Some 2,000 years ago the Romans established the spa town of Aquincum near the banks of the river Danube. This settlement was to become the captial city we now call - the spa capital of the world.

For centuries its hot springs have lured visitors to relax and recuperate in spas of varying sizes and elegance.

Budapest's spas range from sulphurous pools housed in small Turkish-style buildings in the backstreets of the city to large outdoor lido resorts. A hundred thermal wells with sulphurous or magnesium-calcium rich water feed the 45 indoor and outdoor baths, more than any other city in the world.

When the lido craze seized Europe in the 19th century, European spa towns became the meeting places of high society. The network of bathhouses in Budapest was extended and the Turkish steam baths refurbished. New wells were sunk.

The most important find in today's city of Budapest was the Sigmund well on Margaret Island in the Danube, which has sulphurous water rich in magnesium and calcium, emerging at a temperature of 70C.

Fortuitously, another well on the island producing similarly rich mineral water at 10C was also found and the waters of both wells are mixed to a temperature of around 36C for the use in pools.

When the modern capital of Hungary was formed In 1873 through the merger of the three towns of Pest, Buda and Obuda, engineers tapped another well rich in magnesium and calcium under the city's main park. Its water emerges at a temperature of 76C and must also be cooled down before being used in the large Szechenyi baths.

The neo-baroque buildings of this spa date from 1876. They have been extended since then and today the Szechenyi baths form the main spa for local people.

Under the Communist regime, the spas were used extensively by the national health system and were upgraded and modernized.

Finnish saunas were added, and a great number of new spa hotels were built in the country. In 1989, the year when the Communist system collapsed, the new Paskal bath was opened on Margaret Island above a newly-drilled well.

Its Palatium adventure pools have become very popular with the locals. During summer weekends, up to 20,000 people visit this lido.

Best known and probably the most attractive spa for tourists are the Gellert Thermal Baths at the west bank of the Danube. Here the leading European spa hotel chain Danubius operates a four-star hotel.

The other Danubius four-star hotels in Budapest are the health spa resort Margitsziget on Margaret Island and the health spa resort Helia, near the east bank of the Danube, both built under the Communist regime and opened during the years of change.

Another modern spa hotel in Budapest is the four-star Ramada Palace Hotel, owned by the Ramada Hotel chain.

Guests of the hotels have free access to the gym, the thermal pool, pools for swimming and whirlpools, sauna and steam room.

Also available is a wide range of therapeutic, cosmetic and wellness treatments, as well as traditional Thai massage. One hour costs 56 Euros.

All these hotels offer package deals for guests taking the waters, seeking wellness and beautification.

With the exception of the Hotel Gellert (the spa is managed by the Budapest Spa Authorities, but access to the spa is free for hotel guests), the three-day to three-week packages offered by the hotels include the usual treatments and applications available in spas, like various types of massage, electrotherapy and fango/mud wraps.

You have to visit the in-house doctor, if you wish to have fango/mud wraps. It is more economic to book at least seven days because then a discount will apply. It is even better if you can afford a three-week vacation, the time recommended for an effective medicinal cure.

The Gellert is the city's top-of-the-range spa hotel. Here is a choice of rooms ranging from comfortable to luxurious. It offers excellent cuisine and a well-groomed staff.

Its spa has two medicinal pools with pure thermal water. The three swimming pools are fed with a mix of thermal and city water: one each for the two genders (no swimsuit required), and one for both genders mixed.

The interior design of the baths, with artistic columns, stained glass and ceramic-lined pools is all part of the attraction.

The health spa resort Margitsziget and Grand Hotel, Margaret Island, are situated beside each other. While visitors to the magnificent Grand Hotel enjoy the oldest and most beautiful hotel in Budapest it does not have spa facilities which are available at Margitsziget.

During my two weeks of eating in Hungarian restaurants, the cuisine of the Grand Hotel had the best fresh vegetables of any I visited.

You can stay in the Grand Hotel and use the modern spa facilities at the adjacent resort - something I recommend - since both buildings are connected via a gangway.

The facilities at Margitsziget include a large, modern fitness room, and a Kneipp installation conveniently located between the thermal pools.

A dental practice with up-to-date equipment serves the locals and the hotel guests. You will pay a fraction of the dental fees that are prevalent abroad.

The health spa resort Helia is located near the city centre. The spa facilities and therapeutic applications are comparable to those at Margitsziget.

The Ramada Plaza is convenient for the city's efficient public transport links.

Like the Helia, it is predominantly a place for conferences, less for people interested in a medicinal cure. It has a well-equipped gym, a good-size swimming pool, but its thermal water is chlorinated, even in the therapeutic bath tubs.

There is also a studio for Thai massage in-house.

Hungary's capital boasts more than 100 thermal wells. No other city in the world sits on such a rich reservoir.

Budapest is called the Paris of Eastern Europe" because of its rich architecture and beautiful parks, its great monuments and plentiful museums, its cultural life and good living.

All of this can be enjoyed thanks to an excellent system of public transport (free for citizens of the EU aged over 65) comprising underground, trams and buses.

The Gellert:, tel 00 36 1 466 6166.

Helia:; tel 36 1 889 5800; can be booked via Thermalia Travel Agency, London.

Margitsziget:; tel.-36 1 889 4700; can be booked via various travel agencies in London.

Ramada Plaza:; tel 36 1 436 4142; can be booked via Corinthia Hotels International, London.