From sun-baked olive groves overlooking the Sierra Nevada mountain range, to hidden, hillside forests and majestic waterfalls, there is an adventure waiting for anyone who wishes to visit these naturally therapeutic and mineral-rich waters.
If like us, you’re on the road constantly with little access to luxuries such as comfortable beds and hot water, stumbling across a hot spring will certainly elevate your mood and revitalise your body before setting off on your next adventure.
In our two years of travelling the continent, we’ve been lucky enough to visit an extensive number of natural, wild and free hot springs across Europe, and we thought it was about time we shared our knowledge and experience with other travellers!
Here’s a brief guide to the categories we’ve reviewed each location under. These are purely opinions based on our personal experiences at each thermal pool we visited.
Appearance- A rating of the pools themselves, irrespective of the surrounding location.
Temperature- A rating of how comfortable the temperature is. Hottest isn’t necessarily 5 stars.
Location- A rating of the area surrounding the pools, irrespective of the pools themselves.
Odourless- The higher the star rating, the less smell emits from the pools.
1. Kalameny, Slovakia
Located just outside the small, mountainous village of Kalameny, lies a small thermal pool. Fed by the spring in the middle of the pool and a cold river adjoining, it’s possible to bathe all year round with a fairly consistent temperature of 32 degrees. It’s warmest closest to the source, which gushes vigorously from a central column within the pool itself.
The pool is frequented mainly by local villagers and because of its size, is fairly busy throughout the day. At night, you’re more likely to be alone, free to bathe under the stars in relative peace. Peace that will only occasionally be disturbed by an eighteen-wheel logging lorry thundering along the dirt track adjacent.
Because the sulphurous water is mixed with fresh mountain river water in the pool, there is virtually no smell. In fact, after hiking 30km through the nearby Tatra Mountains, we felt positively fresh after bathing here.
Etiquette: Swimwear required during the day. In the evening, people tend to use the pool without.
2. Rupite, Bulgaria
At the foot of Kozhuh mountain in South Western Bulgaria, lies the hottest springs we have visited to date. A small drive from any nearby towns, this spring offers multiple pools ranging from 45-78 degrees.
The locals have created a network of hot streams that feed the pools, and have large concrete slabs on standby ready to divert the steaming water away when the pool has reached the desired temperature. In the daytime, the locals will be sure to tell you which pools to avoid if you want to keep all your skin. By night, it’s a guessing game as the pools are forever changing temperature. Dip a toe cautiously prior to getting in, if you know what’s good for you.
It’s recommended not to spend any longer than 15 minutes at a time in here and honestly, I don’t think I could’ve handled much longer than half an hour before passing out in the thick clouds of steam.
Camping is easily possible here as there is a large open field right next to the pools. We were able to stay for several days, making friends with a few stray dogs along the way.
This is one of our favourite to date, not least because there was no smell of sulphur. I have a sneaking suspicion that the locals put some kind of perfume in the water somewhere along the line as it almost smelt of cosmetics, but not at all overpowering and most certainly better than the smell of rotten egg.
Etiquette: Bulgaria is a fairly conservative country, as such, swimwear is worn day and night by locals and visitors alike.
3. Cascate del Mulino, Italy
Probably the most famous free hot spring in Europe and certainly Italy; the rich mineral waters at Saturnia flow at a therapeutic 37.5 degrees all year round, meaning even in January when we visited, it was possible to enjoy a beer under moonlight without feeling cold. The fast-flowing stream, waterfall and pools hold a strong sulphuric content, responsible for the distinct smell of egg that engulfs the area.
But don’t let that put you off! These pools are the first thermal waters we visited and are still some of our favourites to date.
With a large range of pools to choose from and consistently warm temperatures throughout, you’ll be sure to find a spot where you can unwind, relax and soothe your muscles and skin. A large waterfall at the top of the artificial pools drops 5 meters from the fast-flowing river above, where you will discover even more places to soak in the thermal waters, away from the crowds below.
A fair warning; contrary to many online guides about Saturnia, it is most certainly not a secret location and if you are visiting in high season, expect large crowds and difficulty parking. There is a car park with a height restriction of 2.1 metres next to the site. It’s possible for larger vehicles to park along the small road outside, but parking is very limited and if you’re planning to stay the night, it can be very noisy.
