Spa Village is Hotsprings Heaven: Discovering a Boutique Hotel in Hamat Gader, Israel


What could be more relaxing than a day or two at a hotpring spa?  Travelling slowly in Israel can be a challenge, particularly if you are a tourist who wants to catch as many sites as possible in as little time, so taking a day or two for relaxation is a great idea. With swaying palm trees,lush foliage surrounding the two pristine pools,sounds of a waterfall and the tinkle of wind chimes you can easily be convinced to slow down for that day or two.  Pristine, turquoise pools filled with healing mineral waters are the heart and center of this hotspring spa getaway.    Hamat Gader, Israel, home of the ancient Roman hot springs spa has sprung to life in its modern reincarnation. Alongside vast public pools, a boutique hotel tucked away in a quiet corner allows guests quiet and privacy along with the extra comfort of staying overnight allowing them to enjoy the springs at all hours of the day or night.  To my mind, this is about as close to the Garden of Eden as one can get in this lifetime.

Sulfur springs

The highlight of any visit to Hamat Gader Spa Village are of course, the sulfur springs.  Known for their outstanding mineral properties, in healing everything from arthritis to high blood pressure to digestive disorders, you can choose between warm, hot, or hotter.  The hottest springs clock in at 42 degrees Celsius, and are hot indeed.  There is a small sign that says one should not stay in longer than ten minutes, but I highly doubt that the sign is needed.  I was able to last for just three.  Other pools are a mere 38 or 40 degrees Celsius and sport the added attractions of natural waterfalls, Jacuzzi jets, and hydrotherapy currents.

Bathing, bathing and more bathing

There is not much to do at Hamat Gader but kick back and enjoy the waters.  To that end, you can bathe in the very large public pools, the two smaller pools exclusively for the guests of the hotel, or your very own private Jacuzzi filled with mineral waters on the large wooden porch attached to your room.  All pools share the same water source with the same healing properties. In your personal in-room Jacuzzi you can set the temperature to your liking and while away the hours in perfect solitude.

Thailand in Israel

The Spa Village hosts approximately 30 individual wooden guest houses that have a Thai village feel to them.  The elephant sculptures that adorn the gardens add to the Asian feel.  Each guest house has a large room with a comfy queen size bed, closets, sofa ,coffee table and cable tv. A small fridge stocked with free beverages and a bottle of wine are included as well.  On the attached porch you will find the above mentioned Jacuzzi as well as a kettle for boiling water and all the fixings to make a nice cup of coffee or tea.

Blue Bar

Part of the boutique hotel complex includes a small restaurant called the Blue Bar, situated right at the edge of the pools.  It serves a deluxe, gourmet breakfast every morning replete with hand pulled espresso or cappuccino, and eggs made to order, along with a full buffet of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and herring.  It is easy to fill up on the delicious, fresh food served with a smile.  The restaurant is open for dinner as well, and serves fish and pasta daily, with side dishes of rice, potatoes and cooked veggies. A colorful salad bar is open each evening alongside the hot dishes, with an ever changing variety of salads.  Most room reservations include both breakfast and dinner, but if yours does not, it is worth adding, as the nearest restaurants are a ten to fifteen minute drive from the hot springs.  Eating on site is both easy and tasty.

Massage the day away

Spa Village at Hamat Gader is dedicated to creature comforts and stress reduction.  To that end, the full hotel package includes not only breakfast and  dinner, but also a 45 minute massage per person. The massage center, staffed by experienced masseurs and masseuses, offers a variety of treatments ranging from Swedish massage, to shiatsu and Thai massage.

Caveat Emptor!

Before signing on to this relaxing vacation, it pays to keep in mind that the sulfur smell is pervasive (I personally love it) and the weather can climb to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer time.  Wintertime is high season in Hamat Gader, and prices are accordingly higher.  Our visit during the low season set us back 1400 shekel, or $370 for two people. That included the room, breakfast and dinner for two, and two forty five minute massages.

