The Dead Sea mud, a Turkish bath ritual, and the thermal baths of Budapest or Baden-Baden are pretty well known, but have you ever ‘taken the waters’ in Ukraine? Most likely not.
Why Ukraine? Now that’s a great question. First of all, if you’ve been everywhere else and you’re looking for a new destination, this vast country offers an excellent opportunity to combine spa and wellness with visits to fascinating and less-traveled cities like Lviv and Dnipro, mentioned below, or any other city in Ukraine, including regal Kyiv or beautiful Odesa. More importantly, Ukrainian spas are much more affordable than their European counterparts (or the Dead Sea hotels). But there is one more reason.
The traditional bath (or banya) is an authentic Ukrainian experience, and small bathhouses are found in almost every city and town. In most cases, spending time at the bathhouse is a social affair, with a light meal (Zakoski) and plenty of vodka. The traditional spa treatment includes a hot sauna, where it is customary to whip the body with fragrant branches to absorb the natural perfume into the skin before jumping in the frozen river (or the ice-cold pool) and back again.
Big City Spa
This popular bathhouse experience was honed to perfection in Dnipro (formerly known as Dnipropetrovsk), the fourth largest city in Ukraine. In the huge park-like Sobornaya Square, boasting an impressive church in the center, and a lively farmers’ market at the edge of the park, stands a multi-story complex called Tsunami, a hotel, spa, and fitness center. The beautifully designed complex is spread over three floors and divided into Japanese, Roman, Finnish, Russian, and even Turkish baths.
Add to that a large swimming pool, treatment rooms (you can choose from an extensive menu of massages and cosmetic treatments, as well as medical consultations), several saunas and hot tubs, peaceful seating areas, a salt room, an ice cave, and even a kids’ club. So now you see why people spend the day at Tsunami?
In case you have never heard of Dnipro, it’s because in Soviet times, it was a center for the nuclear, weapons, and space industries, and the city was officially closed to foreign visitors. But if you visit here today, you will find a fascinating, developing, and vibrant city, boasting modern architecture, spacious parks, a beautiful promenade, arguably the longest in Europe, plenty of malls ad lots of great restaurants and bars.
And we haven’t even mentioned Menorah Center, dominating the city skyline and beautifully lit at night. The largest Jewish center in the world, Menorah Center has a 4-star hotel and a 2-star hostel, a bank, shops, a kosher restaurant, a cozy and kosher cafe, a minimarket (kosher, of course) with products from Israel, a very active synagogue, as well as a fascinating museum of Jewish culture and the Holocaust in Ukraine.
So if you want to combine spa and wellness treatments with a kosher Jewish atmosphere, this is the place for you.
Spa towns of the Carpathian Mountains
If a visit to a local bathhouse is not enough, and you would like to ‘take the waters’ at the world-famous Naftusia towns of Ukraine, why not head to the Lviv region, where you can rest and rejuvenate at the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. The local Naftusia mineral waters are known for their healing properties, working predominantly on the digestive, kidneys, and endocrine systems.
The most famous spa towns in Ukraine are Skhidnytsia and Truskavets, quaint little towns where locals and tourists come to recharge at any of the large and medium-sized spa hotels. The selection of treatments is enormous, from salt rooms to apitherapy (using bee venom), from vacuum therapy to paraffin baths and cryotherapy. And like any spa town worth its salt, there are also pump rooms with rows of taps where you can pour yourselves Naftusia free of charge (beware, it’s an acquired taste).
We visited a few spa hotels in the area: the most luxurious resort-style hotel was the Rixos Prykarpattya in Truskavets, boasting a massive complex of outdoor and indoor pools and slides, a state-of-the-art spa center, a bowling alley, bars, restaurants, and plenty of attractions. No less impressive is Mirortel Resort and Spa, right in the heart of Truskavets, another large resort with an impressive spa center, as well as tons of children’s activities. And if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, Hotel Tustan in Skhidnytsia is a smaller boutique-type hotel, with beautifully designed public spaces (although the rooms are a bit outdated) and all manner of spa treatments.
And while you’re in the area, a definite must-see is the charming city of Lviv, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A wall once surrounded the old town, and even today it has hidden alleys and squares, church spires and Baroque architecture reminiscent of Prague, as well as an opera house as grand as the Opéra Garnier in Paris, across the square from a lively market filled with souvenir and food stalls. Finally, make sure to take a peek at the remains of the famous Golden Rose synagogue, just a few steps from a Jewish-themed restaurant, Pid Zolotoju Rozoju.
Plan your vacay
- Dnipro and Lviv are just a short flight away from TLV, as Ukrainian International Airlines offers direct flights to both, or connecting flights from Kyiv.
- A day of fun at Tsunami spa costs about $40, while an 90-minute massage starts at $50.
- A double room at the Rixos costs from $160 per night, treatments not included.
- A night at Hotel Tustan will set you back around $100 per night, treatments not included.