Right out in the middle of nowhere there is this Great Grand Hotel, newly restored to its former 1920’s glory. By great, I mean huge, and middle of nowhere – there’s not a beach or a mountain or a swinging casino nearby, only a few other medium sized hotels, less glamourous, but intriguing nonetheless. There’s a train station, hardly used, for they are no houses around.
Build it Big And They Will Come, the architects must have thought. Or else, the Termas da Curia were pulling healthy enough and wealthy enough crowds to warrant such an extravagant hotel as this. Welcome to Curia, the almost forgotton spa-resort town near Mealhada in Central Portugal.
Spas and hot springs have been used since prehistoric times for treatment of ailments via mineral-infused spring waters. The curative properties of natural waters were believed in by the ancient Greeks and Romans and baths continued to be used throughout the middle ages. Only notable is the time (in the western world) when bathing was thought to be unhealthy, for periods during the more religious middle ages and briefly in the mid 19th century. Otherwise we’ve liked a good hot bath, a massage, a steam, a scrub and good clean drink since time immemorial. It’s a global phenomenon too – from the Onsen in Japan to the great baths of Bucharest and the Hammams from Turkey to Morocco.
The modern spa epoch came in the 18th and 19th centuries, when spas were built across Europe in the classical style, following the Roman design. By the 20th century the spa had been thoroughly adopted by the leisurely wealthy and resort style spas included charming recreational sidelines to their quasi-medical regimes. Tennis, fine wines and caviar came alongside some liver cleansing or treating your rheumatism.
Hence, this rather classy megalith of a hotel next to the Termas da Curia. It has its own pool, gorgeous french gardens and plenty of grounds for say a spot of coits after you’ve had your sinuses drained. Smashing.
Today Portuguese people are still sent by their family doctor to the springs to receive treatment. Every spa has a specific remedy and the Termas da Curia’s waters are good for gallstones, so I’m reliably informed by the staff. There were people there young and old, who were on a 7 day course of water massage. What do I have to do to get gallstones, I’d like to know.
I love the Termas’ menu of treatments. Scottish bath, Vichy, Leque, Bertholet; I had to ask what each of them were in detail so I might avoid a colonic irrigation by mistake. Plus I was sending my sister in for a number 8 and had to check for her as well. She was up for a Vichy shower, a massage with water jets. I assured her that given how prudish and traditional the Portuguese are (say, compared to the Swedes) she would most likely have a female masseuse. We had planned to go nude – not in bikinis as in the brochure. Just to prove how much I know, she got a hairy giant of a man, about 50 kilos overweight who grunted as he worked on her shoulders and wore only a tiny modesty towel. It was I who was massaged by the comely nursey professional. Ah.. another adventure in Portugal she won’t forget. My younger-sister credibility goes down the drain again.