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This story originally appeared in the Hotels, Resorts and Spas issue of Elite Traveler.
What would humans do without water? Well, the answer is pretty simple, probably nothing. Water is essential to life. We need it to live. Water helps us work, rest and play. We cook in it, clean in it; we grow food with it and we also generate electricity with it.
We look to water for other things, too. We play in it- swimming, surfing, fishing; relax in it- soothing baths and invigorating cool showers; and we exercise in it- from water polo to aqua aerobics and sailing to scuba diving. Then, there is health and well-being. We take ourselves off to spas to de-stress and chill, and to heal our overworked bodies and minds. In fact, the word “spa” relates to this healing, with one theory suggesting it derives from an acronym for the Latin salus per aquam, or health through water.
From natural springs to seawater, nature provides healing waters from all over the world. Hot springs, also known as the onsen is central to Japanese culture. Onsens are available throughout the country, either in luxury resorts or in public baths. The different minerals in the springs are said to have a variety of health benefits, but all onsens have a soothing and relaxing effect on both mind and body.
Similar to Japan, Europe is known for its mineral-rich springs. These mineral-rich springs gave rise to the elegant spa towns of Germany, France and Italy, places where the rich and royal went to seek a cure and a “break” from their luxurious lifestyles. Over time, it was discovered that certain minerals were good for respiratory diseases, while others helped with joint and muscular disorders. Alongside such treatments, other more lavish and beautifying therapies were introduced, such as hydrotherapy baths, underwater massage, Vichy showers (combining water with manipulation), through watsu (underwater shiatsu), mud wraps and salt scrubs.
But it was the French doctors in the mid-19th century who researched the health benefits of seawater. After the first international congress of sea-bathing and water therapy held in Boulogne-Sur-Mer, thalassotherapy was introduced as a whole new method of treatments that incorporate algae, seaweed, sea minerals and mud.