All over the flat and sparse Great Hungarian Plain (or Alföld), hundreds of hot springs gush out of the ground. Hungary is one of the most geothermally active regions in the world, with over 150 hot water spas and the largest active medicinal lake in in the world at Heviz near Lake Balaton in the south of the country. The waters spurt out of the depth at over 30 C and contain medicinal sulphates, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and fluoride ion. One doesn't have to travel far across Hungary's countryside to chance upon municipal baths and local pools providing soothing thermal waters and wellness therapies. The country's natural hot springs have been enjoyed by locals and foreigners for hundreds of years, including the Ottoman occupiers who built a number of ornate baths in the Turkish style with oriental features, including domed roofs and octagonal pools. Rudas and Kiraly Baths in the capital Budapest are among the most famous and best preserved, dating from 1550 and 1565 respectively. More recently, the Szechenyi Baths, one of the largest spa complexes in Europe, was built in neo-baroque style in 1913 and the glamorous Gellert Hotel, a gem of art-nouveau chic with indoor and outdoor pools, was completed in 1918, the year the Austro-Hungarian empire, the source of Budapest's prestige, collapsed.
Budapest has thus rightfully been dubbed the spa capital of the world, with some two dozen baths and spas across the city and a brisk trade in tourists coming to enjoy the recuperative and soothing effects of the thermal waters and other wellness facilities. Ami Vitale visited a few of the most popular pools and captured the simple pleasure of bathing in natural thermal spring water.