The reality of the place is a bit different. That is not to say it's not a place worth visiting. In fact, this hotel and spa lets you take a step back in time about 100 years, when a sanitarium was a place where the rich went to rest and relax and not just for the insane.
As we drove in the front gate, my mother asks somewhat reluctantly, "Is it me? Or does this look a lot like an old age home?" We all had to agree. Yes, Hotel Termas appears very much as convalescent home meets T. Coraghessan Boyle's The Road to Wellville meets The Shining.
I know, I know. I'm not making this place sound very appealing, just bear with me. This place plays a part of history. Built in 1880, when visionary Antonio Palau realized the therapeutic nature of hot waters found underground. Since then, the termas have been a place for Argentine writers, celebrities and politicians to escape and rejuvenate.
Above you see the entrance to the hotel building. Behind the hotel lies a separate building holding the spa, comedor, baths and an outdoor pool filled with the warm thermal waters.
I originally hoped to spend the night in the hotel, then we could spend a full day taking advantage of the services the spa and baths offered. Unfortunately, the hotel itself was fully booked for the entire time my parents would be here.
Thus, we decided to drive the 175 kilometers to the spa from Salta for the day. The road between Salta and Tucuman is a main route and well paved, so the ride lasts approximately one and a half hours. We arrived just as lunch hours began.
Noah had heard rave reviews of the food at this lunch room. And really, it wasn't bad at all. The menu offers standard Argentine cuisine: lomo, empadanas, bife de chorizo. Noah ordered lomo that comes with a tomato-onion sauce and a fried egg on top. Not a combo that comes easily to the American palate, but try it before you knock it. It's heavy, but really good.
Then onto the bath and spa.
Unfortunately, the spa closed for siesta after lunch, so we contented ourselves with a walk through the facilities, ending with a fifteen minute immersion bath in their boiling, yet healing waters.
The upstairs level houses a gymnasium that looks down onto an outdoor pool. Water comes directly from the heated waters below ground as well. Notice the crack in the window? The gymnasium itself isn't much different, but it's fascinating to see the original window frames, tile and walls of the building.
Lower level, behind the bath you'll find this old area where people once enjoyed immersion soaks and mud baths. These days, the area is under construction but you still pass through to go to the showers and change rooms. Those three jugs in front offer mineral water for every occasion. Laxative. Constitution. And I never did find out what zarza -- or blackberry -- water will do for you.
Any thoughts? Please let me know.
Voila! The main bath hall. My parents almost bailed (ie run away as fast as possible) when they first saw those back rooms. It's not entirely well signed, so we thought that was the bath area. Yes, this still looks quite hospital-like, but it was a relief to realize this is where we would find our relaxation and rejuvenation and not the crumbling back area filled with concrete bags.
This is the bath in which you soak. Well, some of them anyway. Many of the tubs have already been replaced with new, cleaner more modern options, but a few originate from the late 1800s.
You soak for fifteen minutes in the tub, during which an attendant returns to add more hot water. Afterward, you lie under blankets for another fifteen to relax. I fell asleep.
Like I said, the place is not your every day spa-filled luxury, but I'm glad we went. I'm not sure how much longer you'll have the opportunity to see this little piece of Argentine history in its current state. Oh, and if you're wondering, the bath itself was quite wonderful. It relaxed me for the rest of the day, and I fell asleep early that night.
Renovations have already begun, after which the plan is to begin publicizing the bath house. I'm betting the old, bath house, am-I-in-a-hospital feeling will soon fade and be replaced with something far more sleek and new, which is fine, if that's your thing.
Otherwise, if you're driving route 34 -- also ruta 9 in this part of the country -- slow down and take a look.