Although hot springs are a common natural occurrence in Macedonia, there aren’t many spas set up to capitalize on the mineral-rich waters. The most well-known is the Katlanovska Spa, twenty kilometers outside Skopje.
Perhaps we had been placing too much faith in the slick promotional materials we’d picked up from the tourism office, but our expectations for Katlanovo were out-of-tune with reality. Big, sparkly baths, and perhaps a touch of luxury? Oh yes, that sounds nice! So when we got off the bus in front of this hulking old building in the woods, I was confused. This was supposed to be the spa? But… but this looks like a Communist-era hospital!
Turns out, that’s exactly what it is. Far from the luxurious retreat suggested by its glossy brochures, Katlanovo is principally a rehabilitation center for people suffering from maladies like broken legs. There are also spa-like offerings for tourists, but the overwhelming majority (in fact, the sum total) of people we saw were patients, most of them hobbling around on crutches.
Before entering the pool, we had time to walk around the woods which surround the spa. Despite its proximity to the capital, Katlanovo feels remote. The scenic Pcinja River runs along a valley past the spa, and after we had crossed a bridge and sat down in the shade of an oak tree to enjoy the view, I felt my optimism returning. Since the days of the Romans, Katlanovo has been a medical center, famed for the healing properties of its waters. And you know what? Who cares if the spa isn’t ultra-modern? This could still be a nice experience.
Attitudes adjusted, we changed into our trunks, showered, and entered the pool. The water was exceptionally hot, and half an hour was all I could take. There were a few other guys sharing the pool with us (men and women have separate hours), but it wasn’t crowded. Soon enough, it was massage time. We put on robes and wandered over to a separate room, where our bodies were rubbed and prodded for an hour.
As a place to rejuvenate your body, Katlanovo offers excellent value. The pool costs only a couple bucks, and the hour-long massage was about $24. Additionally, there’s a restaurant which is serviceable and crazy cheap. To really save, you can take a public bus directly to Katlanovo, but be warned that it’s extremely slow, requiring over an hour. In a car, the journey takes about fifteen minutes.
Katlanovska Spa – Website