Lake Βουλιαγμένη – Thermal Waters and Doctor Fish

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Today is meant to be one of the last ‘hot’ days in Athens for the next few weeks, coming in at about 27C. My cousin informs me that this is not really hot, but I do come from a city where anything above 15C is an excuse to get naked, so our scales might be calibrated slightly differently.

Irrespective, me and Grace decided to make the most of it, and I shifted my work schedule around so I would work over the (less hot) weekend instead – taking the full day to go do something.

Trying to work out something to do in Attiki to enjoy the sun without a car can be pretty challenging, as I have discovered; the nicest, most secluded beaches and coves all require you to have your own transport really.

We had been told about this lake just outside the reach of the coastal tram in a place called Βουλιαγμένη (Vouliagmeni), and reading up online made it seem even more amazing.

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The lake itself is apparently something of a geological oddity, with a constant temperature of around 25C all year round. Supplied by underground springs and water from the sea, there are deep caves that have never been fully explored due to their sheer depth and scale. Stories of experienced divers who have gone under to find the ends and never coming back to the surface are repeated, and there is a lot of myth and awe surrounding the place. Given that it’s Greece, this shouldn’t really be too surprising.

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The temperature of the water means that it now functions as a natural spa of sorts, with the water containing a whole manner of allegedly healing properties. Looking back, there was one concerning thing that we glossed over though:

The lake’s water composition consists of potassium, natrium, lithium, ammonium, calcium, ferrum, chloride, iodine, and is slightly radioactive

Slightly what now!?

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It cost 9 Euros each to get in, which can seem like a bit of a put off to a Scot like myself – I’m not fond of paying to get access to anything that occurs naturally. However, that included the use of alright toilets, changing rooms, and sun loungers – something that nearby beaches would have charged about the same amount for.

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The place itself was pretty impressive. The lake water was crystal clear, and not too deep – and surrounded by steep, craggy rocks… in terms of locations for lazily enjoying the sun, it would be pretty tough to beat.

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Going on a Thursday day time probably meant we got the best run of the place, with most other folk out at work or other commitments. It meant that for most of the time we were the youngest people there by far – so no danger of anybody running off with our bags whilst we were in the water. We would have been able to chase them down pretty easily I’m sure, although Greeks seem to age at a much slower pace than we mere mortals from other countries. It must be all of the sun they get that does it.

Or maybe the radioactive water?

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One of the coolest parts about the lake was that it was home to thousands of ‘doctor fish’ – the kind that you see in these ‘fish pedicure’ places popping up all over the place recently. For those of you not familiar with them, they basically remove the dead cells from your skin. Whether they do it by ‘suction cupping’ (Grace’s words) or biting somehow I’m not really sure – and I don’t think I want to know. We overheard someone telling their daughter that they were fish ‘kisses’. I think I like that.

I had seen it mentioned online that some of these beasts were in the water, but I didn’t quite expect them to be so apparent – or there in such abundance.

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Whilst you could see them floating around the edges of the lake, they immediately rushed over as soon as you stepped into the water, and you could quite quickly be getting prodded by hundreds of the wee things.

What was really bizarre was that this continued on even into the centre of the lake. There wasn’t as many, but they would come up and do their thing all over – not just your feet. At one point I had them on my back, arms.. legs… it sounds awful, but it quickly became quite pleasant – nothing more than a tickle at times.

It struck me as such a unique experience, and I wondered how much people would pay for an all-over fish body massage. The trendy pedicures have never really appealed to me, as it seemed pretty un-natural to have a tank full of them simply there for one purpose. At the lake, it made a lot more sense; they were free to roam about and do as they pleased, and I liked that.

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We never did swim too far; the heat and the fish were enough to keep us occupied without straying too extensively into the deeper parts.

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As in lots of parts of Greece, there were cats meandering around. At one point this one climbed right up, nuzzled into my leg and then fell asleep for a bit. Grace said it was because it was fascinated with the beard, and despite not being able to tell its gender, we named the cat Zeus.

I wouldn’t mind having a cat if they were affectionate all the time.

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This was a day well spent. We went for Greek food afterwards, and there was much fascination over my tattoos. It can be difficult to explain (in Greek) why you got a Greek tattoo when you don’t really speak Greek. Something to work on over the next few weeks.

Getting the combination of different transit methods right seemed a bit daunting, especially when buses are brought into the equation. It ended up being remarkably smooth though, and if anything has emboldened us to do other trips further afield.

I’m curious to see if the claim about the constant water temperature holds up, so maybe in November we’ll head back when the weather has dipped to test it out.

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