Taking the Waters in the Style of the Ottoman Pashas
The Turkish occupation of Hungary from 1541 to 1686 is still detectable in the revered tradition of public bathing, a form of leisure that the Hungarians take mighty seriously. Budapest’s many bathing establishments survived Communism, but none so brilliantly as those of the Hotel Gellért. T
his dowager of the capital’s hotels, an Art Nouveau gem, was built in the early 1900s over eighteen generous hot springs with pools (open to the public) modeled after the ancient baths of Caracalla. Beneath the Gellért’s spectacular florid stained-glass domes and mosaics inlaid with gold, locals quietly play chess on floating boards, socialize in hushed tones, or paddle about at their leisure in the elaborately tiled pools. Visitors loll about swathed in Turkish towels (or much less) awaiting their massage appointments.
The city’s more than thirty spas offer the chance to partake in the ancient ritual of these restorative waters. It is said there are more than 1,000 underground hot springs in Hungary, 80 beneath Budapest alone, but the historic Gelléert’s is the Taj Mahal of baths, the most colorful and fascinating way to soak up the local Eastern European culture, even if just for a few hours.