Feature: Greece's ancient natural thermal spas of Loutraki offer visitors "gift of life"
by Maria Spiliopoulou
LOUTRAKI, Greece, July 12 (Xinhua) -- A breath away from Athens, the seaside resort of Loutraki on the Gulf of Corinth has been for several decades a popular holiday destination for those seeking to take a dive in history, the sea and the therapeutic waters of the natural thermal springs at the foot of Geraneia mountain range.
Amid the acute debt crisisthat has hit Greece since 2009, local authorities in this town of 20,000 inhabitants which is located about 80 km southwest of Athens, have stepped up efforts to modernize and upgrade their unique tourism product.
They seek to attract more visitors from across the world, focusing on their comparative advantages, such as the centuries-old tradition in thermalism, officials said during a recent tour in Corinth Prefecture.
"The name Loutraki is a direct reference to thermalism. From antiquity our hot springs and the healing benefits of the waters had been a trademark of the region," Tassos Sakellariou, Deputy Mayor of Loutraki, explained, told Xinhua at the facilities of the municipality's "Loutraki Thermal Spa".
The word derives from "Loutron" that means bath in Greek. Thermae (hot spings) is the name of the ancient city. The first written reference to the miraculous waters is made by historian Xenophon (431-351 BC) He mentioned that Spartan soldiers came to Thermae to heal after battles, bathing in the waters deriving from many faults of the coastal area.
The city was famous for its "water of life" also during the Roman period, while in the 19th century it became one of the first thermalism destinations in the newly founded Greek state. The well-preserved old building of the Loutraki Thermal Spa dates back to the early 20th century. The construction of the modern wing was completed in 2010 with European Unionand local administration funds.
"We attempted to develop what we had and expand from the therapeutic spas to wellness in order to attract more people to the modern facilities. We constantly try to upgrade the services offered," Sakellariou said.
Currently Loutraki Thermal Spa covers 5,000 square meters. It includes indoor heated pools with waterfalls and jet hydromassaging, a cool water swimming pool for post-traumatic rehabilitation, sauna, as well as individual cabins for hydrotherapy and massage.
There is an easy access for the disabled, medical advice and information on the water properties provided by health experts, as well as drinking therapy, mud therapy and beauty treatment sessions.
About 50,000 people, mostly Greeks and other Europeans, visit the spa throughout each year. The municipality aims to attract more visitors from the United Statesand China.
"Loutraki's therapeutic water is famous worldwide for its healing properties. It is rich in trace elements and minerals. Its main substances are sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium and radon -- very beneficial elements to health," Vana Nikolopoulou, Loutraki Thermal Spa PR manager, told Xinhua.
According to scientific studies, the therapeutic water has positive effects on a wide range of health conditions, from musculoskeletal problems to hypertension, skin disorders and stress.
"Patients suffering from ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis can find relief after taking hydro therapy treatment. Thermal spa therapy is indicated for rheumatisms and musculoskeletal conditions. The high temperature water helps relax muscles and relieve pain," Antonis Angoules, orthopaedic surgeon, Professor at an Athens university, explained.
Tourists also have the option of cooling off at the crystal clear waters of the "Blue Flag" awarded beach and the nearby Vouliagmeni lake.
Otherwise they can take a dive in history visiting archaeological sites, such as Heraion, the sanctuary of goddess Hera, at Perachora peninsula.
Diolkos, the paved road constructed at the Isthmus of Corinth in the 7th century BC to transfer on wheeled vehicles ships from the Corinthian to the Saronic Gulf, is another must-see.
Its remnants remain intact today next to the submersible bridges connecting Peloponnese peninsula and the mainland over the 6 kilometers long and 24 meters wide Corinth Canal, the region's landmark, which was constructed in the 19th century.[ Editor: meng ]