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Soak in the Scenery

8 Breathtaking Baths and Backdrops

Matt Cardy / Thermae Bath Spa [more photos]

Nothing says "R&R" like a long, hot bath: That ahh feeling is the best cure for stress. Sure, you can find hot water and a tub just about anywhere (including your own home), but you can only extract so much ambience from bathroom tiles. To really kick back, leave your well-treaded bathmat behind and head to a soak-spot that both calms the nerves and soothes the senses. We've uncovered some spectacular bathing locales that drip with history, luxury and natural beauty. 

In Pictures: World's Prettiest Places to Bathe

Thermae Bath Spa

Bath, England

This beautiful town in southwest England has always been a heavyweight in the R&R sector. The city's original name, Aquae Sulis, honors the Celtic goddess, Sulis. Said to be a nurturing giver of life, Sulis presided over Bath's ancient hot springs and was worshipped by the pool's previous patrons, the Romans. Before you rush to grab your towel, take a few hours to explore these ancient baths at the center of the city. These pools may not seem inviting now -- the water has an eerie green tinge -- but they'll allow you to experience Bath as the Romans did 2,000 years ago. Once you've had your fill of history, make your way up the street to the Thermae Bath Spa. These waters have a much more pleasant hue, even though the spa's pools are fed by the same steamy springs that have long beckoned to bathers.

The Scene: Although the city's three springs -- the Cross Spring, the Hetling Spring and the King's Spring -- are located more than a mile underground, the best place to enjoy them is Thermae's rooftop pool. While you're simmering away, you can look out over the beautiful, Gothic-style Bath Abbey. But while the city views are breathtaking (especially at night), prepare to pay £25 GBP (roughly $40 USD) to soak.

Molori Safari Lodge

Madikwe Game Reserve, South Africa

Molori Safari Lodge [more photos]

Just because you're in the wilderness doesn't mean you have to rough it: The Molori Safari Lodge's five bungalows bring chic to the Savanna. These unique accommodations seated within the Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa include floor-to-ceiling windows that allow visitors to wake up to stunning African vistas. But for the best views, grab your swimsuit and head to the main lodge's hot tub. This in-ground soaking spot looks out over an ever-busy watering hole, frequented by elephants, lions and zebras. While you immerse yourself in the steam and scenery, personal butlers offer local snacks and glasses of Amarula, a South African liqueur.

The Scene: The Molori Safari Lodge is located about 180 miles from Johannesburg in the northeast corner of the 185,329-acre (malaria-free) Madikwe Game Reserve. The suites feature a combination of contemporary style and environmental influences, with zebra-print furnishings and thatched roofs (not to mention their own private infinity pools). And getting there is a cinch too, since the lodge provides air transport to and from Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB).

Chena Hot Springs

Fairbanks, Alaska, USA

Simply thinking of Alaska may send a shiver down your spine, but the northernmost state holds the key to a warm, relaxing getaway: the Chena Hot Springs. Located about 60 miles east of Fairbanks, these bubbling waters are at the heart of a 40-square-mile geothermal activity zone. The hot springs funnel mineral water at a whopping 165 degrees Fahrenheit into the massive pools at the Chena Hot Springs Resort. But don't worry about the heat: The water is cooled well before it makes its way to the pool. When you do settle in for a soak, you'll find that the region's alpine peaks and verdant evergreen forests make for a splendid backdrop. Just be prepared to share your surroundings: The resort often sees four-legged passersby such as elk and moose (though they're not welcome in the pools).

The Scene: The Chena Hot Springs' waters are said to contain healing powers. Whether or not that's actually true, the pools and the resort themselves are the ideal setting for some R&R. Before popping into the pool, start your rejuvenation off with a massage. And if you're brave enough to tackle winter in the Last Frontier, an evening soak is usually accompanied by a Northern Lights show.

Rome Cavalieri, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts

Rome, Italy

The Rome Cavalieri [more photos]

Rome's gilded churches and monumental ruins have inspired visitors for centuries. The maze of ancient crooked streets and aroma of simmering pasta sauces attract millions of people to the Eternal City each year. But as wonderful as that may be for Italy's tourism revenue, it also means long lines at the major attractions and an everlasting struggle to fight through the crowds. Guests at the Rome Cavalieri have a one-up: This ornate Waldorf Astoria property in the heart of Rome boasts a bird's-eye view of the city. The scenery is particularly sweet if you're savoring it from the steamy waters of the Penthouse Suite's private rooftop whirlpool. Watch the city unfold beneath you as you soak; consider a nighttime dip to glimpse St. Peter's Basilica illuminating the skyline.

