(Budapest) Postcard from the country, the energy-hungry Hungarian thermal baths are fighting to stay in the landscape, between explosion of bills and economic gloom.

The whole world knows the pastel buildings with Belle Époque or Art Nouveau architecture surrounding pools where chess players compete, swimming caps on their heads in water vapor.

But running these mythical establishments “should cost 170% more in 2023 compared to last year”, warns Edit Reffy, the spokesperson for Budapest Spas, the company that manages the capital’s thermal baths.

“Managing the energy crisis is a big challenge,” she told AFP. Savings measures have been put in place (reduced service, covered outdoor swimming pools, etc.) and the prices of entrance tickets have been increased.

“Inevitably”, the historic baths, mostly frequented by foreign clientele, increased their tickets by “more than 30%”.

Like the sulfur-smelling Szechenyi, adored by night owls for its wild parties, or the Gellert, which has become a world icon with its waters rich in calcium and magnesium in a curvaceous setting of turquoise mosaics.

Despite this price increase, attendance has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels (42 million visitors in 2019), according to industry professionals.

Less known, provincial establishments have been more affected by the crisis. Some have been forced to close their doors, while a quarter of them have reduced their hours, Zoltan Kantas, head of the Association of Hungarian Baths, recently warned.

Developed in the plain of central Europe two thousand years ago by the Romans, the spa culture was then perpetuated by the Hungarians. In the 16th century, the Ottomans built baths that are still in use today.

With nearly 1,300 medicinal and thermal springs, Hungary remains a less expensive destination than the European average and often spectacular.

There is the destination of Miskolctapolca (northeast), where you can take water in labyrinthine caves unique in Europe, with a healing climate.

Or the largest biologically active natural thermal lake in the world, in Heviz (southwest). Its 4.4 hectares benefit from water heated by geothermal energy which does not drop below 22°C in winter and can reach 38°C in summer.