Usually, the word “spa” leaves the impression in my mind of Fyodor Dostoyevsky sitting near the pool in Wiesbaden or Baden-Baden in his gambling period, trying to get by on his last hundred thalers in the midst of the wives and daughters of aristocrats on holiday with nothing better to do but “take in the waters.” I’d like to think that the same sort of situation applies here, but the writer is much less well-known, the wives and daughters are mostly local residents with the extraordinary luck to have a world-class hot spring resort facility near to home, and the currency is the forint.
So if you live near Marcali, and you have no running water – no problem!
In August 2003, in an attempt to develop its own rural tourism sector and draw some of the visitors to Lake Balaton away from its shores, the City of Marcali (or the Marcali Varesi Onkermanyot) opened its indoor public baths on the north end of town. Claimed to be able to treat ailments from rheumatism to neurological disorders, as well as gynecological issues, the mineral baths are maintained in a chemical state similar to that of the hot springs that feeds the facility.
In 2009, the city expanded this spa by building an indoor 50-meter competition swimming pool, allowing the baths to keep open even in winter. This apparently showed the European Union that the baths had potential as a recreational area, and in the following year, about a half million US dollars was given in matching funds to build a 246 million Hungarian forint spa, complete with several outdoor pools, an indoor Jacuzzi that could double as a fountain, and everything that spa lovers have come to expect (sauna, cold-water plunge baths, steam room, etc.).
(Funds were also secured to build a huge “Thermal Hotel” on the same site in the same year, but apparently cost overruns or change orders had shut the project down, leaving a completed but empty structure overlooking the park. The building is visible from Highway 71 heading south from the Tesco Hypermarket, which provides a useful landmark to locate the thermal baths.)
Today, the “Spa and Leisure Center” is contained within an 80 hectare park that includes tennis courts, handball courts, a beach volleyball area, and a basketball court. Jogging paths and meditation areas are also available for use.
The price is fairly low for a facility of this caliber: 1,400 forints for an adult day pass (about 6 US dollars), or 950 forints to admit children under age 16 (about 4 US dollars). Locker keys require another 1,000 forints deposit, food and drink prices are perhaps 120 percent of that found at the nearby Tesco, but the cost to “take in the water” is free, so bring your nalgene bottle along.
(Russian banya lovers, please note – there are no birch branches available at the sauna. You must sneak your own in…)