"The physician treats but nature heals"
Before the era of Hippocrates and Aristotle, physical illness was viewed as a punishment from God rather than a result of biological malfunction or infection. Both men challenged the ignorance of the era arguing that diseases must be studied and empirical evidence documented. They viewed a physician's role to first do no harm and secondly to support the patient's natural healing ability with appropriate intervention based on evidence of past success. The brilliant work of these ancient Greeks changed the world of medicine and their legacy is seen in the hospitals of the Western world today. For example, Atropa Belladonna is used in motion sickness medications, in eye examinations and many other pharmaceutical applications. Other forms of ancient medicine still in practice today include bathing in mineral-rich baths to ease muscle pain, arthritic conditions and to improve circulation and cutaneus disorders.
"Thalassa" comes from the Greek word meaning 'sea'. The ancient world discovered that trace minerals found in sea water seemed to have a soothing effect for many ailments. Greece's porous limestone and volcanic landmasses make for an abundance of naturally occurring mineral spas that have been used since the days of the Greek Philosophers.
The application of therapeutic clay to the body to enhance detoxification is not unique to Greece, however, one would be hard-pressed to find a larger mud bath than the facility in Krinides along Greece's northern border.
A quick 1 hour flight from Athens will land you on one of the world's shortest airstrips located on the Northern Aegean island of Ikaria. Celebrate your safe arrival by soaking in thermal waters in the town of Therma, dance with the locals at the festival at Karame and dine on excellent Mediterranean cuisine. Be forewarned; this is a quiet island with little to no nightlife. A trip here is focused on peacefulness and quiet healing.
Along the rocky coastline thermal vents gush heated water from deep within the ocean floor. A naturally occurring cave has been transformed into a spa where patrons soak away their arthritic aches and pain. The cave has shower facilities and changing rooms and is easily accessible. This is a rustic experience that should be enjoyed by those who are seeking a truly authentic experience in nature.
The island of Ikaria has been identified as being home to one of the world's longest-lived populations with more people living into their 90's and 100's than almost anywhere else on Earth. Their lifespan has garnered international attention and it is hypothesized that their longevity is due to a combination of diet, low stress and exercise, though the Ikarians will tell you its due to their thermal waters!
I like to pick up my rental car from the airport and zip over the hillside, avoiding the goats that will inevitably be milling about on the road-and check into a small hotel in the neighborhood of Faros Beach. I like a place with a kitchenette and Faros Beach is a quick 8 minute's drive away from the Town of Therma. You will need a car on the island as it is larger than it seems and public transport is inadequate on this volcanic island.
If soaking in a cave doesn't suit your taste, try visiting Apollon Spring just down the street. This too is fairly rustic and sure to make you feel as if you're having a real adventure as you sit yourself down into the tiled baths filled with salty, thermal waters that have healed the locals for centuries. Hours and a chemical analysis of the mineral content can be found by following the link below.
Of course Greek food is excellent, no one would disagree. However, here on a small island you can wander around the tiny neighborhoods and hand pick fresh figs as you wander down to the sea. Purchase saganaki (fried cheese) and red wine from local cafes between immersions into the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Ikarian Sea.
Loutraki, just 1 hour outside of Athens on the Gulf of Corinth. This seaside village boasts excellent accommodations, beautiful ocean beaches, thermal baths and is famous for its drinking water which is reported to have healing effects.
In recent years parts of this little town have gotten a facelift, mostly due to the fact that wealthy Athenians like to escape to the heat of the city and cool off by the sea..and gamble at the casino located on the wharf as you enter town. I didn't gamble, but enjoyed my stay at Hotel Pappas. The hotel had spectacular ocean views and an excellent breakfast buffet.
This massive hydrotherapy spa has indoor and outdoor pools that offer different temperatures and with a broad variety of massaging jets and waterfalls, plus wet and dry saunas. www.loutrakispa.gr
Worth the drive from Loutraki to neighboring Corinth where you can visit the ancient ruins or stop on the bridge for a view of the Corinth Canal- a 70 ft-wide channel that was cut through the landmass to provide a passageway for ships. An engineering feat worth seeing, or better yet, take a tour boat down the narrow passageway!
Like most locations in Greece, the sea is a shimmering dream come true in Loutraki as well. An interesting fact; all beaches in Greece are Public Beaches, regardless what expensive hotels may have popped up along the shore. Greeks don't believe that anyone can own the ocean, therefore no one is denied access to her beauty. This is lovely mentality is typical of Greek philosophy and testimony to their sophistication.
The waters are reported to benefit those with such ailments as kidney stones, urinary tract dysfunction and gastrointestinal disorders. The unique building has a domed ceiling, pillars and golden mosaics. The water source comes from a large, open well that sits in the center of the building and an attendant literally draws a pitcher full of water and pours it directly into your glass. Ask any local hotel manager about the hours and location, it is an easy walk from most places in town.
Known as the 'End of Attica' this is the southernmost tip of Greece. Its close proximity to Athens (just 35 minutes) makes it a bustling shoreline that has also been dubbed the Athenian Riviera. Great food and accommodations abound and Lake Vouliagmeni is a natural wonder to be enjoyed before heading to the romantic serenity of Cape Sounio.
Among my favorite spas in Greece is Lake Vouliagmeni. Once a volcano that decayed upon itself to reveal a lovely emerald-hued lake which is heated with thermal vents from deep within the crusty limestone terrain. This lake is warm year-round and guests enjoy a splendid view as well as five-star cuisine at the restaurant on site. www.limnivouliagmenis.gr
At Lake Vouliagameni, in addition to the healing waters there is an added service the water provides: the Garra Rufa. these 'Spa Fish' surround bathers and gently exfoliate the skin, leaving patrons smooth and soft for days after. Be brave! This unique experience is not to be missed!
