Now, we all enjoy a good Turkish bath. They are very much part of the tapestry, or should I say the kilim, of the Turkish cultural experience. The light slanting down through the steam, the heat of the stone under your back, the scraping of the kese, and then the agricultural beating from the masseuse.
If you want to take experience further, then this winter you should get out of town and hit a thermal hotel.
While living on a tectonic fault line can have some fairly devastating negative aspects, at least it gives us access to some of the world’s best natural thermal water sources. Many of these have been in use since classical times, where the Greeks and Romans would take the waters as part of their own holiday good times.
And winter is the perfect time to hit the spa. Istanbul Stress tends to build over the course of the year, and just a couple of days at a spa will give you the serenity and calm of a thousand Buddhist monks and will help you face even the most busy intersection when you get back.
Basically head in any direction from Istanbul and you will find thermal hotels.
For a weekend, the best possible option is Bursa or Yalova. A fast ferry from Kabataş means that you will be well on your way outta here while your colleagues are still stuck on the Second Bridge. Bursa is the more difficult of the two destinations, being further inland.
Going further south, Izmir and the Edremit area have a surprisingly good range of options, while the east — or central west Anatolia — has an abundance of options. Afyonkarahisar is an Anatolian town famous for towels, sucuk and Turkish delight, but also has a few very decent thermal hotels (such as İkbal Thermal). Closer to Istanbul, Kızılcahamam has a wealth of spas.
One of the best things about thermal baths in Turkey is that they are totally egalitarian. You can find a thermal hotel for whatever budget you want. Kızılcahamam is one of the venues for the annual AK Party conference, so you know they have some pretty high-end venues, such as the Patalya Hotel. But down the road you will find very reasonable bath packed with Uncles from the village, easing their aching joints.
Things get even more real if you head into the hills. The tiny and basic spa resort of Şey Hamamı is full of pensions that are super cheap. The water in the ancient hamam is perhaps the hottest in the country and will scald the dirt right out of your pores.
At the other end of the scale is Çelik Palace in Bursa. This place is old school, but still luxurious. Atatürk stayed there when everything was in black and white, so it is officially an institution.
Just outside of Izmir is the Kaya Thermal Resort, which is another good location for a weekend retreat.
The services provided in any given thermal spa will depend on the price, of course, but baseline, we are talking free use of the pools (there is usually an outdoor pool in the larger establishments), robes, saunas and Turkish baths. Everything else, unless you are getting some deal only open to Oil Barons, will cost additionally. For example, a massage in the Kaya Thermal costs 120 TL.
Most of the more expensive places have full board options, which are worth taking up if relaxing is your primary objective. It is so much easier going downstairs at the end of the day to pig out at a buffet than going into town.
The thermal winter break is not for everyone. As relaxation is sort of the point, this is not a good option for people who need to follow an agenda. But if you are the sort who, when dragged along to a skiing trip, dreads the slope and longs for the lounge and the whisky afterwards, then a thermal bath trip is definitely for you.
Timothy Mottram is a contributor to Yabangee