This website started out in 2011 as a blog called ‘British Guy in Slovakia’. Back then I was still a struggling, unpublished writer and I wrote this blog to keep me sane and to document my new life in Slovakia.
Last week, the final COVID restrictions were dropped in Slovakia, and we went for our first day out to Podhájska spa. I love Podhájska, and I couldn’t quite believe it had been over two years since we last visited. It made me think about a blog post I’d written, back in 2013, so I thought I would share it again here. You can tell it’s quite an old post because I have coloured hair in the picture above, and it was all my own back then. Now it’s grey with blond on top!
Anyway, I hope you enjoy reading this about a fun day out at Podhájska spa, when the world seemed a much more normal place…
Sometime in Summer 2013…
This summer has been all work and little play. So with a bit of breathing space before I start writing again, we went for a Spa day. Slovakia is rich with geothermal springs, and scores of thermal spas are dotted across the country. One of the wonderful quirks of Slovakian TV is that you can get an overview of how many Slovak spas there are. If you happen to be up early in the morning, you can switch on the national TV stations STV1 or STV2 and watch a montage of live CCTV images from the thermal spa’s across the country – all set to the soothing sounds of folk music. I find watching this quite relaxing. It’s also quite funny to see members of the public, picking their nose or yawning with no idea they are being broadcast on TV. It’s people watching on a grand scale. They also do a similar CCTV montage with ski resorts in the winter, which is another favourite of mine.
One of my favourite Spa’s is in Podhájska, a forty-minute drive from the town where we live, Nitra. We always try to get there once a month, although the last time we went was in February when there was snow on the ground.
Podhájska Spa is unique amongst the Slovak geothermal springs in that its thermal waters have a similar composition of minerals as the Dead Sea. When I asked Ján’s mum how long there had been a spa in Podhájska, she couldn’t tell me. But she can remember when she was little, and it was just a vast pond dug out from the mud where you could jump in and soak your tired bones in the thermal waters for a couple of Kronen ( the old Slovak money before the Euro). When I first came here in 2007, it was a little more stately on a bitterly cold January day, and there was a giant steel-lined pool with seats built into the edges. We gently swam through the hot murky water as snow swirled around our heads. Many of the men were drinking beer, resting their bottles on the icy crust around the pool, and a group of elderly ladies sang Slovak folk songs in a soft, uplifting harmony whilst the snow settled on their shower caps.
After we were well and truly pruned, we did the next thing the Slovaks love to do at spas – we got pickled. We drank shots of Slivovica ( a lethal strong but delicious Plum brandy) and ate the most heavenly juicy roast duck. I fell in love with Podhájska, and Slovakia, there and then.
However, during our past few visits, something has been slowly taking shape in a mud-churned field next to the thermal pool. The mud and scaffolding have yielded, and a modern new Wellness Center has appeared.
This was a hot summer day in comparison to my first visit, and the temperature was nudging 35ºc. I didn’t fancy our usual soak in the hot pool, so we decided to treat ourselves to a day in the huge swish new Wellness Centre. It was very different. Once inside, you are ushered through a computerised entry system controlled by a little wristband. A rather excited lady, who might have been recently promoted from scraping mineral rust off the old pool, proudly showed us the touch screen locker system in the changing rooms.
From there, you walk under a fish tank in the ceiling where a couple of large lethargic fish with collagen lips sway and stare, and into Bazénový Svet (pool world), a series of steel-lined pools with crystal clear thermal waters. There are whirlpools and fountains, with seats which gently pump out massaging jets and bubbles, all under a vast curved wooden roof. There is even a Water Bar where coffee and alcohol can be drunk and paid for with a swipe of your wristband. The centrepiece is a waterfall that activates every half hour and plays a pleasant soft-rock song with African drum beats, which sounds a lot like something U2 recorded to help end world hunger. You can stand under the water as it falls from high above and pummels your back with a satisfying massage.
Outside the wooden dome is another hot pool with a sauna, sun loungers and a Bio Pond surrounded by reeds where special algae with skin healing properties tints the water green.
After splashing around happily for a couple of hours, we moved deeper inside the dome to Vitálny Svet – which translates as Vitality World. We walked back under the fish tank, past the excitable woman and into a large, dark, quiet cave, tiled from floor to ceiling and lit with purples, greens and blues.
We had the place to ourselves as we tried out all the procedures. We darted through a tropical tunnel fuelled by jets of freezing/hot water. A salt cave sprayed us with sea salt vapours – all the more impressive for a land-locked country. There was a Swedish sauna, a bio sauna, a herbal steam room, a salt steam room -all excellent- by my favourite by far was what I called The Pizza Oven.
Its Slovak name is Vodné Peklo, which means Water Hell, but it was far from hellish. It was a low, tiled igloo where a fine vapour descended from a domed ceiling whilst the water plinked and plunked where it met the walls. A column in the centre shot water out like a fire hydrant, and every sound seemed to echo and circle endlessly as the lights changed colour.
It was a deeply relaxing hour. Just when I thought the Podhájska I know and love had vanished in this new ultra-modern space, we stumbled upon some heated loungers in a tiled alcove. Above the loungers was a little window, and someone, I like to think a little old Slovak lady, had hung up a lace net curtain. I’m not sure if it was act of protest, or the desire to make the window look nicer. Thinking about it now, it was probably both.
We found ourselves firmly back on Slovak ground when we left the Wellness and went for something to eat. I had spicy Ram Goulash with fried potatoes, and Ján had Pork Schnitzel with melted cheese and salad. All washed down with tall glasses of Corgon Beer, and finished off with homemade ice cream. Quite pleasantly undoing all of the healthy procedures we enjoyed in the Spa.
And, here I am, back in the present-day 2022. A (little) older and blonder, after an hour in the boiling hot waters, in the same pool I first experienced in 2007. I’m happy to say that Podhájska is just as enjoyable, and the home-made ice cream is just as delicious x