Making Waves at the Gellért Spa in Budapest.
The Orient Express – or the spirit of it – is the theme of this trip. We’re thinking history, wealth, luxury – and budget prices. We’d eaten copious quantities of cake in Budapest’s grand cafes, and now we were about to share a public bath with a few hundred other people.
We’d planned our trip to the Gellért spa on the morning of our night train travel to Romania. We hoped to ease into the journey with soothed muscles and relaxed enough to sleep. The vibe was more institutional than pampering. At the help desk we were given plastic wristbands and despatched. Tracking down long tiled underground corridors we searched for an attendant to give us a cabin number and then we searched for the cabin. Row upon row of red doors, and netted rope roofs confronted us. Inside, there was just enough room for two. We tried on our newly acquired Gellért swimming caps and giggled. Not very flattering, but compulsory if using the pool. Clutching our hired white towels, we set off through the old wooden changing rooms towards the thermal pools. More corridors and glimpses of white attired attendants. Gellért had a medicinal, clinical edge, no doubt a hang-over from the Communist era.
We carried on, and popped out by the pool.
That’s when the beauty of the place hit me. Tiles and pillars, balconies and light. It was before noon on a Saturday morning, not busy, not noisy – just perfect. Eventually we found the thermal pools. There are two sets. (The spa used to be segregated). Mosaics and turquoise, green and deep-blue tiles, ornaments of Mer-children and sea gods; the sound of water cascading from fountains; I was lost between land and water; beauty and practicality. Art Nouveau detail to wallow in. I walked down the steps, feeling the warmth of the 36 degrees! I floated and then moulded my body to the stone bench incorporated in the pool. I stayed until my skin puckered like a prune, and still I did not want to leave. Now that was cosseting!
It was sparklingly clean. We’d read many Google reviews which suggested otherwise. ‘They should have seen the pool at a hotel I stayed at in India once’, said Jim. ‘The water was brown and looked like mud – there was filth on the bottom’. That hotel was called ‘The Big Splash’, which referred to a huge water slide at said pool but the name was the cause of much hilarity amongst his Shell colleagues who joked that it must refer to the ablution habits of newly arrived guests in India. My equilibrium was lost. I laughed so hard, I almost drowned in all that Art Nouveau glory.
There are saunas and cold plunges, an outdoor pool and a small cafe. We could easily have spent the day. But we had to drag ourselves back to the real world. We had a train to catch.
Tickets for the bath can be booked in advance online or at the entrance. Valid all day. Euro 21 during the week and Euro 22 at weekends. This price entitles entrant to a cabin (one per couple). Lockers are slightly cheaper. Towels and robes can be hired. If possible take your own towel – Gellert towels all look the same and are easy to lose. Flip-flops are a good idea, especially if you wish to go outside (pavement gets hot). There is a small café at the outdoor pool, credit card only. Possible to take a bag into the pool area and to take photos if you do not disturb other patrons.
- photos in this blog are not my own. They are photos of photos displayed in the reception area.