The weeks leading up to my trip to Hungary had gone by in a daze, and I had lost all sense of time, with the sun rising and setting day after day while I sat at my desktop, to the point of almost missing my flight. As if awakening from deep slumber, I suddenly found myself in the warm bubbling thermal waters of the famed Schéchenyi Baths in Budapest one sunny spring morning, sight and sound heightened, coming into a crisp focus – as one would experience when thrown into the deep end of a completely surreal experience. With magnolia yellow walls and opulent Romanesque architecture, juxtaposed against the azure blue of sparkling thermal water pools, peppered with petaled swimming caps bobbing up and down, I wondered, had I just stepped onto the set of a Wes Anderson film?
It would not have been a complete stretch, seeing how the Danubius Hotel Gellert – located in front of another famous thermal bath house of the same name – along the Danube river, was coincidentally the building that had inspired Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. A quick observation, based purely on the number of bathhouses that seemed to be a mere stone’s throw away from one another, and with more than 125 thermal springs said to be found in Budapest alone, that surely there must be something in the waters here.
“There’s a reason there’s so much water in the country that’s rich in minerals, and that’s because the crust of the earth is thinner here than anywhere else. Not massively, just enough that it makes a big difference in the amount of mineral in the water,” explained Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza, founder of luxury beauty brand of the same name, Omorovicza, as we sat at the Kollazs Brasserie & Bar for cocktails in Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. “If you think of the water being held in these pockets underneath the ground nearer to the sun, it’s hotter, and as the water rises, it simply gathers more minerals along the way. That’s why there are so many more sources here in Hungary, each one of them richer in mineral.”
And it varies, too. To the east near the Ukrainian border, the waters are richer in iron, which is said to be good for the joints, while in the south, a higher copper content equates to healing properties for those with skin problems. According to Stephen, this is why the baths are always full, as people have often been medically prescribed a soak in some of these healing waters since the dawn of time.
“The first thermal bath was built here in Budapest, some 2,000 years ago by a Roman emperor [Marcus Aurelius] who noticed that wounded soldiers in the army that spent their time in the bubbling water scarred faster, and therefore didn’t die quite so fast, I imagine,” Stephen explained, giving us a brief history lesson. “So he built this gigantic bath, and ever since people have been building baths all over the country”.
In The Family
It is no coincidence that Stephen found his way to Budapest, having lived in Switzerland in his early years. The family name, Omorovicza, was the name of a small city in then-Serbia, which was given to his ancestors by an Austro-Hungarian emperor. Upon discovering that the family had built a large bath, the Racz Furdo, on the site of a medieval spring known for its curative properties some 200 years ago, Stephen’s quest to learn more of his family’s noble history began.
In the midst of discovering his roots, Stephen had met Margaret Dickerson, who was the chief of staff in the US embassy for Nancy G Brinker, the US Ambassador to Hungary at the time. It was Margaret’s inquisitive observations that brought a totally different perspective towards the benefits of thermal baths. “I eventually convinced her to go to the bath and she was the one who first noticed that there was something there, and noticed a big change in her skin,” said Stephen.
Love blossomed and marriage soon followed, but it was an encounter with the Head of a Hungarian laboratory of dermatology, famous for its Nobel Prize-winning discovery of vitamin C, that inspired the couple to bring the profound effects of the waters on the skin and Hungary’s enviable beauty heritage to the rest of the world. Together, they embarked on an exciting new skincare business by developing and patenting a mineral delivery system called Hydro Mineral Transference to facilitate the absorption of these minerals into the epidermis – where they are most effective, using a lengthy biofermentation process. From here, the luxuriously healing skincare brand that would put Budapest on the map, was born.
With the abundance of these natural resources, it comes as no surprise that Budapest was officially named “International Spa City” in the 1930s, decades before its modern-day permutations. “Spa is Latin for ‘health through water’, and all these waters are so rich in minerals that they’re used for medicinal purposes,”exalted Stephen. “That’s what we do with Omorovicza. The idea is to use the waters to heal, cure, and improve skin.”
He went on to add that while most ordinary skincare is made from demineralised water, used purely to blend the ingredients on the skin, the products at Omorovicza do the exact contrary. “We use water from Budapest, which is extremely rich in minerals, treat it so the minerals in the water absorb into the skin, ensuring that all the curative properties of the water is transferred.”
Another of Hungary’s geological curiosities is the moor mud at Lake Hévíz, from the largest active thermal lake in the world, said to be so active that you’re only allowed 30 minutes in the water. “With your ticket and your little bathing suit, you enter a small room with a little ballet bar, and there’s a clock ticking and people are bobbing up and down. After the 30 minutes go by, you’re out and you feel as though you’ve just swallowed a blue pill from a George Orwell novel. You feel like a different person – totally revitalised,” recalled Margaret of her first experience at the lake. “It’s something we feel really lucky to be able to harvest and put into the Moor Mud collection.”
The pitch-black mud, rich in plant-based hormones and full of minerals thanks to the residue of herbs, flowers and other nutrients that have dissolved in the water, make this anti-ageing, biochemical, and anti-inflammatory product of nature easy for the skin to absorb.
And experience it, I did. With my skin feeling suppled and soft after a morning at the Széchenyi thermal bath, I dropped by the only Omorovicza standalone boutique in the world, located on Ándrássy út, Budapest’s answer to the Champs-Élysées, and found myself relaxing to my first Hungarian facial using the most decadent of elixirs and creams from Omorovicza’s Blue Diamond and Gold collections.
My facialist incorporated techniques such as the “fan”, which mimics the steady rotating movements of a fan to encourage micro-circulation and lymphatic drainage, as well as my personal favourite, the “piano” technique – quick finger drumming and pressure movements that effectively deliver products to the skin that was equal parts skill and gentleness, almost as if the Magyar virtuoso Franz Liszt himself was running the scales to “Liebesträume”. I left with a visibly plumper, lifted and hydrated face, and made my way to my next appointment at New York Café, arguable the world’s most beautiful cafe, without even a touch of make-up on (gasp!), for once feeling confident that my best skin was all I needed to take on an institution of this grandeur.
While booking a flight to Budapest may not always be the most rational answer to healthy skin, it is reassuring that one can experience the healing properties of its waters beautifully packaged in a jar, in the comfort of your own room, in any part of the world – sans swimsuit, flip flops, or large crowds. Although, a trip to this magical city for a dip in the perennial fountain of youth, certainly comes highly recommended.