Updated: 2013-01-04 07:46
People in Heilongjiang province enjoy hot springs in snowy winter. Photos provided to China Daily
Once the preserve of emperors, China's hot springs offer a soothing break from both winter and the tourist trail
There are many ways people find comfort in, or escape, the Chinese winter, from skiing, to family gatherings and snowball fights. But perhaps the most relaxing pursuit on a frosty winter's day is a hot spring.
The history of hot springs goes way back in China. The first emperor had his own private spring at Lishan Mountain in modern-day Shaanxi province, which he believed could cure disease. While this was an exaggeration of their health properties, the temperature, trace minerals, water pressure and relaxing atmosphere of a hot spring can alleviate aches and strains.
China's hot springs are also mostly in scenic spots, some even on mountains believed in ancient times to have been blessed by the gods.
For the Chinese, hot springs have become an increasingly popular way to relax in recent decades, and they cater to all budgets. Here are some of the best:
1. Tangshan spring in Nanjing, Jiangsu province
This 1,500-year-old Tangshan hot spring is the most famous in China and among the world's top four. Tang in Chinese means hot water. From AD 502 to 557 it was reserved for the exclusive use of the emperor. Later, scholars, government officials and the wealthy began to use it too.
It has been given the title of "World's Famous Hot Spring Town" by the Federation Mondiale du Thermalisme et du Climatisme, and is the permanent site of the World Hot Spring Forum.
Apart from the hot spring itself, in the northwest of Tangshan town there is an ancient stone quarry that dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which is worth a look. For travelers with an interest in history, Ming Culture Village, which stages culturally themed shows, may also be of interest.
Hot spring temperature: 60-65C
Location: About 35 kilometers from Nanjing Railway Station, and 280 km from Shanghai.
2. Wentang spring in Yichun, Jiangxi province
Wentang is known in China as The Long Life Town. It is said that people living nearby enjoy long life and good health.
That Wentang's hot spring contains high levels of the trace mineral selenium and this has been claimed as the reason for the longevity. The town's reputation for health is so strong that it receives a regular stream of visitors. People have even moved to live in Wentang in the hope of a longer and healthier life.
After a soak in the hot spring, visit nearby Mingyue Mountain. Covered in dense forest, in ancient China people seeking immortality would come to live here in seclusion.
Hot spring temperature: 68-72C
Location: 15 km from downtown Yichun
3. Xiaotangshan (Little Tangshan in Chinese) in Beijing
Xiaotangshan town's hot springs date back 1,500 years. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) they were used by emperors, two of whom built palaces there.
Elements in the water such as strontium, barium, iodine, boron and radon are good for arthritis and some skin diseases.
Xiaotangshan is located in an important place, according to the laws of feng shui. It is also the location of Xiaotangshan Modern Agricultural Science Demonstration Park, the largest modern agricultural park in China.
Hot spring temperature: 40-76C
Location: A small town in the Changping district of Beijing, about 16 km from Beijing Capital International Airport
4. Huaqing hot spring in Xi'an, Shaanxi province
First opened in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), Huaqing hot spring was the personal pool of emperors. Emperor Xuanzong designated the spring a private place for his favorite concubine Yang Yuhuan, and there are still signs of their love story here today.
The spring is said to be particularly good for maintaining healthy skin.
Xi'an, formerly called Chang'an, was the capital of China during several ancient dynasties and has a feast of other attractions besides the springs, including the Terracotta Warriors.
Hot spring temperature: 43C
Location: at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain in Lintong County, 30 km from Xi'an
5. Tianmu Lake Yushui hot spring in Changzhou, Jiangsu province
This modern tourist resort boasts a spring, lake, hill and bamboo forest. It is a rare calcium bicarbonate hot spring, rich in minerals and special chemical compositions. It offers different types of spring bath for a variety of purposes, including general health and skincare.
Tianmu Lake's name comes from its shape. Changzhou is famous for its green hill and clear lake and bamboo forest. In Chinese culture, bamboo is a symbol of a noble personality.
Hot spring temperature: 43C
Location: about 100 km from Changzhou and 130 km from Nanjing.
Huaqing hot spring was the personal pool of emperors in the Tang Dynasty. Photos provided to China Daily
(China Daily 01/04/2013 page22)