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Just look at that monkey’s face – he’s got things sussed.

1. Jigokudani, Japan

He knows there’s nothing quite like taking your achy, weary limbs (whether they’re human or primate) and easing them into a pool of steamy water on a chilly winter’s day.

Hot springs occur wherever groundwater heated by geothermal energy bursts up through the Earth’s crust. They can be found all over the world, from England’s Bath to Japan.

Sadly, the snow monkeys of Jigokudani Monkey Park have claimed this particular hot spring paradise as their own.

It’s not safe to venture in for a dip alongside them, but they don’t mind people visiting the park to take pictures, or watch their bizarrely human-like behaviour.

 The monkeys live higher up in the Nagano mountains and make their way down the slope in the mornings to play, snooze, bathe and relax in the warm water, before heading back home to the forests in the evening, like pleasure-seeking day trippers.

A strict monkey heirarchy operates  within this bathing community – observers say there is a monkey “bouncer” who guards the hot springs to make sure only monkeys with the appropriate social status can get in.

Those without enough clout are left to shiver on the edges of the water.

If you want a piece of the ‘onsen’ (Japanese for ‘hot spring’) action, there’s a rustic spa at the Korakukan Jigokudani inn, with communal and private hot spring baths just down the hill from the Monkey Park.

Sometimes one or two of the snow monkeys even pop in here, presumably just for a change of scene.

If you’d prefer not to share your bath with the furry critters, it’s better to book one of the indoor pools instead.

If you do find yourself up close and personal with one (and there aren’t many situations more close and personal than sharing a bath), just remember not to touch, smile at or make eye contact with them, as these are seen as acts of aggression in the wild.

Admission is £4.


2. MÝvatn, Iceland

While most tourists flock to Iceland’s more famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, the Mývatn Nature Baths are cheaper and often much quieter, too.

The water is a blissfully warm 36-40°C and rich in skin-soothing minerals.

You have a choice of either swimming in the lagoon (pictured above) or sliding into one of two baths, where steam from 2500m below the Earth’s surface rises up through holes in the floor.

3. Ardabil, Iran

These hot spring baths can be found near Iran’s northeast border with Azerbaijan.

A dip here is considered to have great medicinal benefits, especially for skin conditions. Men and women bathe separately.

The city of Ardabil is also famous for the Unesco World Heritage-listed shrine to the original leader of the Safavid Empire, which ruled Persia from 1501 to 1722.


Travel destinations: Top five of the world's best hot springs
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