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Hungary, the Land of Healing Waters

Endowed with the worlds fifth-largest supply of thermal waters and an ancient bathing culture, Hungary has the potential to build on its heritage and establish itself as a world-class mainly spabased wellness and health tourism destination. An increasing supply of beautiful facilities, mainly new projects but also upgrades, combined with buoyant demand driven by greater health consciousness, more focus on prevention, and increasing interest in natural curative methods makes this a very promising sector, together with the fact that the demographic drift toward older populations leads to an increasing stream of demand. Therefore Health Tourism enjoys top priority in the activities of the Hungarian National Tourist Office (HNTO), the countrys national tourism marketing organization. Thermal bathing in what is now Hungary is older than the nation itself. There is evidence that Neolithic peoples were attracted to the territorys warm springs. Later, Romans brought their bathing practices to Pannonia, the part of the Roman Empire that is now Hungary and whose capital, Aquincum, sat on the right bank of the Danube in current-day northern Budapest. Hungarian tribes who conquered the territory in the 9th century also established their main settlements around thermal springs. Budapest bathing was further boosted by the occupation of the Hungarian kingdom during the 16th and 17th centuries by the Ottomans, who, in accordance with Islamic ablutionary rites, built public baths, four of which - Kirly, Rc, Rudas, and Lukcs - remain in use today. While ancient man had discovered the benefit of a good soak, modern balneotherapy can be traced to the establishment in the late 19th century of water cure spas, which catered to Europes royals, aristocrats and well-to-do and for which the Austro-Hungarian Empire was famous. After the World Wars, Hungary embarked on a spa development drive in the 1960s, when dozens of new medicinal baths and swimming pools were built. And in the 1970s, the United Nations established an institute in Budapest for promoting bath development and the international sharing of its know-how. During the past decade, healing programmes that relied solely on bathing have given way to more elaborate therapeutic approaches, which incorporate massage and physiotherapy. Mud treatments and cures based on drinking mineral waters are also popular. The certification of medicinal water, defined as mineral water proven to have healing effects, is handled by the Ministry of Health in line with European Union regulations. Budapest, Europes largest spa city, has about 100 thermal springs, feeding some 20 baths including the citys six main historical baths, the Gellrt (part of the hotel of the same name), Kirly, Rc, Rudas, Lukcs, and Szchenyi, in addition to those of five modern spa hotels, the Ramada Plaza Budapest, Aquaworld Ramada Resort, Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, Danubius Health Spa Resort Helia and Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget. Also based in Budapest is Hungarys National Institute for Rheumatism and Physiotherapy. With nearly 1,000 beds, it is the worlds largest such institution for the treatment of locomotor disorders and has a special section for foreign patients. The institute, which incorporates clinics of post-graduate medical studies, is equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic facilities, including for balneotherapy. With thermal springs percolating beneath three-quarters of Hungarys territory, over 58 spa or treatment hotels can be found in Hungary. Hungarys traditional spa Mecca is Hviz, however plenty of settlements boast spa or treatment hotels, some of the more noteworthy include Bk, Hajdszoboszl, Srvr, Egerszalk, Sifok, and Balatonfred. The term wellness was imported in the Hungarian language a few years ago. It does not translate easily into Hungarian, since its meaning covers a general well-being in body and mind, relaxation, revitalization as well as being pampered. Hungarian hotels soon recognized the business potential lying in this new worldwide trend and initiated development projects to use it. Some new hotels were built on the basis of this concept whereas others especially health hotels extended their service portfolio in this direction. The active ingredients in the various medicinal waters differ from place to place, and some are unsuitable for visitors suffering from certain conditions. The majority are used to treat locomotor and rheumatic complaints; others are recommended for gynaecological problems, and kidney and metabolic disorders; when taken as a drinking cure, some are effective against stomach ailments. The composition of the water at Harkny is very similar to the one of the Dead Sea, and alleviates dermatological problems. It is

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always advisable to read carefully the information provided about the medicinal properties of the waters, and if in doubt to seek medical advice. Those who believe in natural healing remedies have a range of choices that extends far beyond just water. Hvz and Hajdszoboszl are also centres for mud treatment. The medicinal qualities of the mud make it especially suitable for the treatment of locomotor complaints. The humid air in the caves at Abaliget, Budapest, Tapolca and Jsvaf helps with respiratory problems. At Tapolca you can row a boat on the caves crystal-clear waters, while Jsvaf is part of the Aggtelek National Park and is a World Heritage Site. The mofette at Mtraderecske is a real curiosity. Here, naturally occurring gas containing carbon dioxide has been shown to have a positive effect when allowed to permeate the skin. Those who can benet from a dry bath in the gas are people suffering from heart and circulatory problems, including high blood pressure, and from chronic skin complaints.
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