On of my favorite things about living in rural Shimane, Japan was the abundance of natural hot spring baths, or Onsen (温泉). Japan has a long history of bathing culture and traditions. Around the same time when the royals of medieval Europe bathed once a month and the peasants bathed once or twice in their lives, Japanese were bathing every single day. The bathhouse itself is called Sentou, and can be found in every version throughout all the major cities of Japan. But in the countryside of Iwami, we have a special treat – Onsen. Not merely baths of hot water, onsen are baths of natural mineral water which comes from the mountains. While living in Shimane, I visited the onsen every other week at least. I had my favorites: Iwami for the tea baths and restaurant, Arifuku for the sea view, or Sanbe onsen for it’s outdoor baths, and I must have gone to a dozen more or so over the year I was there. But this isn’t a post about onsen in Japan – this is about onsen in Greece.
Known as Iamatikes Piges (ιαματικές πηγές) in Greek, natural hot spring are what my family’s island has been famous for since the 1st century.
On our island, they can be enjoyed in two ways:
By walking through rocky boulders on Thermos beach and getting into the ocean right were the spring shoots out. This is the natural way. You know where to find the mineral source because the hot water turns all the rocks a rusty orange color. This is an amazing experience because 1) it’s free, 2) you’re in nature, watching the sunrise, and 3) it’s usually pretty secluded. One word of caution though is that the hot mineral water is truly hot. The risk of being burned is real if you go to close to the source. Best to step into the water off to the side, where the hot water mixes with cold sear water to create a lukewarm bath temperature, and slowly inch your way closer to the source. You’ll feel bursts of hot and cold water wash past you which is thrilling and therapeutic.
The second way is going to Therma Hot spring Bathhouse in the town of Therma. This is similar to a Japanese onsen experience, but with a few interesting differences.
Like Japan, you must shower and wash your body before you enter the bath, because it is a shared pool, and you don’t want to bring your own body dirt to the shared pool. But unlike Japan, we stand up to take showers in Greece, instead of sitting on buckets like the Japanese do.
Also, Japanese onsen are strictly nude, and often segregated by sex. In Therma, you could chose to wear a swimsuit or not, and it was coed.
It was my first experience at a mineral bathhouse in Greece, and I was surprised and excited to be able to compare it with my experience in Japan.
|The town of Therma, as seen from the front of the bathhouse|
|interior of the bathhouse|
|showers and dressing rooms|
|inside the bathhouse, it was in a cave!|