor of Spa Health & Beauty magazine and contributes to many UK national newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Express, Here's Health and Harpers & Queen. She is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Guild of Health Writers and Spa Business Association.




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