The Polish Soviet-style spa experience

Straighten yourself out in no time

I'm crouching in a pink enamel bath in rural Poland as a matronly lady with a pressure hose stands alongside. My wrists rest upon a leather strap while my hands are clenched around iron bars. Matron opens the taps to guide tens of litres of steaming mineral water to the base of my spine. I sigh as the pressure of 12 months of train-riding, shopping-carrying and hunching over my computer is relieved in 10 minutes flat.

This thermal therapy is costing me the equivalent of £2, the price of two pints of Polish lager in the spa resort's bar. But given the choice between beer and mineral water, I'd elect to stay in the bath all night.

While others swear by a winter spa break in Switzerland, my wife and I frequently choose the budget option instead. Our low-cost method to beat the winter blues is to visit the archipelago of sanatoriums dotted across Eastern Europe. Stern-faced masseurs from Bulgaria to the Ukraine have pummelled my knotted muscles. But to attain that "five years younger" feeling, the Polish thermal resort of Cieplice near Jelenia Gora tops the lot.

It's clear during our first evening meal that Cieplice's waters work wonders. The communal dining room is like a scene from the movie Cocoon, where a group of retirees are rejuvenated by an alien species. Some of the diners are well into their 70s and 80s, but all are sprightly, buoyant and alert. As I rise to the dinner buffet – chicken in aspic followed by vegetable broth – one bronzed gentleman who looks uncannily like the late Michael Winner gives my wife a dirty wink.

The Polish national health service swears by this sanatorium too. Although there's a 12-month waiting list to take a cure at Cieplice, many patrons (including ourselves and a number of German tourists present) have jumped the queue by paying a daily rate of 135 Polish zloty (£27).

This price includes all meals, two daily spa treatments, access to the thermal baths and accommodation. Hardcore sanatorium-goers can bolt on as many extra treatments as they like. The truly brave can indulge in water electrostimulation (10 zloty/£2), liquid nitrogen cryotherapy (20 zloty/£4) or a peat enema (30 zloty/£6).

After dinner we ascend to our balcony room in a period manor house, one of several Belle Epoque "pavilions" set around the ancient spa resort. We're in bed by 6.30pm and set our alarms for a sweet 12 hours of sleep.

The following three-day schedule planned for us by the resort's doctor looks to be, quite literally, punishing.

After a breakfast of herbal tea and eggs in horseradish sauce, we're told to report to Dr Robert for a massage at 7am. As we walk to our appointment through the snow my wife is dreaming of Thai massages, Indian head rubs and hot-stone therapy. She'll have to dream on. Dr Robert is a big lad. By pushing, pulling, stretching and kneading, he loosens my crabby shoulders, ankles, neck and spine.

I stare fixedly at the concrete floor through the hole in the Swedish massage table. The doctors are playing Poland's equivalent of Radio 2.

"Orinoco Flow" by Enya is followed by "Always A Woman" by Billy Joel. If that's not relaxing massage music, I don't know what is.

As he cracks my ankles in a circular motion, Dr Robert exclaims that my right leg is shorter than my left. Indeed, I carried 14 boxes of bathroom tiles upstairs last month and have been limping slightly ever since. Dr Robert gives my hipbone a marrow-crushing 20-second squeeze. After a faint "pop" I sigh gently, and later step off the massage table an inch taller than before. Later that day the doctor notices a pinched nerve on my wife's handbag-carrying right shoulder, and unblocks that one too.

Aside from the odd caffeine-withdrawal headache, the next 48 hours fly by. We follow a routine of walks in the forest and thermal treatments, including a 30-minute turbo Jacuzzi administered by yet another matron. The schedule is punctuated by time-honoured Polish meals such as barley-flecked blood sausage, pork and onion faggots and potato soup. It's a step back in time, but its simplicity is utterly relaxing.

By night we soak in the mosaic-bottomed communal thermal baths. But like a Soviet Center Parcs, the latter pool is also closely administered, so no funny business is allowed. One middle-aged couple are chastised for the ultimate swimming-pool crime of "heavy petting": a clear message that this is a Polish sanatorium, not a Canary Islands spa.

On our final day, I sit down with the sanatorium's director, Dr Moskwa. He explains that Cieplice is arguably the oldest thermal resort in Europe, rejuvenating tired bodies since 1281. Some treatments, he explains, are timeless, like the mineral cures for rheumatism and osteoporosis.

Others are novel, such as the mineral water ophthalmology treatments that treat the very 21st-century ailment of "dry-eye syndrome", exasperated by pollution, stress and staring at computer screens.

Does Dr Moskwa use the treatments at Cieplice himself? While he doesn't mind his staff seeing him in Speedos, he prefers to take his family to the resort's sister spa of Polanica-Zdroj due south of Wroclaw instead. This classic sanatorium offers additional beauty treatments and a massive swimming pool. Dr Moskwa also explains that most guests stay for a week or more to receive a winter-beating body boost. Given that seven days here costs 945 zloty (£190) all-inclusive, you can feel 21 again for the price of new pair of shoes. He also urges me to return in spring, when the nearby Karkonoski National Park opens up for hiking and mountain biking. If I can convince my family of the benefits of a peat enema, I'll bring them along.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled with Railbookers (020-3327 0800; railbookers.com) which offers return packages to Jelenia Gora (a two-mile taxi ride from Cieplice), for £489 per person. Flight options from the UK to Wroclaw, the nearest airport, include Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) and Wizzair (0906 959 0002; wizzair.com).

Staying there

Three-night stays at Cieplice Resort (00 48 75 75 51 880; uzdrowisko-cieplice.pl) cost 135 zloty (£27) per person per day. The price includes three daily meals, two daily sanatorium treatments, thermal spa access and en-suite accommodation.

Central Europe's top spa spots

Budapest, Hungary

The most iconic of Budapest's many spas is the Gellert (00 361 466 6166; gellertbath.com). Before you go in, sip some water from the circular spring outside and take a look at the stained glass in the hotel (bit.ly/Gellert) that shares the premises. B&B from €114.

Velingrad, Bulgaria

Over 80 piping-hot thermal springs surround the age-old Bulgarian spa resort of Velingrad. The Grand Hotel Velingrad (00 359 884 770 287; grandhotelvelingrad.com) sits atop its own thermal source and boasts a half-Olympic indoor pool, aroma steam room and outdoor plunge pools. B&B from €92.

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic

The elegant spa resort of Karlovy Vary formed the backdrop for the poker playing scenes in Casino Royale. The Spa Resort Sanssouci (00 420 353 207 113; spa-resort-sanssouci.cz) has three-day packages including massages and half board for €150 per person.

News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall has become the eighth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing
tv
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin