Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Ephemeral or sustainable soaking?

Nothing happening at Eleftheron
 
Great
Sometimes things don't work out. Having, developing, maintaining and keeping a hot spring site fresh is ... well, actually not too difficult a task. 
But failures are for those to see. Sometimes, things just don't work out.

Eleftheron (Elefteron or Eleftheres (named after the former municipality) or Ελευθερών) is apparently well known as the great Greek from Macedonia (Alexander) stopped off here roughly 2,000 years ago and took to the waters. At least, so goes the story. But in Greek Macedonia, many of the historical claims to fame start and stop at Alex the Great. Busy bloke.

Located in the municipality of Pangaio (Kavala region, northern Greece), there's not a village anywhere nearby. Rather it's a turn off the seaside highway, between the towns Orfani and Nea Paramos
The turn-off is just before where the road crosses the Marmaras river (if coming from the west). 

Well indicated (see photo above), once off the highway, things turn eerie. There's evidence of past opulence: the approximately 1 km drive between the highway and the entrance gates to the former spa resort are lined with a real pavement and lantern posts, possibly suggesting past guests to seek the sea for more soaking.

Dilapidation

Once through the gates, one comes to a number of buildings. Many buildings. But all have in common the same slow time-induced dilapidation. One could also say a modern day ruin. Victim of the crisis?

Another two cars are parked nearby (lead photo) and I also see two motorcycles. And a couple of friendly dogs. Nothing happening here.

We park our car and walk around to see what or if something is happening. To the left looks like what used to be the main building, to the right a bathing building? Beyond there's a small bridge straddling the river. From the bridge one sees a pipe emanating from the aforementioned likely bathing building, suggesting that yes, this could be the former bath house.

Crossing the bridge: on the right a hot spring?

Beyond the bridge on the other bank of the Marmaras river are a line of former apartments / hotel rooms. Or so it once seemed (see following photo below).


Soaking Satisfaction
We backtrack and follow the river upstream along a track. 

Not much further ahead we spot another car parked on the track. Three ladies are standing around, apparently having just bathed evidenced by wet hair towel wraps. 
Beyond the parked car and soaked ladies is something that might once have been a bath. Or not. 
The area surrounding this pond is dirty; providing ample evidence of popular use (many a candle) but the pond itself is clear and clean. 

As we seem to be the only ones around (the nearby ladies have just sped off) we undress and lower ourselves into the moderately hot waters. 
What a delight, to soak in daylight, au-naturel with only nature around us. Birds are chirping, the river is gushing. No other sounds.

  
Another satisfied soaker 

Until a car comes up behind us. A lady steps out and politely asks how long are we going to stay (point towards non-existent watch). In response to our 10 minutes she retreats to her car and waits patiently for us to finish the soak. Apparently the custom is to park the car on the track thus signalling the next in line that the spring is occupied. Imposing on others is frowned on? Gracious?

After redressing we return to our car, parked near the buildings. We explore the building where we previously saw water rushing from. 
Inside there are a number of small stalls each containing a bath tub. None have seen use since.  Since a long time. 
At the end of the silent hall, a door opens up to a large 4 by 4 m tub. Water is rushing in. Despite the buildings slowly caving in, this tub is still in use, looks good enough to go.

But if need be, the outside tub would be your preferred choice for a soak.

Once was the preference?

Illing
This site volunteers this info on the Eleftheron of the past:
'The waters' temperature varies from 36 to 42 Celsius and there are private or common baths and pools.The water is rich in sulfur sources therefore ideal for muscle-skeletal disorders (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, etc.) and skin disorders as well.The water therapy is suitable for treating asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases'.
The pleasurable Kairos Garden Hotel, roughly 20 km's toward Kavala just outside the quaint village of Eleftheres, has more practical info of the past:
'Today, the place contains of three springs, with temperature from 36 to 41 degrees Celsius. As a beginner, you start with a fifteen minutes dip in the coldest bath, which is situated in the building on the top picture. Here you have your own private cabinet with a huge bath tub, where you lie for the required time under running water.
The waters contains sulphate and other minerals and have a proved positive effect on rheumatism, arthritis and muscle pains.
In Greece it's common the the doctor will write you a prescription to mineral bath for several health problems.
My mother in law used to come here for a couple of weeks every year, taking healing baths for all her pains and aches twice a day. She used to stay in the hotel and this was her annual "housewife" holiday, where she´d meet the same people year after year.
The location also has a restaurant and from time to time an orchestra comes to play - as no Greek will ever be to ill to dance!'
Hard to imagine. Though even this website experience by Txominn creeds:
'Following the course of the river to get to the birth of one of these springs where there are stairs leading to a small tub. The setting is spectacular, and the atmosphere is authentic in his tavern. When we were there, people were eating, at one point got up and started dancing rebetika'.
Posted in 2009, he also adds four photo's and a video (of the dancing!). What has happened since?

 
Better days: an aerial overview of the bathing complex, looking back over the apartments towards the baths. Source


Again from 2009 there was this experience, when the resort was still in operation Translated with google from Spanish:
'It was a wonderful experience. It is a beautiful spot crossed by a river where it takes several sulfur springs that flow at 42 degrees. There is an area where you can swim in these waters free, and where they have 40 spa tubs and a large pool. In the tavern opposite the resort enjoy an authentic Greek atmosphere. There had been sitting at the table several families having fun dancing to the sound of rebetika musicians that played after dinner'.
Greek language website Thermalsprings.gr mentions temperatures of 40 - 52 °C and:
'The abundant hot mineral waters gush in used since Roman times. It survives in good condition a domed Byzantine bath'.
This website then adds a little context:
'A vault­ed Byzantine bath is saved in a relatively good condition'.
I wonder where this bath may be, did not discover it ...
Meanwhile another source, Gay Greece mentions: 
'Situated near the main road from Kavala from Thessaloniki, 46 km from Kavala. In panels for Thermals, go straight and after 1-2 kms before a abandoned small outpost, turn right on a dirt road leading to the beach. Hang straight & gay nudists'.
Feeling gay? Certainly looks like it. 
Photo from Mano Kouri's collection named Greece Natural Spa's. Caption: 
'MKGR_SP_095439 Greek Spas Kavala, Eleftheres, young woman bathes in the healing mineral water'.

By the way did you know that Greece has one of the longest recorded histories of soaking in hot springs [1]?  


Stand. Off.
Then I found this which sort of sums up current day stand-off (the link dates to October 2012). With some assistance from google translate [sic] I found out the following:
There is a Citizens' Initiative for Saving Baths Eleftheron which questions authorities objectives for the future of Eleftheron. Apparently the objective is to invite an investor who will be given the free hand in developing and upgrading the hot springs to a (medical) center with 80 beds alongside a four star hotel with same capacity.
The initiative wants to know the terms of the deal between the local government and Kinisis SA (a not so internet savvy company), for safeguards protecting the archeological significance of the current buildings and to ensure local (and public) access to the hot springs (site). 
It also notes: 
'In the area of ​​the baths are now 31 buildings. The oldest is an Ottoman stone bathroom, with a dome, which dates from the late 18th century and has been declared a protected monument. The sources of [Eleftheron], although known since ancient times, developed into a modern spa space 1908-1910 and fortunate their design takes one of the major architects of the interwar Greeks, Aristotle A. Zachos.  
...
This is underlined by the intelligent design of Aristotelis Zachos, early 20th century, is in danger once again razed by bulldozers uncontrolled "growth" and the ephemeral private profit. Allow this?'

Another website follows with the same intent but comes with a clearer call for a  no to the sale of the Eleftheron baths. The website is also dated from October 2012.

The above clearly shows the levels of local resistance to yet again wishing a bag load of money will help your with your problems. It won't. It's like hoping for Ferrari when all you can afford is a Dacia. And note the Dacia will do the work.

Within a 2 hour drive of Greek Macedonia's major population center, Thessaloniki, there are at least 15 different soaking sites, not counting the two mud bathing centers :
Nea Apollinia
Nigrita
Loutra Pozar (Loutraki)
Loutrohori
Agristo
Langadas
Thermi
Souroti
Megali Vrisi
Sidorokastro
Nea Kassani
Agia Paraskevi
Karitsa
Doumpia

With the exception of Loutra Pozar which is located in an area of outstanding beauty (and manages to keep soaking more or less natural) and Agristro where historic references and easy access to the masses help, all other thermal sites are alike: all fishing in the pond of elderly and hopefully affluent customers. 
This pond isn't growing nor are there any new customers incoming for which a random soak can turn into a liftime of soaking commitment.
Too often these types of resorts are besieged with rules and advisory commands coupled with hefty fees for as much as breathing that any under fifty year old would flee the place.

With this in mind, any investor would be crazy to invest heavily in making this a ***** place. It costs a lot, competition is fierce, visitors incomes are dropping and the need to maintain standards year after year to keep the ***** status are heavy. 

Better is to start in reverse. Spruce the place up a bit, charge low entry fees and slowly and holistically expand on this. Tempt a younger crowd, in Europe there's hardly any competition / nor locally.

Look at for instance popular soaking destinations globally ...

Diversions
Besides the hot springs, this lonely stretch of highway passes many a deserted sandy beach. Sometimes denoted as Ammolofoi beaches, Captain Barefoot even mentions that not so far away may even be a (legal?) clothing optional beach. Closer to either towns mentioned earlier there are even amenities on the beach during high season: what's a beach without loud music and even louder crowds?

 

A great soaker combo is to seek the mountains of Pangaio. Especially the village of Mesoropi lies well nestled between the mountains and has a well maintained path leading half way up the mountain to where the local stream gushes forth from a huge slab of rock (3 hours). Mesoropi is about half an hours drive away. Careful for the unbelievable steep streets!

Closer to the village the same stream has many a pond with waterfalls of varying height. A great way to start your day.


Besides beaches and mountains, Kavala region contains some other interesting touristic features. Kavala town itself is a very interesting place and perched neatly between the mountains, the sea and a big rock. A historic old town sits on a promontory jutting out into sea in the direction of island of Thassos. Before this is a broad waterfront. Connecting the old town and the mountainous hinterland is large aquaduct which cuts straight through the city.

 
Modern day Kavala from the town's castle.

Then towards Drama region (but still in Kavala) are the ancient ruins of Philippi: a Greek - Roman - Byzantine army complex. One of the best remains in northern Greece.

 Philippi amphitheatre

Non-resistable
Closeby Philippi are the mud baths of Krinides (Krynides, ΚΡΗΝΙΔΕΣ) or sometimes referred to by Lydia. The website has much info, unfortunatly none accesible for google translate!

As opposed to Eleftheron, Krinides is apparently wonderfully run by the local council. These thermal mud baths are slowly becoming a major draw of themselves as they gain acceptance and acclamations for their first class mud. Do note that the thermality is not such that these can be enjoyed year round; when visiting here in May they were not opened. The mud bathing saeson is from June to mid-October.

From www.pilotherapia.gr flickr site.
'The amazing qualities of mud are well known in the region since late 19th century at the latest, as demonstrates an old building still standing near the spas'. (source
'The therapeutic properties of Krinides mud were known from antiquity. There are uncountable tributes and testimonies that support the fact that the mud baths in Krinides can heal people from a number of ailmentssuch as chronic diseases and pain. The combination of therapeutic mud with the curative thermal water of the region of Krinides is the outcome of the geological diversity of the land that beneficially compensates its visitors in abundance'.
From Sojna on virtualtourist: 
'This is a very special experience and you should be prepared to surrender to the healing qualities of mother earth! The therapeutic clay of Krinides is well known by the end of last century, for its beneficial effects to the skin, as well as to almost all body systems. The clay is located in a natural cavity, in the plain of Plilippoi, where you are supposed to sink slowly, along with the other bathers, most of them of elderly age. Men and women bath separately and there is a very relaxed and pleasant atmosphere between the bathers. The rest of the facilities (dressing rooms, hot showers etc) are very clean and well-preserved and there is also a camping, hotel and rooms for accommodation.
The whole experience can be really pleasant for open-minded travelers, who wouldn’t mind taking a special and economical (if I am not wrong, it costs only 7 euros) spa treatment! Notice the little frogs that watch you curiously, while bathing!'
This German visitor [translated]:
'The whole thing costs almost nothing: The ticket prices in 2009 for the mud bath were around 6 euros per person. A massage is also affordable. Are you insured abroad, you can use your health insurance will get back the amount incurred possibly after consultation
...
On the edge of a natural bog pond is a low rise building. Are here - separately for men and women - housed changing rooms and showers. Even a doctor is present in an adjoining room, and can be called if necessary.The pond is also divided in the middle, a screen was protected from prying eyes.
To reiterate very clearly: You should not have special requirements here. Nothing of what you see here is, as in Germany in a comparable institution. But you will enjoy the old world charm of a historic site, hear the crickets chirping in the bath and gaze at the same mountains that has seen Alexander the Great about 2370 years ahead of you'.
More info on the very helpful Hotel Yannis. There are also a number of youtube video's of the mud baths.

Notes:
[1] Erfurt-Cooper, P., Cooper, M. (2009) Health and Wellness Tourism: Spas and Hot Springs. Aspects of Tourism 40. Channel View Publications, Bristol, United Kingdom. 

 
A parting shot, another happy soaker (source):  
'Λουτρά Ελευθερών, 2010'

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