The gentle ruination of a spa town called Borsec – part one


Borsec (Borszek) was once the most fashionable and elegant spa resorts in the Austro-Hungarian empire. It’s clear clean air, it’s magnificent position in the fairytale Carpathian landscape, and the reputation of its waters – led to the development of a leafy garden resort of bath houses, restaurants and pavilions, as well as 72 elegant beautiful wooden villas. The last throes of the Hapsburg Empire were quite something if the flair, brio and pleasure of the architecture in Budapest, Oradea and Borsec are anything to go by.

Now Borsec is like some kind of benign Chernobyl. Taking the waters is not the draw it once was. This innocent craze has burned itself out, leaving mansions like beached liners. The population and the visitors have dried up. Many of the Villas are slowly falling apart – rotting where they stand.

If this was Britain they’d be boarded up, vandalised or burnt out. But here you are free to wonder around the ruins – or even inside them. And not just the villas but a relatively modern concrete ‘Hotel Transylvania’ and a hospital of some kind.

But still the place is breathing. The wells still run. The public gardens are beautiful in their ruin. There’s just enough people around so that you don’t feel uncomfortable – but not so many that you aren’t left to you own devices. You can walk out of town and up through the forests to the ridges of the Carpathians that look like they go on for ever. There’s a quality to the air and the light.

It’s the kind of place that stays in the mind as a refuge.

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