In the mountains of Romania near its southern border with Serbia is the small spa town of Băile Herculane. Dating back over 2,000 years to the Roman times, Băile Herculane is one of the oldest spa towns in Europe. People have been visiting the area to experience the healing power of its thermal waters for centuries.
According to legend, the hero Hercules as well as members of the Roman aristocracy, bathed in the curing waters of the springs surrounding Băile Herculane. The town embraces this history, paying nod to the legend through a variety of Hercules references and a large statue of the god in its northern square.
Băile Herculane’s most iconic sight is the now-defunct Băile Imperiale Austriece Neptun, or Imperial Austrian Neptune Baths. Built in the 1880s, in its heyday Neptune was considered one of the most modern baths in Europe and was utilized by elite Austrian royalty. The once-opulent, baroque building now stands in disrepair, a striking sight of peeling paint and rust set against a mountain backdrop. There are several other (slightly less impressive) abandoned baths scattered around the town, as well.
There are a variety of abandoned Soviet-era hotels in the southern part of the Băile Herculane, architecturally interesting in their own right and serving as a reminder of the town’s varied history. Like the baths, these hotels were one thriving, nearly a decade later during the town’s revival as a popular vacation spot during the Soviet period. The contrast between buildings couldn’t be more stark, making Băile Herculane an interesting place both visually and historically.
If you want to experience the power of the healing waters yourself, you’re in luck. There are several thermal spas operating in Băile Herculane today, and a variety of modern-day accommodations and establishments for tourists to enjoy.
Know Before You Go
Băile Herculane is best accessed by train (or car) from the town of Orşova. The abandoned Neptune bath is about a 1 hour walk from the train station (there is a sidewalk the whole way up), or you can hail a ride. As the town is still a functioning spa town, there are plenty of cabs going by. There is also a local bus, but it did not appear regular and no timetables were published.
While the Neptune Spa building appears boarded up, it's reportedly possible to enter from around back. There is an opening past the building on the left side of the road as you walk towards the Hercules statue; the gate is usually open, and once inside it’s an easy walk up the hill behind the spa to try to get inside. Be aware there may be some squatters inside the building, as reported by a local.