European Route of Historic Thermal Towns
“Cultural Route of the Council of Europe” certified in 2010
Thermalism - the therapeutic use of hot springs - has been prevalent in Europe from ancient times to the present day. Many of the towns along this route were known during Roman times, and several have impressive ruins of baths and associated spa buildings. The most famous towns reached the height of their renown during the 18th and 19th centuries, when a wide range of new medical and health treatments were developed, and when travel became much easier with the arrival of the railways. The prestigious political and cultural elite travelling to Europe’s spas, creating centres of cultural exchange in numerous cities, may be said to have launched modern tourism as we know it. These celebrities cemented the reputation of the thermal spa towns and gave birth to a real trend, the development of prestigious hotels and a variety of leisure activities, ranging from the first casinos to musical theatres, to covered promenades and landscaped gardens for the entertainment of fashionable tourists.
Baden-Baden, Bath, Budapest, Karlovy Vary, Spa and Vichy are only a few of the most famous European spa towns, but Europe is home to many more spa towns with unique urban personalities, different styles of architecture, and different spa traditions, built around bathing or drinking of the thermal waters. This spa culture, in all its variety and different local flavours, can truly be considered a unique European heritage. In order to catalogue and celebrate this heritage the Thermal Atlas of Europe is currently under development.
Today, our towns tell the stories of an important European memory through annual festivals, events, and a wealth of artistic and creative activities in which tourists can participate. Above all, the traveller can actively enjoy the pleasures and benefits of the thermal waters, relax and experience a real multi-sensorial tradition.
Council of Europe values
Thermal towns were the “cafés of Europe”, places where members of all levels of society could mix, exchange ideas and even change society - where the “rules” ensured civilised conduct. Thus, spas have played a leading role fostering peace, co-operation and creativity, protecting the built and natural environment, and promoting sustainable cultural development – a role that has been present throughout European history and continues to this day.