A relaxing getaway

Whether you are a weary tourist, or a stressed out business traveller, taking a night or two at Spa Village, Hamat Gader, is a wonderfully unique way to recharge tired batteries.  Nestled in a corner of Israel, near the Sea of Galilee, and not far off the tourist trail, the natural scenery is breathtaking  and the miracle of the sulfur pools is not to be missed.

Traveler’s Tips:

  1. Drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
  2.  Don’t plan on doing too much. Sulfur tires you out.
  3. Use plenty of sunscreen.
  4. Don’t feed the alligators!

Book your stay here


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Spa Number Two – Szechenyi Spa

The Szechenyi Spa (pronounced Set Sheyni)was our destination on day two of our sojourn in Budapest, city of spas.  After a lovely walk down Andrassy Ut, the so-called “Champs Elysee” of Budapest, and a quick peak at the ornate Opera House, we climbed down a few steps to a the orange line of the metro, a throwback to the 19th century, when this was the first metro built in all of Europe.  The stations are tiled in white and burgundy tiles, with wooden cabinet fittings; the look is entirely retro, but the metro is extremely functional, and brought us quickly to Hero’s Square and from there a short walk to this largest of all spas.

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The spa complex is an enormous yellow and white set of buildings built in 1909 in the modern Renaissance style, it is perhaps the largest spa in Europe.  The building circles a huge, heated swimming pool and a thermal pool of equally large proportions.  The swimming pool is heated to 28 C and the thermal pool clocks in at 38 C.  The waters themselves are quite comfortable; the only problem is getting in and out of them into the frigid 0 C weather. Unfortunately, I had to do that one extra time because I was not wearing a bathing cap, apparently a sanitary requirement in the outdoor swimming pool (not the thermal pool, don’t ask me why).  After swimming several laps, and enjoying the outdoor thermal pool, where you can observe men playing chess while immersed in the water as if this was a very normal, everyday sort of event, we made a mad dash to the indoor pools of which there are no less than 19!  Each one is a slightly different size and has the temperature of the pool noted above it.  The waters range from 28 C-40 C allowing one to choose or go between the various pools.  All signs are in Hungarian, and in my attempts to understand what they meant I searched in vain for a Hungarian speaker.  Apparently, Mondays are tourist days, and while there were very few people speaking any language that I could recognize, there were no Hungarian speakers to help out. The pools were all filled, but there was room enough for all.

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After traveling among the various pools for two hours we indulged ourselves in a relaxation massage, which was quite similar to a massage in any spa we have visited, including massage table, soft music, candles, and pleasant cream.  The only unusual feature of my massage was that my masseuse, who spoke no English, answered her cellphone several times, and the knocks on the door at least twice.  Rather than getting annoyed, I figured this was my introduction to Hungarian spa culture, and let it pass.

After the massage we returned to our single sex changing rooms, and used our plastic watches to unlock our lockers, once again bundle up, and prepare to face the chilly Budapest evening.  A quick stop for a hot chocolate warmed our insides before making our way to a Bach filled organ concert in St. Stephen’s magnificent cathedral.

Tourist Info:

Szechenyi Spa can be reached by the orange metro line taken to the last stop.  Entrance to the spa which includes a locker is 3400 forint.  Towels can be rented, and one can upgrade to a private changing cabin as well.  Please note that one can rent a locker in the building with indoor baths (we didn’t know that), and if you prefer not to expose yourself to the cold outdoors this may be preferable.

Additonal spas you might want to try:

Gellert spa

Lukacs spa

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Spa Hopping in Budapest – Round 1


Arriving in the capitol of Hungary on a December morning, the grey, overcast skies and cold air greet you, and remind you that you are no longer in the mid-east but deep in the heart of Europe.  Any thoughts of sunshine, green lawns or trees, or flowers fade away.  The days are short, and darkness sets in at mid-afternoon.   It is no wonder then that thermal baths have taken front and center stage in Budapest’s long history.

