HOT SPRINGS

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.

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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.

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