In the land of spas, Hungary’s cave baths are falling victim to rising gas prices

Staff turned off the lights on Monday and began emptying the pools at the famous cave baths of Miskolctapolca in Hungary after the centuries-old attraction fell victim to a modern crisis – soaring gas prices.

Even before Roman times, visitors came to the huge cave to bathe in its naturally heated waters. In recent years, the venue has relied on gas to top up temperatures in the pools and caves, particularly in the winter.

But then Russia invaded Hungary’s neighbor Ukraine, sending shockwaves through the global economy and energy markets. For Miskolctapolca and other companies across Europe and beyond, this has leaked out in the form of crippling bills.

The cave – with its five bathing rooms and labyrinthine corridors lined with massage jets and echo chambers – was closed “indefinitely” on Monday, its operator Miskolci Furdok said in a statement.

cave bath, cave bath hungary, cave bath hungary gas prices Bathers relax in the Cave Baths in Miskolctapolca, Hungary. (REUTERS/Krisztina Fenyo)

“We have to close the cave bath for one single reason: our gas consumption in the three months from October to December will cost another 61 million forints ($140,000),” said executive director Judit Nemeth.

The closure will have an inevitable impact on hotels and guesthouses and other tourism businesses in the area – a worrying sign for an industry that has only recently recovered from the COVID-19 crisis.

Customers bathing in the waters for the last time before the weekend said they were still hoping for a last-minute respite.

“I cannot understand the closure of such a wonderful complex. The government supports all sorts of things. Couldn’t you add something to that as well?” said Andrea Muszka as she bathed in one of the pools.

“The hotels will go bankrupt because they depend on it,” added her husband Karoly Kerezsi.

cave bath, cave bath hungary, cave bath hungary gas prices A bather relaxes in the cave bath in Miskolctapolca, Hungary. (REUTERS/Krisztina Fenyo)

But the reprieve did not come and the cave closed.

The Miskolci Furdok company had been making losses for the past four years, with its 2021 revenue still well below pre-pandemic levels, company data showed.

The gas bill was the last straw.

The government has pledged financial help to small and medium-sized enterprises involved in key manufacturing supply chains to deal with rising energy costs, but has yet to offer help to the service sector.

“If we could somehow figure out an energy-efficient way to offset this huge gas price increase, and if we could get some help,” Nemeth said, “then we would start investigating that possibility right away.”

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