A restorative tour through Europe’s historic spa towns

If you’re tired of the Instagram-esque beach clubs and Mediterranean islands that define posh summer vacations, I’ve got an antidote — and time travel — for you. Imagine a time when going on vacation meant restorative days spent drawing thermal waters from natural mineral springs, traversing scenic boulevards in a horse-drawn carriage and hopping on a funicular for an alpine picnic, with elegant evenings in casinos golden. Although it may look like an itinerary straight out of the Belle Époque, it is entirely possible for today’s bon vivants.

I know this myself, having recently sipped and dipped my way through a set of Historic spa towns which have been centers of glamor and wellness since Roman times. Today, many of them appear in the European Route of Historic Spa Townsa Cultural Route of Council of Europe. These hidden gems have long attracted the well-heeled in need of some serious rest and rest.

Last year, 11 destinations in seven countries were listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a transboundary World Heritage Site called Great Spa Towns of Europe, a distinction that sets them apart from the more than 400 spa towns and villages on the continent. So these chosen ones historical hotspots (scattered across Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy and the UK) represent the crème de la crème of the healing spa phenomenon which was at its height in the 18th and 19th centuries – and has perhaps never been more relevant in our current wellness-obsessed era.

For those who seek equal parts good health and the good life, here’s how to have a spa vacation in style.

Karlovy Vary

Europe’s most prominent aristocrats, artists and dignitaries have long flocked to this Czech Republic spa town for its spa treatments, glitter International Film Festivaland nature galore. Karlovy Vary– also called Carlsbad – was named after the city’s 14th-century founder, King Charles IV, who discovered the hot springs. The location is ideal, nestled in the lush Slavkov Forest less than two hours from Prague, along the valley of the Teplá River, where more than 80 springs provide around 2,000 liters of healing water every minute. The idyllic town also offers eye candy at every turn, with ornate villas, avenues of fine shopping and dining, and solitary watchtowers.