 Apparently, the Romans who first built the city of Budapest, decided on this spot because of the thermal waters that are found all over the region.  Remnants of the Roman baths are hard to come by, but the city itself boasts 24 thermal spas that are open to the public.

Spa animals that we are, we set ourselves a goal of visiting one spa per day.  But which one to go to?  Ah, so many choices. How big? How historic? How many baths?  Rick Steve’s Budapest was a big help. We decided to take advantage of the coed policy on Sunday (all other days are single sex) at the Rudas Spa on the Buda side of the city. As you may know, the city of Buda pest is actually two cities: Buda and Pest with the Danube river running north/south through the city.  Our hotel is in Pest, as are most hotels, so we need to cross over the Danube on the Chain Bridge in the drizzle that accompanied us since arrival.  Having bought earlier in the day a 72 hour public transportation pass (3800 forints, allowing you to get on and off all modes of public transport – bus, train, tram) we decided to cut our walk short and hop a bus that seemed to be going in the right direction.  It was, but when we realized that we had arrived at our stop, we couldn’t figure out how to egress the bus, and overshot our stop by quite a bit.  After boarding a tram in the reverse direction, we eventually arrived at our destination, only to be met by a severe looking hostess who tried to convince us to purchase a combination ticket for the swimming pool and the baths so that we could enter immediately.  We were only interested at that point in the day (5 PM) in the baths, which entailed a 30 minute wait for a free changing “cabin”.  After paying (3200 forint each) we received plastic watches that allow entry into the spa, and into one’s personal cabin.  While waiting, we chatted with the folks on line and had a Hungarian draft beer (550 forint for a half litre – about $2!).

Finally we were allowed entry into the changing area,  whereupon, we realized that the two of us were assigned to one very small changing cabin more like a telephone booth.  Very small.  With the two of us in there neither of us could easily move without elbowing or kneeing the other.  We debated taking turns waiting outside, but decided to do it the Hungarian way, and so we did.  After mastering the art of changing in the cabin, we made our way to the spa, but not before checking to make sure that we had in fact understood that two people changed at once in these teeny, tiny cabins.  They did.

Rudas Spa

Rudas Spa

We made our way to the room containing the thermal spa on flip flops we had luckily remembered to bring and with our “borrowed” hotel towels that we had full intention to return.  (Renting a towel is an added expense).  The room that greeted us was Moorish in design, originally built in the 15th century,  with subdued lighting and a mist rising from the octagonal central pool in the middle of the room that was surrounded by four smaller pools in each corner of the room.  The central pool was 38 degrees Celsius, while the smaller ones ranged from a cool 28 C to a scalding 42C.  We gingerly made our way from pool to pool, eventually finding our comfort level matched in the 38 degree pool in the middle under a domed roof.  Looking around there were people of all ages, mostly couples, mostly speaking Hungarian, with perhaps a slight advantage for the under thirty crowd.  There was only one child in the entire complex.  After spending about 30 minutes moving from pool to pool we were ready for the plunge into the 10C freezing cold pool.  At least some of us were.  I was only able to make it in up to my knees, but there were several people fully immersed for several minutes.  Back to the warm pool for another set, until we were ready to rest in the quiet room on lounge beds.  Resting after thermal baths is both imperative, and perhaps the most enjoyable part of thermal bathing.  There is something about the chemicals in the water that afford one a natural “high” if you take the time to notice it.  Lying on the lounge bed, a lassitude takes over, and I float somewhere between imagination and sleep, savoring this feeling of deep and total relaxation.

After a quick, public shower, we return to our changing cabin, this time adopting our style of changing one at a time, bundling up to face the cold Budapest evening, where the misty drizzle of the afternoon has now turned into a bonafide rainfall.  Nothing that a hearty vegetable soup, and plate of Hungarian goulash won’t chase away.

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