These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

Rajecké Teplice

Aquatic Fantasyland

By Rachel Salaman

    The dome at Aphrodite.
 The dome at Aphrodite.
 Photo: Brian Jones

Not far from the northern city of Žilina and the Czech and Polish borders is a place devoted to indulgence on a grand classical scale.

Surrounded on all sides by the Malá Fatra mountains, the town of Rajecké Teplice is a disparate collection of buildings scattered beside the river Rajčianka. There's a corner store, a small information office (closed all weekend), a handful of white Communist-era hotels, and an ornamental lake.

And right in the middle is Aphrodite: an opulent health spa and hotel as incongruous in that sleepy hamlet as its namesake would be digging potatoes in a Slovak kitchen garden.

The spa building and several of the town's hotels were acquired by the Miškolci family in 1996, who decided to focus their attentions on making the main spa house as attractive as possible to foreign visitors.

And the investment seems to be paying off. The facility now runs at 75 percent capacity, with 7,000 visitors a year, many of them from abroad. Aphrodite's expansive lobby is a festival of gold and splendid classical allusion. Murals climb all over the walls and intricate pillars support a ceiling dripping with heavy crystal chandeliers.

Straight ahead, through a round conservatory encased by a bright stained-glass dome, is a café bar, and beyond that, the spa's pride and joy: Water World, a thermal-water complex combining state-of-the-art technology with wild creativity.

The facility consists of a central swimming pool area, a self-contained pleasure palace called Sauna World, and a medical centre, where those who believe the local thermal water has healing properties can put it to the test. The entire complex has been built and maintained with no expense spared: the metal gleams, the tiles shine, and every frond of each carefully placed palm is pert and green.

Water World houses two stainless-steel pools, one hot and one cooler. Both have bubbles galore, and the larger, cooler pool also sprouts waterfalls and fountains from time to time, which you can swim under or sit beneath if you fancy a good pummelling. Using metal was a brainwave: as well as allowing for minimal chlorine use, it makes the pools feel much cleaner than most.

In the medical centre there are all sorts of contraptions designed to harness water for therapeutic effect, among them foot baths; beaded, thermal, and carbonic baths; and two types of hydro-massage tub. Real live massages are also available, as are communal whirlpools that you can book for half an hour at a time.

The people taking advantage of the facilities fall roughly into two groups: guests of the hotel and visitors from outside, who are either local residents or people staying elsewhere in the village. Hotel guests are allowed to use the swimming pools for free, but must pay to go to Sauna World or have any treatments. Outside visitors are required to pay to use any of Aphrodite's facilities. The prices vary depending on where you are staying and whether you are Slovak or foreign.

Beware of overcrowding at weekends. Aphrodite's assets are such a draw that people come from miles around to spend a couple of hours indulging themselves. From Friday night to Sunday morning the pools and Sauna World can get unpleasantly full. It's worth planning a mid-week trip to get it all to yourself.

Staying at the hotel is not cheap, but there are several advantages to it. One is that you can wander around the building in a dressing gown during your entire visit if you want. This saves having to get dressed and undressed five times a day. One word of warning: Although German is widely spoken, hardly anyone working at the spa speaks English.

The guestrooms are quite comfortable, and a few have nice views of the gardens and mountains in the distance. However, the walls are surprisingly thin, and a noisy neighbour can spoil a good night's sleep.

It's not easy to find the hotel restaurant, which is tucked away in an anonymous corridor. The interior is wood-panelled, with two strangely unerotic wooden nudes standing sentinel at one end. It's only open to hotel guests, and the food is just about adequate.

Breakfast beats dinner hands down, with its array of hot dishes, cold cuts, cereals, rolls, and fruit.

For those seeking sustenance elsewhere, there are a few options. One is right on the nearby ornamental lake, the geometrical Rybárska Bašta (Fisherman's Bastion), which has an aquarium built into the walls of its lower level. Fish is the speciality here, and they do it well. You can also eat in a pub attached to the Hotel Talisman. It's a cosy place - all dark wood and candles - but the food leaves much to be desired.

In the winter, Rajecké Teplice promises a few days full of warmth and relaxation. In the summer, it's a base for all sorts of activities. There's rowing on the lake, swimming in the giant outdoor pool next to the Hotel Laura, mountain biking, hiking, golf, and tennis. To get there, take the train to Žilina then the local train or bus to Rajecké Teplice, 17 kilometres south.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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