Hidden between mountains in the heart of Galicia lies Ourense or "Auriense" as was called by the Romans when they settled there. They were the first to discover the riches of this corner of the north west of Spain, where gold nuggets abounded in its rivers, its wines were sent to the Caesar in Rome and its hot springs, which welcomed the settlers who formed the historic origins of the city.

Although the Romans practically exhausted the entire supply of gold in the area and today it is really difficult to find any nuggets in its rivers, visitors today can still enjoy Ourense´s magnificent landscapes, with deep canyons carved by the river Sil and the steep slopes with shaped balconies where its famous vineyards still grow. Those grapes that made the Roman imperial capital fall in love centuries ago belong nowadays to the appellation ‘Ribeira Sacra’, named due to the amount of monasteries in the area.

However, the region’s jewel in the crown is its hot springs, which sprout at temperatures reaching 70 °C and whose medicinal properties were first discovered over 2,000 years ago. Ourense, which ranks as the European city with the second largest reserves of thermal water after Budapest, has for centuries rather underestimated the potential of its resources. Indeed, it was only as recently as the previous decade when the work to reposition the Galician province as the rightful Spanish thermal capital has begun.

In the heart of the old town, visitors today can still find many Roman remains that are believed to be the mark of the city’s origins. There is also the Centre for Archaeological Interpretation, which displays some of the area’s most precious finds, such as a Roman pool for religious use dating back to the first century AD.

The area was declared a ‘Bien de Interés Cultural’ [Cultural Interest] in 2007 and in addition, its museum offers a thermal outdoor area, gardens and the iconic fountain of Burgas, which is undoubtedly the mark of Ourense. Despite being the benchmark of the city, it is just one more than 100 thermal springs distributed though the town, notably in the margins of the river Miño, which splits the city in two. This has facilitated the creation of a thermal walk offering as many as seven bathing areas in just over five kilometres.

Thermal ride

The waters contain beneficial properties to treat health problems such as diseases of the muscles, bones or airways, skin, allergies and stress. The higher temperature of the water is regulated by the colder currents of the Miño, essential in order to make the water suitable for bathing.

Enjoying the benefits of these natural resources is also very economical. Tourists can bask in most of the spas for free and access to them is easy by car or via the river walk. The preferred choice of travel for Ourense’s residents is the tourist train, which can be taken for the same price as an urban bus ticket. It connects the historic town centre with the thermal route, to the delight of visitors touring through the Roman bridge in the city.

Far from the typical image of a thermal resort, on the banks of the Miño tourists will find an area populated by groups of young people, joggers, people strolling, sunbathing, swimming in the river, having a bath in the pools or relaxing with a drink in one of the many cafes along the promenade.

The first is the thermal area of A Chavasqueira, where bathers can choose between the public option using controlled bath waters at 43 °C, or private waters. A Japanese style hot spring flows at 63 °C but is regulated at 41 °C. It features an interior stone bath, sauna or different services such as thermal circuits, relaxation massage and various other treatments. Nearby is the source of O Tinteiro, whose drinkable water is well-known for its dermatological benefits.

The next stop is at the four pools of Muiño da Veiga, located next to a restored mill at the riverside of Miño. Its waters, which spring up at 72 °C but are conditioned at cooler temperatures for bathing, are used to treat skin and musculoskeletal conditions.

Located after the Muiño da Veiga hot springs is the private-use Thermal Station of Outariz, where for just over 5 euro visitors can enjoy eleven outdoor hot springs, three interior pools and a great Spa. They can also choose between the Japanese Zen circuit or the Celtic, which is built in stone and holds rougher waters.

Nearby is the largest thermal area of the city, the public area of Outariz and Burga de Canedo, where waters rise over 60 °C and are also recommended for treating locomotor or dermatological problems.

The river walk ends at the other side of the Miño, where the route continues along the Ride of the Nymphs. Here visitors will find the Reza source, which flows at 31 °C and features properties similar to those of O Tinteiro.

The Romans may have been the first to exploit the city’s great and abundant resources, but although they sold the most of the gold that gave the town its name, Ourense will continue to preserve the incalculable value of its springs. It truly is the hidden treasure of Spanish tourism.