By Josephine Matyas
I’m standing in a circle of people in fluffy white robes at the 36cinq Lounge water bar, lobbing questions at the water sommelier about source, temperature of consumption and mineral count. Behind her is an altar-like cabinet of several dozen bottles, dramatically backlit to emphasize the clarity of the liquid, the colour of the glass and the curves of the containers. At Switzerland’s Grand Resort Bad Ragaz — one of the world’s most prominent luxury spa resorts — they take to heart that old Chinese proverb, “When you drink the water, remember the spring.”
Connecting with water is a fundamental Swiss ethos to tame stress and tension, relax and restore inner balance. Self-care is an essential practice and it’s common to take a long weekend, or a week or two, to visit resorts dedicated to wellness and the therapeutic properties of thermal hot waters. At the small town of Bad Ragaz — in the picturesque Rhine Valley of eastern Switzerland, 15 minutes from the border with Liechtenstein — clients come from as far away as Saudi Arabia to soak in the steaming resort pools, relax in their suite’s private sauna, dine on award-winning international cuisine and chat with the dedicated sommeliers to find the perfect water.
In Bad Ragaz, to “remember the spring” stretches back to the Middle Ages when Benedictine monks discovered a spring spewing steam deep in the wild Tamina gorge. With its low mineral content, the body-temperature thermal water of the gorge’s fabled Theophil Spring was believed to possess healing properties. It’s said the water at Tamina gorge has seeped through the Swiss Alps for more than a decade, before eventually spouting out at the healing 36.5 degrees C.
In the early days, the brave guests seeking holistic treatments were lowered into the waters of the gorge in baskets suspended from ropes. By the mid-1800s, a luxury resort had been built, along with a four-kilometre long pipe to bring the water to Bad Ragaz, supplying its wellness spas and pools. The town has kept its quaint Heidiland appeal, while the resort has expanded its range of services to include wellbeing getaways to soak in the thermal waters, medical consultations and a general health focus using the waters for everything from detox to weight loss to anti-aging. There are packages of services and regimes integrating the thermal water with almost any health benefit imaginable, from health-promoting fitness and relaxation to massage, to movement and training.
Against the backdrop of the looming Pizol Alp, the expansive, five-star resort includes several distinct hotels built in different styles — from the historic charms of the gracious Palais, to the mix of traditional and modern of the Hof Ragaz, to the classic elegance of the Quellenhof, to my ultra-contemporary Spa Suite in the modern tower. There are seven restaurants including the one-star Michelin restaurant IGNIV by Andreas Caminada, with a focus on the shared experience of dining. With one call to the sommelier, it’s possible to have water paired to the different courses.
They certainly built them… and they came — the guests looking for water therapy and searching for a sense of wellness included the rich and famous like French writer Victor Hugo, the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer. The country’s top athletes come to the Bad Ragaz Resort’s Swiss Olympic Medical Center for performance diagnostics, treatment and medical training advice.
I promised myself to savour the relaxation experience. Dedicating half days to the main thermal bath — the Helena, named after a Russian princess who caught the eye of the resort’s architect — I slide into the resort’s thermal pool and surrender to the power of water, embracing that oh-so-very-Swiss regime dedicated to balance and wellness. The Conde Nast Traveller Spa Guide implored visitors to take the waters: “Walk in it, bathe in it, drink it!”
The thermal pools are kept at body temperature. After bobbing around in the large pool, I alternate between the Finnish sauna and the steam bath (with a bracing cold shower rinse between).
A quiet relaxation area with loungers and warm blankets turns out to be the perfect spot for an afternoon nap. There’s even a “textile-free zone” for the poised and confident. In all areas, the focus is one of European wellness and recuperation; it feels quite different from the pampering indulgence of most North American spas. Not a hint of piped-in New Age flute tunes. No burning of scented candles. This is Swiss-style luxury, with a purpose.
Everywhere, there’s an emphasis on drinking the water, in addition to soaking in it. The thermal water on tap in the public bath areas and my Spa Suite is piped in from the famous gorge spring. According to the water sommelier and the resort’s wellness staff, the mineralized water helps optimize physical fitness. The menu at the 36cinq Lounge water bar includes both still and sparkling; well-known brands like Voss from Norway and San Pellegrino from Italy, but also many lesser-known Swiss labels like Adelbodner Mineralwasser from the Bernese Oberland and Calanda from the Canton of Grisons. The sommelier can describe each bottle by region, influences, mineral breakdown, taste and history. When I decided my water needed a little flavour boost, I found the tea station, where the same sommelier steeped a small pot of Jasmine Pearls, a green tea from the Wuyi Mountains of southeast China, with a fragrant aroma suggestive of freshly picked jasmine blossoms.
Sipping or dipping into the restorative water has been an easy sell. After several days I feel calmer, balanced, lighter and more grounded. I am convinced it must be something in the water. I know my sommelier would agree.
If You Go
From February through June 2019, the resort’s Grand Hotel Quellenhof will be undergoing a massive renovation. During this time, the rest of the resort will remain open.