Ourense - Spain

Introduction

Located at the western corner of Europe, in the Spanish region of Galicia, Ourense is a city with a thermal water production of more than 3 million litres per day, one of the largest flows in Europe. The presence of hot springs has always defined the life and history of the city. Not surprisingly, this was the reason why Romans chose to settle here two thousand years ago, thus giving origin to the city of Ourense (they called it Aquis Aurensis - golden waters). They settled in the area of As Burgas, the fountains in the historic centre that keep gushing hot water nowadays, and whose pool is an excellent starting point to enjoy Ourense's thermal offer. On the banks of river Minho there are many outdoors thermal pools surrounded by nature, along with spa facilities inspired by the Japanese onsen, waiting to be discovered.

But there's so much more to Ourense than just thermalism: the city is known for its rich history, full of Romanesque, Baroque and Modernist monuments and for its charming traditional restaurants and taverns which serve the good wines of the area and prepare delicious local dishes as octopus. All these attractions, along with the hospitality of its citizens, make Ourense a destination worth visiting. You'll always be eager to return here.

Historical background

The origin of Ourense can be traced to the Romans and is directly linked to the presence of hot springs in the vicinity of river Minho, where they built an impressive bridge, which is still standing today. As this area was a strategic spot for communications, they decided to build a settlement to protect it, and  this helped to transform the local hot springs (today known as As Burgas) into a place of pilgrimage. The Romans, and also pre-Roman populations, considered the springs to be sacred, the home of deities in charge of the temperature and characteristic of the waters. Indigenous god Revve Anabaraego had  a shrine-pool in As Burgas, which visitors in the 1st century came to, to pray for their health. Remains of this sanctuary and a Roman balnea (bathhouse) can be visited today at the As Burgas Interpretation Centre, together with votive altars in carved stone, such as the one attributed to Calpurnia Abana, a noble Roman woman who, as legend goes, visited these hot springs to cure her diseases following the advice the nymphs gave her in dreams.

After the Romans, Ourense was capital of the Kingdom of the Suebi during most of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries. The most famous king was Chararic, responsible for converting the city to Catholicism. During the Middle Ages and under the rule of the bishops, the city continued expanding as the commercial centre of an agricultural area devoted to wine production, although the attacks of the Moors and Normans almost devastated it. During this time, civil and religious powers struggled for the dominion of the city, ending in the 12th century with the establishment of the local council.

The improvement of land transportation boosted Ourense’s economic activity during the 19th century, starting a new period of splendour that was reinforced with the arrival of the railway in the 20th century, connecting Galicia with the rest of the country and turning the city into an important commercial hub.

Water sources

The waters of Ourense's hot springs have soft mineralization, with high amounts of bicarbonate, sodium, fluoride, lithium and sulphur. They acquire their mineral properties through their journey to the surface, as they emerge from deposits of porous granite located up to 1 km underground.
They are a source of relaxation and pleasure, but also have therapeutic properties and are indicated for rheumatism, skin and musculoskeletal ailments.

Cultural heritage

After an intense period of restoration, Ourense's Historic Centre, the area with the highest concentration of the city landmarks, currently shines with brand new splendour. Almost a maze built in stone, it deserves a calm walk, stopping at its many corners: narrow streets and lively squares with arcades, stone crosses and beautiful fountains from the Romanesque monasteries of the province. The best way to enjoy it is to lose yourself in its streets and squares looking at its monumental facades, such as the Oca-Valladares Palace (one of Galicia’s most important Renaissance monuments) and the Main Square, an unique sloped square presided over by the City Hall and surrounded by colonnades with terraces where you can have an aperitif while watching its intense activity.

One of the oldest and best known monuments are the fountains of As Burgas, gushing water at temperatures of more than 60ºC. There are two fountains; the upper one, a small and traditional fountain dating from the 13th century, and the lower one, built in an impressive Neoclassical style in the 19th. Its distinctive silhouette has become an icon for Ourense.

Ourense’s main attraction lies in its waters. Not only its hot springs but also its rivers: the Lonia and the Barbana, which have been improved with promenades which allow people to serenely enjoy the scenery; and river Minho, which bathes the city and provides a large area for leisure and relaxation. And its bridges too, proudly presiding over the Minho: from the Old Bridge, a Roman bridge reformed in the Middle Ages, to the innovative Millennium Bridge.

Next to the Old Bridge and As Burgas, San Martin's Cathedral, named after the city’s patron saint, is one of Ourense’s icons along with its Holy Christ. It was built between the 12th and 13th centuries in late-Romanesque style with Cistercian influences. Its Gothic dome and the polychrome Gate of Paradise are of particular interest.

