This Easter weekend we packed up the car and headed north up the E75 national road in search of a rejuvenating break from Athens.
The healing powers of Edipsos’ thermal springs on the island of Evia have attracted politicians and artists for centuries; millennia even! Less than two hours and a short ferry ride from the capital, this time it was my turn.
Today the luxurious Thermae Sylla Spa Wellness Hotel beckons.
Built in 1890 and lavishly restored a hundred years later, the hotel has direct access to the ‘Sylla’ thermal spring which flows up through the nearby rocks.
The name ‘Sylla’ dates back to ancient times when the spring was a favoured haunt of Roman general Cornelius Sylla, who (on his days off from destroying the port of Pireaus in 86 BC) did his r’n’r in these parts.
Emperors Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius also de-toga-ed here. But the town and its thermal springs go back even further.
Herodotus, the truly ancient Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC, reckoned twenty-one days of bathing in the waters was the recommended dose, but then he didn’t have to put it on his Visa card.
The therapeutic properties of the springs are apparently a result of the metallic salts and trace elements that occur naturally in the water, particularly iron, calcium and magnesium.
Heated some three kilometres below ground, the water reaches the surface at a temperature of between 70 and 85 degrees centigrade. Handy for boiling eggs at Easter, though I didn’t try.
Whilst I stayed at the Edipsos’ most luxurious hotel, there is accommodation in the town, and access to the thermal springs, to suit all budgets.
Some of the more modest accommodation available gives a fascinating glimpse into early 20th century history, and the Belle Epoque of this loutropolis (spring city), when the likes of Winston Churchill, Eleftherios Venizelos, Maria Callas, and Greta Garbo took the waters here.
The faded elegance of the Aigli hotel, two hundred metres from the harbour with its chic art-deco design, stands out proudly amongst the drab sprawl of the contemporary waterfront. Its modernist features are a must see for anyone even vaguely interested in architectural history.
A modest renovation, retaining its precious design features would be an idea for this dusty jewel of a building.
Back at the Thermae Sylla Spa, the service, rooms and amenities are top-class. Fresh organic produce from the hotel’s own farm supply the kitchens.
All in all it’s a great experience. Refreshingly, there is a total ban on guests smoking in public areas. Whilst the new laws in Greece aimed at restricting smoking in restaurants and bars are flouted blatantly nationwide, here it is part and parcel of the wellness experience.
A great gym and spa centre, offering body wraps with algae and fruit (!), aromatherapy and shiatsu, sits above interior and exterior pools that combine thermal and sea water at a constant 28-30 C. A package booking at the hotel includes a free consultation with the spa’s resident doctor.
One niggle was the almost inescapable piped muzak played in almost every public area.
Is that a Greek thing, or just a mistake made by so many establishments these days who don’t get it, that such extras are intrusive and unnecessary? In a setting that exists partly to revitalize its customers from the effects of environmental pollution, ‘noise pollution’ should be added to the list. To be fair, I may be just on the edge of the main demographic drawn to this beautifully restored hotel, though I’m not sure muzak appeals much to the hard of hearing either.
The customer base, certainly over Easter weekend, was decidedly mature to elderly, though there was a sprinkling of families with young children.
The hotel and the town itself, is certainly very Greek. Evia is traditionally a place where Greeks from Attica holiday and we were probably the only foreigners in town on the days we spent there.
According to legend, Hercules would bathe in the waters of Edipsos before each of his ‘labours’ in order to relax and regain his strength. I know the feeling.
I drove back to Athens on Easter Monday afternoon, the highway packed with Athenians returning home after the weekend break. In typical fashion, in their frantic race back to the metropolis, most showed complete disregard for speed regulations, the safety of themselves and more importantly, other road users.
By the time we pulled off the highway with a sigh of relief, towards our home in the leafy suburb of Kifisia, I could have done with another long soak in those ancient rejuvenating waters.
But then that’s all part of the charm and challenge of living in Greece today. Rules? Who needs ‘em!
Mike Sweet stayed (at his own expense) at the Thermae Sylla Spa Wellness Hotel, Edipsos. www.thermaesylla.gr