The Scene: The Rome Cavalieri is just a few blocks northeast of the Colosseum and a short walk to the Basilica. The hotel is home to the renowned Grand Spa, which Travel and Leisure dubbed one of the world's top hotel spas for 2011. But as ideal as this sounds, you can expect to pay a pretty penny, especially if you're booking a luxurious night in the Penthouse Suite. 

Hot Water Beach

Waikato, New Zealand

If you're a more active traveler, you might prefer the DIY spa experience at Hot Water Beach, located on the northeast shore of New Zealand. The two underground fissures leak gallons of water at 147 degrees Fahrenheit every minute; the water then bubbles its way up through the beach's golden sands to the surface. To make the most out of your visit, plan to arrive one to two hours before low tide (when more of the beach is exposed) with a bucket and shovel in hand -- you'll need them to dig your own hot tub at Hot Water Beach. It's also a good idea to fill your bucket with some cooler ocean water to prevent yourself from a good scalding. And just a word of warning: the beach gets crowded quickly, so arrive early to stake out a primo soaking spot.

The Scene: Hot Water Beach is a little more than 100 miles east of Auckland, New Zealand on the opposite side of the Firth of Thames. There is no admission charge, and parking is available, though you should be ready to traverse the small stream that separates the beach from the parking lot. And a word to the demure: bathing suit tops are optional.

Pamukkale

Denizli, Turkey

Pamukkale [more photos]

Located approximately 400 miles south of Istanbul in Denizli, Turkey, these hot springs are rumored to have both healing and beautifying powers. Legend has it that Pamukkale earned its miraculous reputation after a despairing girl: Unable to find a husband due to her unattractiveness, she threw herself off the cliff's edge. She survived the fall by landing in one of the pools, from which she emerged as a beautiful maiden who then caught the eye of the Denizli lord. Whether or not the story is true, the site's own beauty is worth beholding. Formed by mineral deposits left behind by 17 flowing hot springs, these crystalline-white terraces collect shallow pools of steamy water ideal for a soothing soak. While visiting Pamukkale, your view will extend far over the city of Denizli.

The Scene: Because of its abundant water sources, Pamukkale has long been a center of civilization: Everyone from the Persians to the Ottomans has settled the area. The most recognized city, Hierapolis, sat regally atop the terraces and endured Greco-Roman and Byzantine occupations. Now a World Heritage Site, Pamukkale welcomes visitors to explore what remains of the "white castle" before easing their way into the thermal pools.

Conrad Maldives, Rangali Island

The Maldives

Spread out across two remote islands, the Conrad Maldives' 150 villas offer spectacular panoramas of the Indian Ocean. And there is no better place to enjoy the landscape than from the soothing 104-degree waters of a private hot tub. Consider one of the villas on the Rangali Island section of the resort; the tubs in these Beach Villas are flanked by sugary-white sands and a vibrant coral reef. Compared to the vistas from the adjacent Rangalifinolhu Island villas, which overlook clear, cerulean sea, Rangali's are much more multi-faceted. And if the scenery isn't enough, hotel staff members provide a few extra luxuries like cool glasses of fresh papaya juice. To further your relaxing experience, head to the hotel spa for a massage (the spa's barrel-shaped hot tub is also extremely beautiful).

The Scene: The Conrad Maldives, Rangali Island is about as remote as it gets. The hotel is only reached via seaplane, about a 30-minute flight from the Malé International Airport (MLE), located in the Maldives' capital city of Malé. Although you will have to pay dearly for the puddle-jump, Conrad staff members arrange for flights and an overnight stay in the capital for guests with late or early flights, as seaplanes do not operate at night.

Jigokudani Monkey Park

Yamanouchi, Japan

Jigokudani Monkey Park [more photos]

We're not the only ones who enjoy a hot bath from time to time -- our primate brethren do too. It's understandable: Climbing trees and harvesting grub can take its toll on the back and joints. And nowhere are the R&R needs of monkeys catered to better than in Japan's Jigokudani Monkey Park. Sitting 158 miles northwest of Tokyo in Yamanouchi, this natural park sits atop bubbling hot springs that feed a man-made pool frequented by Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys). Although Homo sapiens are not welcome in these pools, followers of the old "monkey see, monkey do" adage can sample the springs for themselves at the park's Korakukan Jigokudani guest house. This hotel's outdoor, naturally fed hot tub overlooks the park and it's monkey-free.

The Scene: Jigokudani Monkey Park is open year-round, but the best time to visit is winter. The region's snowy scenery makes a hot bath that much more inviting to the park's full-time residents, and the visible steam swirling around their furry faces makes for a fantastic photo op. Korakukan Jigokudani's hot tub is also open throughout the year, and a wintertime soak will make the lodge's steamy geyser that much more impressive to watch.

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