Rough rocks massaged my feet as I waded through the steaming waters of the Biagno Giapponese pool at the Poseidon Gardens Thermal Park on the island of Ischia. As I climbed a small set of stairs and down another to re-enter the small, circular pool, I looked forward to the soothing relief of the warm thermal waters only to be shocked to discover the next section of the pool contained near freezing temperatures. I stared at the water below and realized I had no idea how to take a thermal bath European style.
On a recent visit to Italy’s Sorentine Coast, Ischia called my name with its thermal baths and healing waters. Prior to visiting the island my only experience with geothermal waters had been in Rotorua, New Zealand, where visitors can kick back in warm mud pools. I went to the Poseidon Gardens, the largest and most frequented spa in Ischia, expecting a similar experience, but was instead exposed to an entirely different philosophy of extracting the healing powers of water.
For thousands of years people in Europe have harnessed the thermal energy from water that comes from the hot interior of the earth to heal certain types of sickness and promote health. The Campania region of Italy is an especially rich area to find such waters because of its volcanic activity. Poseidon Gardens is at the base of volcano Epomeo making it a particularly ideal location to find healing waters.
Soaking in thermal waters is believed to be healing for several reasons. The hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy of water cause an increase in the circulation of blood to the heart and the heat makes you sweat out impurities. Long hot baths also make the body temperature rise and create a state of fever, sending more blood to internal organs and promote repair. Sulphuric and humin acids found in the water are also absorbed by the skin and delivered to organs for future use.
Yet taking a thermal bath European style is not all about relaxing in hot water. Bathers first spend 3 minutes in a hot bath, ranging from 80-100 degrees Farenheit and then 15 seconds in a freezing cold pool. Experts recommend doing this sequence for 35-40 minutes.
I found this sequence of bathing to be quite miserable. First you get so hot you sweat out more water than you knew you had in you, and then you jump into a pool that is so cold you would probably get hypothermia if you stayed in much longer than the recomened 15 seconds. My heart was certainly racing and my systems shocked, which I’m sure is the desired effect, but far from my idea of a good time.
Poseidon Gardens also offers milder pools with underwater massage, regular swimming pools, a sauna and beach access. The park is built on a hill and a climb to the top reveals a magnificent view of the coast line.
Being a 20-something American, I was far from the typical guest. No one speaks English here (visitors are mostly Italian, German and French), and most of the bathers appeared to be at least in their 70’s.
To add to the laughs, females are required to wear bathing caps in the pools.
I have provided a photo of my fashionable attire for your amusement. The best 3 euros I’ve spent in Europe for sure!