Greece: Ancient Cures for Modern Woes
Following in the footsteps of Aristotle and Plutarch to discover the healing hot springs of Greece.
Bright as a red-lit Chinese lantern, the sun hovers above a pencil-fine rim of horizon as I clamber over rocks to reach the stone bath in Edipsos on the Greek island of Evia. Here, it is said that Roman general Sylla was cured of a mysterious skin disease in 115 BC.
Worn by centuries of use, the old stone basin is as smooth as a marble tub. As the mineral-charged water — which bursts out of the rocks above me at 38 °C — envelops my body like liquid chocolate, I relax for the first time in months. Watching the sun spread a last benediction over the wind-riffled Aegean Sea before slipping out of sight, I’m certainly hoping that my road trip to soak in Greece’s miraculous hot springs will restore wings to my lockdown-weary spirit.
Greeks have worshipped the healing powers of these hot spring waters since Antiquity. Rich in minerals including potassium, lithium and calcium, they are said to cure everything from eczema to depression, and Greeks in the know regularly visit these health-boosting sites.
Many water sources where the ancient Greeks once wallowed have since dried up, but there are still more than 700 hot springs in Greece. Since most of them are situated close to some of the country’s best-known archaeological sites, visiting them is also a great way to get to grips with its history.
Leaving Evia, I drive onto an old red ferry to cross the Gulf of Euboean to Glifa. By lunchtime, I’m sitting at Nostos Psarotaberna, a vine-shaded taverna overlooking the camel-coloured sands and brilliant turquoise waters of Kamena Vourla Bay. There, I spend the afternoon soaking up the healing sun and savouring the pop of salted, sun-dried avgotaraho roe pearls on my tongue.
Thermopylae, my next hot spring stop, is signposted by a life-size statue of Leonidas, the Spartan king who launched a suicide mission against the troops of Persian king Xerxes here in 480 BC. Legends say this is where Hercules was sent to recover after killing the Nemean lion.
Clambering over slippery rocks, I crouch in the pool beneath the waterfall and let the burning sulphur-packed water — said to be good for skin and bones as well as mental wellness — pummel away the tension accumulated from months of lockdown lifestyle. Afterward, my body aches as if I’ve had a vigorous massage, but my skin feels smooth and soft, and my mind is blissfully calm.
I end my trip at Vouliagmeni Lake. Hemmed in by high pink cliffs, the lake is actually a sunken cave fed by hot springs bubbling up from deep within Mount Hymettus, where Greeks have come to wash away their cares for some 2,500 years. A real locals-only address, this spectacularly beautiful lake, only an hour from Athens, is rarely visited by tourists.
Floating on my back, I stare up at the brilliant blue vault of sky thinking of all the people who bathed here — and all the wars, plagues and problems they once had to deal with. “This too will pass,” I mutter as the fragile wings of hope flutter deep inside me once more.
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A CRUISE TO CONTINUE YOUR WELLNESS JOURNEY
While Greece offers many opportunities to indulge in the soothing powers of hot springs, it doesn’t mean that the wellness experience has to stop when you get back on board your ship. With many itineraries in Greece and the Mediterranean, Atlas Ocean Cruises’ first ship, World Navigator — launched earlier this year — has the first-ever L’Occitane en Provence-branded spa at sea.
The 88-square-metre Luxury SeaSpa by L’Occitane features the brand’s Relaxing Pillow Mist signature scent, two treatment rooms, an infrared sauna and plush loungers with expansive ocean views. It also offers an exhaustive spa treatments menu, including the award-winning “Sleep & Reset Massage,” an innovative 90-minute massage with proven effectiveness on sleep quality and accredited by the European Sleep Center in Paris.