The city’s Historic Centre is full of religious architecture with temples which are remarkable due to their monumentality, like the churches of Saint Mary, Saint Euphemia or Trinity. In the upper part of the city lies San Francis' Convent. Its 14th century Romanesque-to-Gothic cloister, which is one of the most representative and well-conserved in Galicia, can be visited. Nearby is the hostel for the pilgrims on the Way to Santiago.

Spa and treatments

In the aforementioned area of As Burgas, you will find the first thermal bath in the Historic Centre: an outdoor pool of more than 200 m2, similar to the ones enjoyed by the Romans settlers, with a terrace for sunbathing and a wet sauna. Because of its privileged location and its integration into the urban environment, it is a unique facility in Spain, combining the pleasure of a thermal bath with the contemplation of historic Ourense.

The thermal offer continues on the banks of river Minho, a large green corridor of several kilometres that crosses the city of Ourense shaping its landscape, and where you can find up to seven thermal facilities in which to rest and relax while enjoying a bath in a beautiful natural setting.

The closest hot springs to the city centre are the ones in the area of A Chavasqueira, with temperatures of around 60° C. Here you can choose between between the free-access outdoor thermal pools on the river bank and the thermal station just next to them. This facility reproduces a Japanese recreational thermal circuit inspired in the Onsen bath culture, a practice that pursues physical and mental relaxation through direct contact with nature, and comprises a Rotenburo (a combination of three thermal outdoors pools in stone), an Ofuro (an indoors bath in stone), a Templarium (a zen sauna in stone and slate) and a Sudarium (a Japanese sauna in stone and wood).

Just 500 metres from A Chavasqueira is O Tinteiro, a source of sulphured and bicarbonated thermal water located at a viewpoint over river Minho and equipped with foot baths. It is a very popular spot for its beneficial properties for the skin.

Following the route, the silhouette of an old mill announces the Muíño da Veiga baths. This is another set of 5 outdoor pools made in stone whose waters come from some of the hottest springs in Spain (about 72°C),

The Outariz thermal station is also related to the Japanese spa culture known as Onsen. Its 11 outdoor and 3 indoor pools are organized in two circuits: the Zen one (with still waters that invite relaxation and harmony with the environment) and the Celtic one (with geysers, waterfalls, beds and bubbles providing an exhilarating experience, indicated to eliminate tensions and muscle contractures). It has also several saunas (with dry or wet heat) and a catalogue of health and beauty treatments including algae, mud and chocolate therapy. Both Outariz as A Chavasqueira also have a cafeteria where you can enjoy a good sushi accompanied by Japanese green tea. In Outariz, the service is completed with a multipurpose room for classes of tai chi, yoga and so on.

Separated from the thermal station by a garden of medicinal and aromatic plants, the outdoor pools of Outariz and Burga de Canedo are definitely some of the most popular green spaces of the city at any time of the year. This is the largest thermal area, with two sets of hot and cold pools with free access in a landscaped recreational area full of lush riparian vegetation: elms, birches and willows. All bathing areas have dressing rooms, toilets, showers and lockers. A footbridge connects the bathing area with the opposite bank of the river, where there is a large parking area.

Cultural events and activities

Perhaps because it is located at a natural crossroads, Ourense is a dynamic and bustling city that lives on the street. Throughout the whole year there is a busy schedule of arts and culture programmes for all audiences. Events such as its International Film Festival (OUFF), the oldest in Galicia, the seasons of classical music Enclave de Cámara and Pórtico do Paraíso (which organizes concerts in exceptional settings like the Cathedral) or different programmes of children's, university and international theatre are scheduled throughout the year.

Special mention should go to its very popular traditional festivals, closely linked to its pasts and which evoke the agricultural calendar: the Magostos in autumn (for  tasting the new wine and the first chestnuts) and the Maios in spring, with its flower and moss sculptures and its satirical couplets on current issues. The Entroido (Carnival) is a festival of masks, music, subversion and humour. You must always attend in disguise.

Facts and figures

● Ourense is the 3rd largest city in Galicia in terms of population, with about 107,000 inhabitants living here.
● There are more than 70 hot springs registered in the municipality, gushing more than 3 million litres of thermal water per day
● 3 rivers go through the city of Ourense: Lonia, Barbana and Minho, which are crossed by 9 bridges
● The province of Ourense is a renowned wine-producing region, with 4 different protected designations of origin
● You may find a wide accommodation offer with up to 5 4* hotels, 1 3*, 3 with 2* and 6 with 1*, plus several B&Bs.. The Way of Saint Jacques pass through the city, and thus youth and  pilgrims hostels are also available...come discover your way with us!

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