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In the past two years I’ve had two baths. Proper baths, that is. A couple of years ago I visited Osaka’s fabulously ambitious ‘Spa World’, billed as providing ‘a whole world of luxury under one [inner-city multicomplex] roof’. I visited the day after completing an utterly foolhardy 50km bike ride through torrential rain, so this luxury pampering provider had a lot of work to do.

Budapest’s Gellert Baths – an art nouveau thermal spa – more recently provided respite from the Hungarian heat, and though my legs were not quite as sore as in Osaka, I spent the morning climbing a few hills to provide a fair test…


Osaka: About a tenner, on special discount for the month of December. Surely that’s high season for a hot bath? Osaka was bitterly cold.
Budapest: About a tenner, inflated in price during summer. Am I missing something? Do people really prefer hot baths in hot weather?

Budapest: Optional, except on Sundays, when the whole spa opens up as “access all areas” (so keep your own areas covered.)
Osaka: Compulsory. An orange towel, 10inch square, is provided, but most people seem to fold it in four and put on top of their head.

Osaka: ‘Sweden’ area features a sweltering dry sauna hut, adorned outside an in with a big, proud temperature gauge.
Budapest: The men’s thermal pools section has multiple dry and steam saunas. Apparently you need sandals for the 60-70degree one. My burnt feet prove it. Two in three people who went in came out swearing.

Budapest: A dive pool immediately outside the steam sauna. One minute of intense steam, then throw yourself into the shocking cold water.
Osaka: Right in the middle of ‘Rome’, a gleaming golden pot with space for six. I saw one man sit in there for almost half an hour, with his little orange towel on his head.

Budapest: Entirely charming. Echoing hollows that inspire quiet. Shades of dark greens and off-whites, with dark wooden features and elegant fountain statues. The temptation to put up laminated signs over the tiles has been resolutely denied; ‘no bombing’ is implied by the grandeur.
Osaka: The concept – that each room present a different spa experience from around the world – is so ridiculous that it should, by rights, be utterly tacky. But something about the cheek of it, and it’s quality, lets Spa World off the hook. Rome provides a grand entrance, there are exotic fish in tanks on Tokyo’s walls and hot tiles in Spain. What, no British bucket with a rubber duck?

Osaka: Like something out of ‘Brave New World’ there’s a hall full of perhaps 100 recliner chairs, each equipped with a headset for listening to one of the wall of TVs. Dressing gowns provided here, saving it from looking too bizarre.
Budapest: Pounding shower jets for DIY Thai massage. That massages also available.

Osaka: Expressionless. None seem to be relieving stress. One man tried to engage me in conversation, but I’d rather not talk to a man with only a small towel on his head, especially when I am similarly clad.
Budapest: Thoroughly grumpy. It looks like an absolute chore. Most, of course, are visitors. At one point I saw two British people joking and laughing – Come on the Brits!

(I expect each place will be keeping a print-out of this post in their ‘press cuttings’ folder, so better help them file it by putting specifying my opinions numerically.)
Osaka, Spa World: 4Stars – Spa World’s silliness is extremely enjoyable, though when you catch yourself sitting in a fake lagoon with a load of retired Japanese men, it becomes slightly more difficult to fully relax.
Budapest, Gallert Baths: 4Stars – It feels completely natural to relax in this beautifully designed complex, however some of its features leave a little to be desired. You wouldn’t be able to spend the whole day here, as you would at Spa World.

Posted using Tinydesk Writer iPhone app

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