Resort Destinations

Roman Empire: Baths

The origin of resorts can be traced back to the second century B.C. to the public baths of Rome. The first baths were small, modest and separated the genders. Eventually, the baths became larger, more elaborate and were opened to both men and women. These baths were large buildings built at the public’s expense. Some were even built by wealthy emperors who wanted to make a statement. Most baths were free but few had small entrance fees. Baths were much like resorts of today because of all the amenities offered at their location. After bathing there was always plenty to do. Most baths included gyms, libraries, snack bars, restaurants, shops, lounges, taverns, museums and theatres. The facilities were used for health and social purposes (7).

Europe: Mass Follows Class

The first noteworthy resort area was developed in Belgium in 1326 in a town now called Spa. An ironmaster, named Colin le Loup, was cured of a long-term illness when he bathed in the iron-rich waters near Liege. He opened a shelter there and the town surged in popularity. Spa means fountain (12).

The popularity of spas and resorts in England is a result of King Charles II visiting trendy hot spots in the 1600s. Today, royalty and superstars still seem to set trends of where the best places to go are. Many English spas are unique because they have gambling and dancing. Spas also became popular because of the medical benefits that were attributed to them such as waters that were rich in certain minerals and could cure ailments (12).

The Swiss resort industry was developed in the 1800s to aid the need of private resort facilities for more prosperous people. At the time, travel was not simple. People who traveled to resorts stayed for long periods of time – up to two months to get the best value for their travel expenses. This led to resort facilities being built to accommodate a guest better than your average inn. Hotel Baur au Lac, built in Zurich, was the first resort to utilize the value of a scenic view. At first, Switzerland resorts were seen as summer places, but soon skiing became popular as well as gambling (1).

North America: Spas


Like Europe, North American hotels were developed around spas in the late 1800s. The first resorts were built first in the east in Virginia, New York and West Virginia. Shortly after, seaside resorts became popular. It was not until later that beach resorts were built in the south and mountain-based resorts were developed out west. The first luxury resort was built in 1829 in Boston. It was called the Tremont House and featured bellboys, gaslights instead of candles and marble and private rooms with locks for each family. The first ‘big’ hotel was built by Gideon Putman in Saratoga Springs, New York centered
around the hot sulfur spa there (

© 2005 Melissa Osterer