Mind, Body, Aqua: Four of the World’s Most Healing Waters

From the lake that’s said to have given an Egyptian queen her good looks to a river with curative powers, these four bodies of water offer a tonic for both body and mind

There's no doubt about it, water is having a moment in the wellness world. From the benefits of wild swimming and cold-water surfing to the rise of thermal spas and hydrotherapy centres, the healing properties of this powerful element are increasingly being harnessed to help with our health, both mental and physical.

Yet thousands of years before our modern spas and retreats were built, the curative effects of water were known about and sought from their very source. Whether it was bathing in ancient salt lakes or drinking from divinely blessed springs, the ritual of seeking water-based healing is a centuries-old practice. Ready to make the pilgrimage? Take a plunge into one of these.

Spiritual spas: healing waters around the world

Lourdes, France

Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes


It was while collecting firewood in 1858 that 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous - now a saint in the Catholic church - is said to have been led to the source of a holy spring by the Virgin Mary. Appearing to the young peasant girl a further 17 times in the following years, Our Lady of Lourdes is believed by pilgrims to have blessed the waters that flow from this spring, which is hidden within an unassuming grotto in Lourdes, a small provincial town in the Pyrenees.

Now one of the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a complex of Marian shrines that draws over six million visitors a year for its healing waters. To this day, the Catholic church has confirmed 70 of the miracles that are said to have taken place at the site, where pilgrims drink from free-flowing taps and are dunked into blessed waters at the grotto. To properly get to grips with the legends of Lourdes, you'll want to spend several days strolling its spiritual streets and take a walking tour, the best of which can be booked during a stay at boutique bolthole Belfry & Spa.

The pool at Rogaška Slatina, Slovenia

Rogaška Slatina


Slovenia's spa culture might be a little under-radar when compared with Europe's big-hitting wellness destinations, but this nature-rich sliver of land is in fact home to some of the most curative natural hot springs in the world, thanks to a variety of geographical quirks. One of the largest of the country's springs is Rogaška Slatina, discovered to have healing properties by the Romans, when legend told that the mythological winged horse Pegasus struck the ground with his hoof and uncovered Donat Mg - the mineral water that bubbles from this very spring.

Now known to contain the highest concentration of magnesium in any drinkable water anywhere, the divine water is tapped by Rogaška Resort, where guests are prescribed water-drinking therapy as part of their stay. The experience begins with a medical assessment, which is followed by a bespoke regime, where glasses of Donat Mg are prescribed at different temperatures throughout the day.

Swimmers in the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea

Israel, Jordan and the West Bank

Revered for its restorative powers ever since Queen Cleopatra first bathed in its hypersaline waters, this landlocked lake is one of the most mineral-rich bodies of water on Earth. Attributing her coveted beauty to the salt lake's mystical cleansing properties, the Ancient Egyptian pharaoh built the world's first spa on its shores, and even made several attempts to buy the land for her own country. Today, the Dead Sea is still as popular as it was all those centuries ago, although science has since unveiled the mystery behind its magical healing abilities.

Made up of a one-of-a-kind combination of 21 essential minerals (12 of which can only be found in the Dead Sea), the saline water is a powerful natural exfoliant, with high levels of magnesium and potassium soothing muscles and joints, and a low pollen count providing relief from countless allergies. The coolest bit? As the lowest land point on the planet, the lake also filters harmful UV rays through a special evaporation layer just above its surface, so bathers can drink in all the benefits of the sun's vitamin D without risk of sunburn or skin damage. For a luxurious head-to-toe skin detox, bed down at Kempinski Hotel Ishtar Dead Sea and make a beeline for the hotel's Dead Sea pool, where you'll be slathered in natural mud, then cleansed and massaged to emerge renewed.

A rower on the Ganges River, India
Photo credit: Avuz Sariyildiz / Shutterstock.com

Ganges River

India and Bangladesh

A spiritual site for Hindus around the world, the Ganges River is referred to as a goddess in holy scriptures - one that provides daily healing, as well as forgiveness and salvation for believers on certain days of the year. Beyond the river's religious significance, exciting scientific advances have also proven the water's antimicrobial and antibacterial properties are helpful in fighting a number of diseases, including tuberculosis, typhoid, pneumonia, cholera and meningitis. This can only be good news, considering that the waters receive a staggering 10 million bathers each day (although, you might want to be careful partaking in similar spiritual ceremonies as the river is considered one of the world's most polluted).

The best place from which to witness the river's religious splendour is Varanasi, where devotees gather daily along the bank to bathe and spread the ashes of loved ones. Take an evening boat ride along the river to watch Aarti - a spectacular Hindu light ceremony involving candles and burning lamps - or stay at the show-stopping BrijRama Palace and you'll see all this and more right from your bedroom window.

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