It’s worth noting there are several more free hot springs in the Tuscany region of Italy; Bagni di San Filippo- a hidden forest spring that emits temperatures of 48 degrees at the source and slowly makes its way down stream, through a series of shallow, bright blue pools and Bagni Petriolo- a cluster of small, 42 degree pools located at the edge of a river. Two more that I should mention are in Viterbo, one by the edge of a motorway and one that was advertised as free but seemingly locked away in an odd glass cage when we visited. The four mentioned above haven’t made it individually to the list for various reasons, mainly they were too busy for our personal liking, too man-made or simply in unfortunate, un-natural locations. We’d love to hear what you think of them, though!
One final note here, if you’re bringing swim gear, make sure it’s old! The pools are the most sulphurous we have encountered yet, and no amount of washing could get the smell out of our hair for weeks after!
Etiquette: Swimwear required during daytime. At night, many travellers frequent the pools without.
4. Thermopylae, Greece
Just off the main road between Thermopylae and Lamia, next to an abandoned fuel station and an abandoned hotel come refugee camp, lies a truly understated site.
The sulphurous water here begins its journey at the foot of Kallidromo in a large knee-deep swimming pool surrounded by trees. It feels somewhat magical here as the crystal clear water softly bubbles away sporadically. Not many people use this top pool, which is the hottest at approximately 42 degrees.
As the river begins its journey, it winds downhill for a few minutes before descending rapidly down an impressive waterfall, where you will likely find most people congregating. On the weekends, these hot springs become a popular destination to have a barbecue with family members and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the water. Rope handles are attached in several areas around the waterfall, allowing you to submerge yourself in the rapidly, fast-flowing body of water without falling on the slippery rocks that surround it.
Further downstream, we found some quieter pools which see less than ten visitors a day coming to bathe away from the crowds, as nature would have intended. These pools are still a great temperature at roughly 38 degrees, and allow you to move between gentle currents and vigorous mini water-falls, which are great for relieving muscle pain.
Historically, this site was a battle ground between King Leonidas and the Persians. It’s now home to a refugee camp, mainly housing Middle Eastern refugees fleeing from war.
The Greek government are desperately trying to sell the land to investors, in hope of developing the springs in to a tourist complex. Thankfully, no takers have been interested so far and this beautiful place remains free for all to enjoy.
Camping is possible at the small pools. We had a surprisingly good sleep here, despite being close to the main road. Possibly something to do with spending hours of our days sat in the water. Possibly.
Etiquette: Clothing required in main waterfall. In the lower pools, nobody wore swimwear in the five days we stayed for. In the evening, refugees use the top pool, and men will not allow you to enter the pool whilst the women are bathing.
5. Kamena Vourla, Greece
Kamena Vourla isn't a must see. But I feel it does deserve a mention for one quite amazing reason.
Firstly, I’ll bore you with why it’s not really worth a visit.
It took us quite a while to find the exact location of this place (TripAdvisor will take you to the wrong place entirely), but after half an hour or so of scouring Google Maps we eventually found the hot spring pools, situated just outside of the popular spa resort town of Kamena Vourla.
However, when we arrived the place was unfortunately not quite we were looking for. Situated between the shadows of a mountain face and a motorway, separated from traffic only by reeds, these hot springs aren’t particularly relaxing or quiet. The smell is fairly pungent and out of the seven pools, three were full of algae and all seven were a fairly cool 25-30 degrees.
The waters here are said to help muscular aches and pains, although the temperature of the water couldn’t have been much above the mid-twenties and being December, we decided we didn’t fancy it ourselves.
There appears to have been a recent effort to tidy the site up, with a new pool (as pictured) and two changing cubicles being added with a cold tap adjoining.
The reason I added this to the list is not for its healing properties, its warmth or indeed anything related to the water itself. If you come here for a swim, you’ll have the unique opportunity to soak in a thermal pool with fish and two terrapins who appear to have made the pool their home!
That’s got to count for something!
Etiquette: Swimwear required throughout day, the pools are small and close together.
