If you’re looking for a unique spa getaway, try the original “spa” town of Spa, Belgium. It’s been the place to “take the waters” since the 5th century, so there’s no need to prove the relaxing health benefits of doing the same with your friends for a weekend.
While the charming town of Spa itself deserves an article, we’ll focus on the getaway highlight perched on the hill: Thermes de Spa.
Table of Contents
Traveling to Spa, Belgium:
Though Spa is in the mountains, it is near several towns and cities in Belgium and nearby countries.
39km from Liège, Belgium
140km from Brussels, Belgium
61km from Maastricht, Netherlands
56km from Aachen, Germany
120km from Cologne, Germany
If you’re not driving, it’s easy to use the train. We traveled from Brussels, which took about two hours and required switching trains once (cost 22 Euros a person). If you take the cheapest option, the bus, it takes 4.5 hours and costs slightly less than the train.
Weather and Seasonal Visits
We visited the spa in mid-January, a perfect time to enjoy the heat and then walk in the snow. As it’s after the holidays, it’s a quiet time to visit. It was snowing, so you’ll need to pack warm clothes even though you’ll spend most of your time in a very warm climate inside the spa! Even in the summer months, however, the high temperatures are still relatively cool at 21C/70F. The upside of visiting in the summer are the beautiful hikes you can take to the spa and the surrounding areas.
Where to Stay in Spa:
There are many accommodation options, but only one place that allows you to travel up the hill to the spa (in your robe!) in a hotel funicular: Radisson Blu Palace Hotel.
We booked it using travel points, which covered the room and a plentiful, gorgeous breakfast. In your room, you’ll find robes and towels. Put them on and go directly to the funicular and then to the spa. Your hotel booking includes the hotel’s own small sauna but does not include access to the spa. A 3-hour pass costs 32 Euros, and a day pass costs 45 Euros (also student and disabled discounts). If you want to go back and forth on a day pass between the spa and the hotel, you can do that though the staff ask you to limit your entry and exit.
What to do at the spa
The spa has five major areas:
- Thermal water swimming areas
- Clothing-required sauna and rest areas
- No-clothing sauna and rest areas
- Treatments area and buffet
If you’ve never been to a thermal water and sauna complex, you’re in for a treat! A large domed area has enormous swimming pools filled with mineral water (usually 34C/93F), including heated pools outside. The large area also includes jacuzzies, a nearby bar/restaurant, and an infrared relaxing area.
Upstairs, you’ll find the clothing-required sauna area (wear your swimming suit), which also includes a blue-light “wood” relaxing room—great for naps—that claims “that breathing in this room for between 20 and 30 minutes is the equivalent of a day high in the mountains.”
Next to the clothing-required area, you’ll find a “naturist” spa that requires you to remove all clothing. We spent most of our time in this area, and it has a cold plunge, slightly carbonated small pools, and a great sauna where you can watch snowflakes fall outside.
Across from the saunas, you’ll find the “institute” where all treatment rooms are housed, along with a lunch buffet. I had a lovely massage and a world-famous carbonated mineral bath in a copper bathtub. If it’s good enough for Victor Hugo and Queen Marie-Henriette, it’s probably good enough for you!
The friendly attendant sets a timer for 20 minutes after drawing your bath from a special part of the thermal hot spring. You’re in a private room so you can go with or without your bathing suit. The water is naturally carbonated, so you have a lovely tingling feeling as you lower yourself into the bath.
My partner had another famous Thermes de Spa treatment: a peat bath. If you’ve ever heard of a mud bath, it’s a similar idea. The peat is mixed with carbonated mineral water for a 40C relaxing bath that is supposed to help with rheumatism and osteoarthritis. Bliss!
What and where to eat at the spa:
You have several options: the café/restaurant inside the spa, the restaurant outside the spa itself (but still inside the complex), bringing your own snacks, or eating in the town of Spa itself. The town hosts a few grocery stores and a variety of inviting restaurants.
If you eat inside the thermal spa, you’ll simply walk into the café in your robe and pay with a wristwatch they give you when you enter the spa. Then you’ll simply pay after you get dressed and ready to leave the spa. After dressing and exiting the spa area, you can eat at the spa restaurant overlooking the funicular and town of Spa. If you opt for the snack option, you can eat in the lobby area between the treatment and sauna areas in a comfortable chair looking outside. No matter which option you choose, it’s always good to bring water—though if you have a treatment, they have an endless supply of Spa mineral water for you.
Tips & Accessibility
- Though the spa does not allow footwear, pack flip-flops or waterproof slippers with you so you can get to the spa in your robe.
- If you’re not sure you want to go to the naked part of the spa, go in your swimsuit and then you’ll have the option of removing it later.
- Bring plenty of water (probably the Spa water bottled at the source!) and light snacks unless you’d like to eat at the café/restaurant.
- Leave your phone behind and settle into relaxing. Though there’s so much to do and see, there’s nothing better than a nap after soaking in that lovely sparkling mineral water.
- If you have mobility issues, the funicular is a great option, and there are elevators. But you’ll want to contact the spa first to check out the full range of options. Many people with chronic health conditions come to the spa for “cures,” so they’ll be able to advise you about what to do.
- If you have sensory issues, the spa is both a fantastic and challenging place. It’s best to go early in the morning or later at night on weekdays to avoid any possible crowds and noise. The naturist spa is usually the quietest area, as are the quiet relaxation rooms where you can escape any sensory issues you might be experiencing in the area.
- Though many people prefer a 3-hour pass, consider bringing food and reading material with you to spend the whole day! Your mind and body will thank you for it.
A getaway with friends to the spa is a perfect combination of time together and time relaxing your mind and body. If you’re looking to escape the winter weather, the warm cocoon of a sauna and thermal waters in Spa, Belgium, is the original place to do it.
Guest Author: Rose is a full-time traveler and late-diagnosed autist, writing to inspire and inform autistic travelers in navigating nomad life, sensory issues, and house sitting. Find her at The Autistic Traveler.