The little village of Bad Gastein in the Austrian Alps has been a popular wellness destination for centuries thanks to the reputed healing properties of its natural hot springs (not to mention the fairytale vibes of its Belle Epoque architecture). But somehow these medicinal waters have remained relatively unknown outside of Austria, Germany, and nearby European countries—until now.
Every day, upwards of 1.3 million gallons of fresh thermal water, fortified over millennia with low-levels of radon, gushes out of the Hohe Tauern Mountains and pools below in Bad Gastein. Those that soak in this mineral-rich H2O believe it can help alleviate chronic pain and inflammation, as well as treat rheumatic diseases such as arthritis, and boost your immune system.
Radon therapy, as it’s called, is an established medical practice in Europe, Russia, and Japan, though, in the US, it’s categorized as a form of “alternative medicine” as the Environmental Protection Agency considers exposure to the radioactive gas, even at low levels, a health risk; however, researchers have only relatively recently started investigating the health benefits of low-dose radon exposure (something that’s been little studied and understood by scientists up to now). So, it’s possible the official US stance might change over time, similar to the way it’s evolved its POV on other non-traditional forms of treatment such as energy healing. There are only six places in the US (all in Montana) where radon health treatments are offered currently. By contrast, there are dozens in Europe, with Bad Gastein being the best-known of the bunch.
To fully enjoy its waters, visit the Felsentherme Bad Gastein Spa. At an altitude of 3,600 feet, this large retreat has access to 17 springs. Up on its rooftop, you can enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. When I visited, I sat in one of its incredible, all-wood saunas, staring out one of the large windows as snow fell softly around me. It was truly magical. This area, though, is strictly “naked only,” so know you’re encouraged to leave your inhibitions (and clothes) behind. But if you succumb to the power of the water and the silence of the mountains, you may relax enough to not even notice.
For those a little more adventurous, there’s also an option to visit the Bad Gastein healing caves, a natural treatment that local Austrian and German people swear by (with over 75,000 people visiting them each year). Some travel there to spend a couple of weeks treating their ailments by breathing in the colorless, odorless gas, another form of radon therapy, as opposed to soaking it up through their skin.
You’re encouraged to leave your inhibitions (and clothes) behind.
In order to reach the caves, you take a little train 20 minutes deep inside the Radhausberg Mountain, where radon gas is at a naturally occurring low-level. I was lucky enough to meet a number of people during my time in the town who had positive stories to share of the way the caves had helped heal their various ailments, a long-suffering auto-immune disease being one. After consulting with a doctor first (a required, precautionary measure), you travel deep into the caves wearing your fluffy robe. Upon arrival, men and women split into separate areas, and you lie naked (or with a sheet on top of you or in a swimsuit) on a bed for about an hour before re-boarding the exiting train. If claustrophobia is not your enemy, then this experience is a must.
The real beauty of this region, though, is that there are so many other activities, in any season, that help promote a healthy lifestyle. In summertime, you can enjoy amazing hiking in the surrounding mountains and valleys (the Kötschach Valley being a favorite of mine), mountain biking, hot air ballooning, climbing, horseback riding, and alpine golf. The area is full of majestic mountain peaks to explore and over 20 glittering lakes.
The real beauty of this region, however, is that there are so many other activities, in any season, that help promote a healthy lifestyle.
In winter, there is, of course, alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and winter hiking (actually, the entire Bad Gastein region offers 136 miles of runs for skiers). If you aren’t so in to hitting the slopes, you can still enjoy an incredible mountain experience on Stubnerkogel, one of Bad Gastein’s highest peaks, by catching the cable car up to the top and walking out to a vast (and swaying) suspension bridge, the highest one of its kind in Europe. You can then either take the ride back down, or hike to the valley, on a trail that has you winding through meadows and forest for about four hours at a steady pace. Or, simply, skip the activities entirely and seek out many of the region’s secret hot springs. (Ask a local for their faves if you decide to go this route.)
Along with breathtaking views and unparalleled treatments, the area isn’t lacking in the food department, either, with many old-school, as well as buzzy healthy venues, to choose from. Be sure to get your morning brew at The Blonde Beans, the best speciality coffee in town, served to you by a friendly Swedish and New Zealand couple. They also bake their own sourdough bread each morning from which they make up good-for-you sandwiches.
To enjoy fresh, local fare with a view, visit Haus Hirt, which has a great menu of natural, organic produce. Or check out The Drop Inn, a super-friendly, English-owned bistro that’s renowned for its burgers, but also features a number of healthy dishes as well—big salads, vegan curries, and more. Hotel Miramonte is the hot spot of this low-key alpine resort town, attracting a youngish and relaxed crowd, the vibe here is one of casual sophistication. Pop in for a drink aprés wellness adventuring, and maybe stay for dinner (the food is delicious to say the least) or even multi-task and have a bite while taking a dip in their in-house thermal bath. #spagoals