6. Llixhat e Bënjës, Albania
A beautiful surprise awaits all those who travel to this off-the-beaten-track destination in the South of Albania. Nestled away in a deep canyon, adjacent to a fast-flowing river and with views of the snow-capped Trebeshinë-Dhëmbel-Nemërçkë mountains in the far distance, this sulphurous, bright blue pool is the perfect place to come and unwind in a county that rarely allows you to lay down your sensory guard.
At just 30 degrees, this natural beauty-spot isn’t the warmest on the list, but what it lacks in warmth it certainly makes up for in style. Accessible from nearby Përmet by car, the road that takes you there will exceed your expectations and far surpasses the average national quality. After arriving at the car park, you will then walk over an old Ottoman bridge that in itself is worth a visit. A few more steps and you will reach a small pool to your left and a much larger, deeper pool a moment further on the right. Here you can swim freely, sit under the waterfall against the river’s edge, or enjoy a BBQ on the grounds surrounding.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, it’s possible to walk up the river to uncover more thermal pools, but be extremely cautious. A dam further upstream can release large quantities of water at any time without warning, and during winter months particularly, this journey would be perilous and suicidal.
Whilst in the area, don’t forget to try out one of the many slow-food restaurants that are famous in Përmet. Slow-food is a traditional food movement with the intention to counter modern day fast-food culture.
In the summer season a small charge is placed on parking and accessing the thermal pools, with the intention of investing the money back in to the pools and surrounding roads. It equates to pence and you’re allowed to camp there for as long as you please.
Etiquette: Albania is a conservative country, so swimwear is required at all times.
7. Prats-Balaguer, France
Tucked away in a valley, high up in the Pyrenees Mountains, the sulphurous waters here appear to magically erupt from the ground in front of your eyes, and trickle their way down majestically through a series of man-made stone basins.
Parking a kilometre away, you begin to descend in to the valley by scrambling down some loose scree and along a worn, muddy track before crossing a small stream using badly placed rocks as stepping stones. Once across, it’s a short walk past a shanty-style hut, where some local homeless people have claimed residency to a small plot of land.
Suddenly, you’ll stumble upon a large steaming river that appears to spout from a hole in some rockery. Be careful not to touch the water here, as it’s extremely hot. Instead, follow the river downstream to the first and largest pool. Here, a piping-hot waterfall flows in to the first of eight basins at a temperature of around 50 degrees.
If this is too hot, you have another seven pools to choose from, all varying and reducing in temperature as they continue downstream. You will find some more secluded, smaller pools here.
It can be difficult to find places to leave your things here, particularly after heavy rainfall. The whole site is on a steep hill that can quickly turn to slippery mud. If you are arriving on the weekend, expect the day times to be extremely busy and to have difficulty parking. Friday and Saturday nights will see dozens of French and Spanish teenagers occupying the pools, so if it’s a quiet relaxing evening under the stars you are after, it’s best to visit during the week!
Etiquette: France is a liberal country when it comes to optional clothing and as this place is frequented by the hippy / traveller community, most people here will be au-naturel, and nobody will care what you do either way.
8. Thuès-les-Bains, France
This quaint little spot is truly tucked away, far from any modern conveniences and people. To hike here, you’ll need to park in neighbouring Thuès-Entre-Valls. From there, you will take the small track off to the right named Las Aygues Calentes (The Hot Waters) that runs adjacent to the train tracks.
Following the track for around 20-30 minutes, you will eventually catch a distinct whiff of sulphur in the air before stumbling across three small pools of steaming-hot spring water. The water here is around 45 degrees at source, cooling significantly as it reaches the two smaller pools.
The basins appear to be well-maintained and ornately decorated with tiles. A little on the shallow side, but after a hike to reach them they’re definitely worth a quick plunge.
If you take a wrong turn, you will end up climbing higher in to the mountain face before eventually reaching a so-called mountain refuge. If, like us, you do get a bit lost, just keep an eye out for the walking route markers that are white with a red line through them.
I would recommend visiting this place first, before heading to the second hot springs in the area - Prats-Balaguer - to wash off the smell of egg after.
Etiquette: This place is seriously off-the-beaten track. The chances of seeing anyone here are slim, so enjoy the pools as you please.
