Baile Herculane

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This spa is a great spot to rest your train-beaten body between Bucharest and western Romania or Hungary. On offer is some low-key pampering and fresh mountain air. Legend has it that Hercules himself bathed in the natural springs that still flow today in Baile Herculane.

Roman legions built the first baths here following their invasion of Dacia. The purported healing powers of the springs prompted the name Ad Aquas Herculi Sacras (the ‘Holy Water of Hercules’).

The waters here are rumored ro cure eye disorders (conjunctivitis), stomach disorders (gastritis) and rheumatism among others. You should avoid these baths if you have glaucoma, ulcers or heart conditions. The hotels have physicians on staff for consultations, but it’s probably best to consult your doctor at home before you depart.

During the early 19th century, Baile Herculane was a fashionable resort, visited by high-rollers like Habsburg emperor Franz Josef. Sadly, most of the grand hotels and baths were allowed to fall into decay. Renovation work is moving along very slowly. Meanwhile, a collection of dilapidated, Soviet-era monstrosities (best avoided) and new, yet unpretentious budget hotels are filling the void.

Mt Domogled (1100m) towers over Baile Herculane to the west, making for an excellent backdrop in Cerna Valley, where the resort lies. This forest reservation has been protected since 1932, housing rare trees, turtles and butterflies.

All sights worth seeing are grouped in the historic center. The majority of the ancient Roman baths were destroyed during the Turkish and Austrian-Hungarian occupations, but a few have been preserved in the Roman Bath Museum inside Hotel Roman. You can actually feel the heat from the natural 54°C water running under the hotel. One of the star exhibits is a much vandalized, 2500-year-old carving of Hercules. People have broken off parts of the carving and, erm, chewed them, apparently for sexual potency. It’s difficult to overlook that his genitals have been particularly gnawed at. The 2000-year-old baths in Hotel Roman are still used – the water is cooled down to 37°C and masseurs man the small marble baths.

Next to Hotel Roman is the Hercules II spring (Izvorul Hercules), one of several springs from which drinking water flows right on throughout the historic centre. This water is purported to be good for stomach problems.

The resort’s central pavilion was built during the 1800s by the Habsburgs as a casino and restaurant. It’s been converted to house a few shops and a small History Museum. There’s a 200-year-old Wellingtonia Gigantea tree beside the steps leading up to the museum, famed for its enormous size. Across the river are the derelict Austrian baths.

Despite their decaying appearances and the occasional construction site, the grand hotels are certainly worth the energy it takes to stroll past them.

Baile Herculane essentially lines both sides of a road that follows the Cerna River. The train station is at the junction of the main Drobeta-Turnu SeverinTimisoara highway and the Baile Herculane turn-off.

The resort is divided into three areas: the residential area is at the western end of the resort on Str Trandafirilor; the newer, not-much-to-look-at satellite resort 2km east of the residential area; and the oval shaped historic center is at the resort’s easternmost end (8km from the train station).

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