Story and photos by Sharon King Hoge
Doga Thermal Health & Spa
Karahayit Mah. 147 Seyir Sk. N0:9-1,
Karahayit, Pamukkale, Turkey
This is a destination that had me exclaiming "Why didn't anyone ever tell me about this before." Chances are you've never heard of Pamukkale's travertine slopes that tend to overwhelm first-time visitors. What appears to be a sheer cliff of snow rising above the plains of central Turkey is actually the "Cotton Castle," a mountain coated with calcified carbonate with thermal hot springs bubbling through it. The ancient Romans and earlier civilizations recognized the region's "curative" qualities and built Hierapolis, a vast city atop it. The remains of its boulevards, cemeteries, fountains, pools, and bathhouses have been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Today Pamukkale (pronounced pa-moo-ca-lay) is, as in Roman times, a destination for modern tourists who flock to soak and swim in its healing waters.
After soaking our feet in the springs atop the cliff, the travelers in our Gate 1 tour group chose to stay about ten minutes away in the authentic local village of Karahayit at the wonderful Doga Thermal Health & Spa, a contemporary elipse which encircles a series of indoor and out, chilled and steaming swimming pools and natural springs.
Ground floor reception is located on the middle, third floor, of the five story building and is furnished with Barcelona chairs and seating nooks overlooking the azure tiled pool which meanders through the oval central lobby around the glass elevator and encircles a central dome equipped with twinkling lights and bubbling water jets. A handy gift shop sells tea cups, books, and swim suits. The bar overlooking the pool is a place to play cards or table games. A gift shop is stocked with souvenirs and extra bathing suits for men and women.
Ascending two floors in the glass elevator to the top, I checked into room 501 furnished in comfortable contemporary shades of gray including a throw across the foot of the queen size bed. Convenient shelves on either side of the bed were topped with extra reading lights and plugs for recharging cell phones and electronics. Facing the bed, a handy console held a coffee maker, glasses with a wine opener, and a wide screen TV broadcasting the BBC and TCM in English along with several Turkish channels. There was a safe and an extra pillow in the sleek armoire and a mini-bar stocked with basic beverages. Sliding glass doors opened to a balcony with city views and a table and chairs for lounging.
The bathroom was lined in matte gray with a modern stone slab sink providing natural hot water pouring at will from the faucet. The wall above the bathtub was a window looking into the bedroom with blinds that could be opened or shut for privacy. Offered on the counter were the hotel's own name brand amenities along with a cotton bathrobe and slippers.
Elaborate buffet meals were served in the second floor dining room, furnished with brocade upholstered side chairs and white linens. On refrigerated cases decorated with charming food "bouquets," chefs provided full selections of cheeses, meats, vegetables, and prepared salads which preceded the hot selections which one night included chicken roti, eggplant casserole, mushroom gratin, steak wrap, and "furnace" fish stuffed with lemon and grilled in parchment. A large variety of delicious local olives are served only with breakfast.
The spa and fitness facilities are located on the below-grade first floor. Besides the exercise room with fitness machines, the spa provides a full array of services: sauna, steam room, hamman Turkish bath. Massages, facials, and other treatments are conducted in spacious, dimly lit rooms with soothing music. The charge for a half-hour standard massage was $30.
Swimmers can meander around the curves of the indoor pool pausing within its bubbling dome. One standard outdoor swimming pool serves for stroking laps and sunbathing. But the piece de resistance is the outdoor pool fed directly by three natural hot water thermal springs which gush into a steamy central dome and heat the full-size swimming pool to the temperature of a bathtub. Guests can stroke around the pool or sit on benches beside the flowing springs savoring the same therapeutic waters that Romans basked in centuries ago.
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