9. Fontcalda, Spain
Located at the end of an 8km, windy and extremely narrow mountain pass. Do not attempt this road in a vehicle longer than 6m! (We actually enjoyed the drive to this one more than the spring itself.)
After parking at the sanctuary, you’ll walk through the grounds of an old crumbling church sitting in a sun kissed courtyard, before coming to a crystal-clear river that is a popular swimming destination in the summer months.
The hot spring itself, slightly less impressive than the adjoined river, is just a little longer and wider than a standard bath and at around 28 degrees, it’s nice to dip your feet in but I wouldn’t count on it warming you up after a swim in the river!
If you don’t fancy the narrow mountain pass to get here, there’s another way. Park at the bike-hire place on the other side of the tunnel, and walk / cycle through the old train tunnel to reach the other access point.
Etiquette: Swimwear required at all times as dictated by signage upon arrival. Located next to a sanctuary.
10. Fuente de los Baños, Spain
Located just outside of nearby town Montanejos, this place is very much a family-orientated affair with café, toilets and even shower facilities on cue.
The water here may only be 25 degrees, but there is plenty of space to swim freely across several different, large pools.
Zones are marked out on signs as you arrive, stating what you can and can’t do in each area. As a rule, no animals, no eating, no towels to lay on, no chairs and no kayaks seem to be the general consensus.
A little restrictive perhaps, but a free place to come for a swim isn’t so bad, especially after a long hike on a warm day in Spring.
Etiquette: Swimwear most likely required at all times. A large, family-orientated open pool with café nearby.
11. Arnedillo Las Pozas, Spain
Adjacent to a fast flowing river, the pools here are a warm 32 degrees and will quickly become very crowded on a sunny day. Surrounded by mountains, thermal resorts and high rise buildings, the scenery here presents a mixture of delight and disappointment.
At the time we visited, horizontal rain and high winds kept most at bay but even so, the pools were surprisingly busy. The river had partially flooded the pools and debris was flowing in.
There are two showers and a picnic area available. Parking is close by but a 2m height restriction is in place throughout the entire town, making it unfriendly for campervans.
12. Santa Fe, Spain
This bohemian paradise just a short drive from the sprawling city of Grenada, is a popular stop off for travellers, ravers and alternative crowds passing through Spain. Surrounded by hectares of olive groves, snow-capped mountains and pine trees in all directions as far as the eye can see, you’d be crazy NOT to visit one of the most beautiful natural pools in Europe.
At the end of the long track to reach the springs, there are two large pools. The first pool; shallower and clearer than the second, is around 40 degrees Celsius and usually a little quieter. The second pool; most popular with locals, is the deepest - It’s possible to swim here if you catch it on a quiet day - and the hottest at around 45 degrees Celsius. This pool is also full of mineral-enriched clay, great for covering your face or body with before baking in the sun at the poolside.
Behind these main pools, you’ll discover a secret. Okay, it’s not that much of a secret. But oddly enough, not many people come here.
Every day for two weeks, we’d walk straight past the two busy pools, not even giving them a thought. Why? Because behind them, lies a network of three beautiful, steaming, sulfurous waterfalls, feeding two hidden pools that lie under a canopy of trees - including figs - that provide natural shelter from the blistering summer sun, and the cool wintery winds. The pools here are isolated, quiet and very relaxing just moments away from the huge crowds that frequent the larger pools daily. The bottom pool is cooler than the top one, but both are comfortable temperatures that you can (and will) spend hours in, absorbing all the goodness from the clay and water that surrounds you.
There are more, smaller pools as you follow the river downward, although each pool will become increasingly cooler and muddier.
Rumored to belong to an old farmer, the land here remains free and accessible to all, despite many failed attempts from corporations to buy the land and privatise the thermal pools. As a result, it’s very easy to camp here in tents or vehicles. Just respect the land and DON’T break off parts of the olive trees for firewood. It shouldn’t need to be said that this is somebody’s livelihood and private land that they are kind enough to allow access to.
A word of warning; after rainfall -even just a small drizzle- the roads become virtually inaccessible due to the clay-like surface of the surrounding tracks. During our two-week stay, we witnessed many people get vehicles stuck, as they would slide uncontrollably in to ditches and be forced to await recovery. It’s no laughing matter here when it rains.
