Harrogate is twinned with Luchon in France and Montecatini in Italy, which are all spa towns, each famed for their spa heritage across Europe.
In 1571, William Slingsby discovered the first mineral spring containing chalybeate and sulphur minerals in Harrogate from the Tewit Well. In the 17th and 18th Century, further chalybeate and sulphur springs were discovered. The discovery of the waters attracted wealthy tourists to the town to take the waters as they had many healing properties and helped to accelerate the towns growth as a spa resort. As a result of this, century inns began to open in the town to cope with the steady influx of visitors and Harrogate remained an attractive retreat for the English elite at the turn of the 19th Century.
In 1897, the Royal Baths were opened, and the waters were pumped from a number of different springs and treatment such as electro-hydrotherapy and peat baths were offered for conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis and sciatica, aiding the towns status as a spa resort and Harrogate had continued to rely on the tourist trade created by the waters and spa’s.
The turn of the century, at the end of the First World War saw great social, economic and political change and Harrogate’s shine as a spa resort started to dim and the number of rich visitors coming to take treatments declined, while those of middle income increased. In 1969, the Royal Baths Treatment Centre closed due to advancements in treatments, medicine and technology but the Turkish Baths remains open to this day is one of the only original Turkish Baths in fully working order in the UK and remains a popular destination for tourists and residents alike.
Bagneres-de-Luchon, in France is a town also famed for its waters and thermal springs and has been twinned with Harrogate since 1953. The name comes in part from its hydrotherapy (Bagnères = baths). The town is over 2,000 years old and has been recognised over the centuries for the quality of its hyperthermal waters, the most sulphurous in the Pyrenees. There are 48 springs which vary in composition but mainly contain sodium sulphate. In 76 BC a soldier who suffered from a skin disease immersed himself in the thermal waters of Luchon and its ‘Onésiens’ baths where he discovered their thermal properties and after 21 days he came out completely healed. The sulfourous waters are also renowned for treating respiratory tract infections and rheumatology.
In 25 BC Tiberius Claude dug three pools and developed thermal baths. The baths had a modest motto “Balneum Lixonenese post Neapolitense primum” (the Luchon baths are the best after those of Naples), which is still the towns motto today.
In 987, the village of ‘Banières’ and its thermal baths around its church were described as quite successful. Similar to Harrogate, many famous visitors came to Luchon, attracted by the popularity of the thermal waters and is today renowned for a town being dedicated to fitness, well-being and sport.
Thermal springs in Bagnères de LuchonMontecatini, in Italy, has been twinned with Harrogate since 1960 and is a very old spa town, with evidence dating back to 1340 referring to the extraction of salt from the water. Montecatini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other evidence comes from the famous doctor Ugolino of Montecatini who examined the waters scientifically for the first time. He also tells us that there were three baths in Montecatini; the Bagno Della Regina, the Bagno dei Merli and the Bagno Nuovo.
Montecatini Terme has been well known as a spa town since the time of the Romans. These thermal hot springs make Montecatini an ideal place for wellness, relaxation and even medical treatment.
There are 11 thermal springs in the area around Montecatini and six of them are used for their therapeutic qualities. These springs all come from the same source; an aquifer fed by meteoric waters, roughly 60-80m below ground level. The waters get their minerals from being in contact with Triassic-period strata of calcareous stone, travertine, jasper and limestone.
Today there are currently four springs still in use: Tettucio, Regina, Leopoldine and Rinfresco, which visitors can experience and benefit from the thermal waters. The waters, characterised by sulphate, bicarbonate, and sodium, are used at a therapeutic level for diseases related to metabolism, digestive system, the liver and also for well-being treatments.