Steaming and sulphurous, hot springs are found across Asia and appreciation of them goes well beyond simple enjoyment of a good soak. Jump in with the locals for one of the most memorable aspects of any wintertime trip.
A feature of the underlying volcanism of the Pacific Rim, hot springs are a reminder of nature’s constant reinvention and, loaded with minerals, are believed to rejuvenate our own health too. Whatever the truth of that, they are a blissful way to end the day, whether you need to relax after a pummelling day on the slopes, or a tonic after hours of shopping and sightseeing. The pinnacle of hot spring fetishism is surely Japan. There, onsen are a quintessential part of the culture, subject of TV review shows and enjoyed according to rules strictly governing bathers’ behaviour. They are at their best when outdoors and as natural as possible – then called rotenburo – when the steam contrasts with the fresh air. Many hotels in areas with hot springs also pipe the water indoors where you can soak in a bath in more refined, if less characterful, surroundings. Attempting to master the etiquette is not only respectful but offers a window onto your host culture. Small indiscretions are likely at first but don’t (ahem) sweat it, you’ll be happily tolerated if you are clearly trying to make an effort. Beware, by the time you return home, you too may be seduced by the unadorned beauty of the onsen experience – and plotting how to bring a flavour of it to your own bathroom.