If arriving for the first time, check Google Maps. There is a rough marker for the location. If you’re not sure, just keep walking and in no time you will find someone driving along in a live-in vehicle or perhaps a local, who can inform you where you need to head. We somehow took a different route to get here every time!
This is by far the most popular hot spring we’ve ever visited. One guy loved it so much, he even built himself a hut to live in! Early mornings, Siesta and late evenings are quietest but there will almost always be people around. Expect lots of nudity, and lots of hedonism. It’s a great place to visit, and the vast majority of people passing through are salt of the earth types. We had great conversations with so many people here, and everyone seems to have a mutual respect for the travelling people and communities that come and go throughout the year.
If this isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps Spain’s annual Dragon Festival - that’s held here during the Spring Equinox - is. Each year, Santa Fe hosts a huge free festival that covers a vast array of underground music genres and showcases alternative living at its finest. A party without rule, without fee and that encapsulates perfectly the free spirited environment on which it is held.
13. Le Plan de Phazy, France
When Googling “hot springs in the Alps” the Plan de Phazy will inevitably come top in your search results every time, leading you to believe it could be one of the best and warmest hot springs in the Alps. In fact it is the only free natural hot spring in the French Alps, but the temperature is sorely disappointing at just 28°C at the source. It would be nice for a bathe in the summer with the sun shining but in the winter or at night you’ll find yourself shivering.
The hot spring does have a lot of history though, and its healing waters have been used since the Middle Ages and by famous historical figures such as Charles X and Louis XVIII who constructed la Rotonde, the little hut with its distinctively pointy roof. The hut adds a nice touch to the scenery although the busy main road does spoil the peace somewhat.
Water gushes into the cement pools from a small hole in a rock at a rate of 70-80L per minute, losing 1°C in temperature every 33m it descends. You’ll also want to avoid the lower pools, though; not only are they even chillier than the top pool but they were filled with weeds and algae when we visited.
Overall the pool is worth a visit in the summer for its mineral water and healing properties, however in the winter there seems to be very little point.
Etiquette: France is a very liberal country and so wearing a bathing suit is up to the bather, however it is more common to bathe nude in the evening than the day time.
14. La Pozza di Leonardo DaVinci, Italy
Arguably the best hot springs in the Dolomites (and in fact the only free ones) the Pozza di Leonardo DaVinci is well worth a stop off on your route.
While it is not the hottest water it is just warm enough to sit comfortably in although the temperature can fluctuate a bit as it is fed from the run off of the two thermal spas in the area, the Bagni Vecchi and the Bagni Nuovi. We measured it as 33°C in the pool and 35°C from the pipe, just shy of body temperature.
The pool was named after the man himself Leonardo DaVinci, who was sent to Bormio by the Duke of Milan to inspect the hydraulic function of the river Adda.
The rules of the area are signposted next to the pool, and the locals ask only that you don’t leave any litter behind and don’t use the surrounding area as a toilet.
The pool can easily get crowded as it is quite small and isn’t really deep enough to swim in, and the locals tend to use the pool in the afternoons and on weekend nights.
The surrounding area is beautiful though as the Pozza is situated next to the river Adda and part of the old abandoned Stelvio Pass road. Be aware that access to the pool is a bit narrow in places as you will be walking along a concrete bridge next to a cliff with a short but painful drop into the river below you, and the parking areas on the road can fill up quickly since the car park is now closed.
Etiquette: Swim wear required in the daytime as Italy is a moderately conservative Catholic country. At night time you can get away with bathing nude although the locals may not be.
That's it. Time to grab your towel and head to your nearest soaking spot! One quick thing before you do, though.
It's worth remembering that these sites are free to use, just as nature intended. As a result, there are often no facilities at these sites. Please ensure you respect the locations mentioned above.
Take rubbish home.
Respect the surrounding area.
Respect the locals and their customs.
Don’t use any products in the water that will cause damage to the delicate eco-systems in and around the water.
These small steps are important measures to ensure that we can all keep enjoying the beauty that nature provides for years to come.
What's your favourite spot? Let us know in the comments!