This romantic region of Greece has plenty of hotels to choose from..unless the Athenians are on a holiday, then pickings will be slim. I managed to get a luxury cabin in Sounio at Cape Sounio Grecotel Resort and an amazing suite at Aegon Hotel for a steal. My other favorite option is to stay at the London nearer Lake Voiliagmeni. The London offers comfortable beds and an award winning chef at affordable prices.
Beautiful coastlines and archeological sites are typical of the Greek landscape. Just down the coast from Lake Vouliagmeni is Sounio, a lovely town that is crowned by the Temple of Poseidon. A close look at the columns and you can see Lord Byron's signature etched into the stone. Interestingly, the English poet was so enamored with Greece that he ended his life on her shores.
While it may not be possible to avoid overindulging in food while in Greece, at least the Mediterrannean diet is known to be supported by cardiologists around the world. Excellent food can be found at most mid-priced hotels in Greece and are often included in the price of lodging.
Kamena Vourla is an easy, 2 hour drive north of Athens. The national highway is in excellent condition, but bring cash for the multiple toll booths you will pass through. Getting deeper into the countryside of Greece is imperative if you want to truly taste the flavor or this ancient culture. There are a vast number of historically significant sites to see all within easy reach of Kamena Vourla. Reserve 4 days to travel to the battle of Thermopylae, Meteora and Delphi before returning to Athens.
Galini is an extravagant wellness resort and spa in central Greece, sitting between the sea and the mountains with towering eucalyptus trees. The resort has a grand piano and dance floor, 224 rooms, a tennis court, multiple pools, a therapeutic spa with radioactive waters and excellent restaurants and bars. Off-season prices are breathtakingly affordable and have the option of including dinner and breakfast.
The healing thermal waters of Galini are fed from an underground spring and the pools are changed daily. The front desk at the resort is knowledgeable and will provide documentation that gives a chemical analysis of the water and reports that the slight radioactivity is helpful for healing neurological issues, respiratory tracts and hepatic and glandular cells.
Also an option for an added fee is a massive Spa with modern treatments one would see in a five star resort elsewhere in the world. The Spa menu offers massage, a hammam and a variety of body treatments and the facility offers multiple therapy pools with water jets and differing temperatures for healing benefit.
Leave Galini and drive 15 miles further for the awe-inspiring opportunity to see the museum and monument where the battle of Thermopylae took place. Wipe away your tears and bow your head out of respect for the 300 Spartans who courageously battled a Persian army that outnumbered them by thousands. Then stop by the mineral springs at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae to dip your body in the same warm waterfall that Spartans used to bathe their wounds in. www.lamia.gr
Though Meteora is not exactly a close neighbor to Galini and Thermopylae, it is still located in Central Greece and well-worth the 98 mile drive to see the stuff of fairytales. Meteora is a collection of sandstone pillars that jut almost 2000 ft into the sky. Perched atop the cliffs are several ornate monasteries built in the 1500's and still inhabited by monks and nuns today. Visitors can enter these relics and gaze in awe at the engineering feat achieved by the ancient monks.
A 7 hour drive north of Athens will take you to the ancient city of Philippi. In addition to its therapeutic mud baths, this region is much like a living museum. Philippi was named after Philip II of Macedon (father to Alexander the Great). This fertile valley was also the battlefield upon which the traitor Brutus was defeated following his murder of Julius Caesar. Nearby, you can walk through the ancient ruins and where it is believed the biblical Paul was imprisoned. Later, a short drive to Lydia will allow you to splash in the waters where Paul baptized the first woman; Lydia. Take a few days to explore this region and wrap your head around the eons represented in this small location.
Hotel Philippeio in the historical town of Philipi is the perfect crossroads of elegant, modern convenience and historical charm. Start your day with a five-star breakfast overlooking the valley from this mountaintop hotel. Stop by to say hello to Ramona, the massive mare and mascot of Philippeio. Ramona is a reminder to travelers that Philippi has a long history of horsemen warriors, as evident by the ancient rock carvings discovered in the region. Ask the host and owner for more information about the history of this region and be prepared for a dazzling tale! www.philippeio.gr
Shed your American mindset and your clothing to step naked into the powerful showers and therapeutic mud baths for a geothermal therapy that is sure to make you feel like a person reborn. This massive , outdoor mud-pit is gender-segregated for comfort. The clay is blended with thermal water heavy in mineral content. Medical staff is on site and a brief physical is conducted prior to entering the baths. Later, stop in the hammam and eat delicious lunch at the café onsite. As you walk back to your vehicle contemplate that the parking lot was once the battlefield that saw a defeated Cassius and Brutus commit suicide in the final battles following the death of Julius Caesar. http://pilotherapia.gr/?page_id=8210&lang=en
Located in the vast ruins of the ancient city, this amphitheater still hosts summertime festivals. Stop at the visitor center and ask for information regarding the location of Paul's imprisonment and recount the biblical stories as you wander this historic site.
A few miles outside of Philippi sits a little church in Lydia. Venture across the lawn and down to the creek to see the location where it is believed Paul baptized the first woman, Lydia. You may need to wait your turn to dip into the water while a group of pilgrims completes a religious service. If you choose to enter the ornate church you will be dazzled by golden mosaics and can catch a glimpse of a map of Paul's travels as you enter the church.
In Greece's northernmost territory, 3 hours west of Krinedes, the terrain becomes mountainous with beautiful forests. Nestled into one of these landscapes is Loutra Pozar. The word Loutra means 'bath' in Greek and certainly a bath is what you shall have in this naturally occurring hot waterfall that cascades over the lip of a mountain. A lovely location with scenic rivers, excellent hotels and dramatic mountains. A local described the area as "SuperWow!" and I believe this is a fitting comment.