All that skiing, biking, trekking and mountain climbing can wear a person out. But don’t forget that the Alps are home to some wonderfully relaxing natural springs, thermal waters and spas. Some have been used as health retreats for the wealthy for over a hundred years, some are the most modern standard of luxury and decadence, while still more are small, intimate and friendly. Here is our comprehensive list of thermal baths and spas in the Alps of France and Switzerland, and what they can do for you after a hard day on the slopes.
Swiss Thermal Baths and Spas
Therme Vals – Vals (www.therme-vals.ch)
This is one of those spa retreats that just gets raved about by everyone who goes. To begin with, Therme Vals has an immensely pretty location in the Graubünden mountains. Then the building itself is a work of art from Swiss architect Peter Zumthor who built the structure into the mountain with sympathetic stonework which makes you feel part of the surrounding scenery. It has been suggested that the thermal spring which feeds the spa has been known about and used by civilisation since the Bronze Age, though doubtless those people didn’t have quite the luxury that these thermal baths have become. The water content is calcium sulphate and hydrogen carbonate, and there is an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a fire pool maintained at 42 degrees celsius, an ice pool at 14 degrees celsius, and various other pools and facilities such as the Flower Pool, the Sound Bath, the Sweat and Steam Stones, massage rooms and relaxation rooms – not to mention a sleep room which is perhaps the best way to nap ever. If you’re going for the day, it is advised that you bring some food with you, as the snacks and food on offer are very expensive. If you’re staying as a guest at the adjoining hotel, there are night bathing options for adults on Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Generally this is accepted as being the most spiritual and luxurious spa retreat around, and though a full adult day ticket is 40 Euros (bathrobe hire etc extra), it is worth it for something so different.
Burgerbad Therme – Leukerbad (www.burgerbad.ch/en)
In Leukerbad, 1,400m above sea level, you’ll find the Burgerbad Thermal Centre, which has its own rock grotto, among the many ways that the thermal water in this spa is channelled. Other ways include waterfalls, jacuzzis, indoor pools, outdoor pools, whirlpools and massage jets, all of which are extremely popular with families with children, who react with enthusiasm to all the obstacles and activities including slides and playpools. With the water coming in straight from the source at 43 degrees celsius, this is proper thermal spring mineral water, and the spa area includes a whole range of treatments and massages (for extra – an aromatherapy massage can weigh in at about 80 Euros). A whole day ticket (single entrance) is about 23 Euros, which isn’t bad. All in all, a lively one and not somewhere for a quiet and relaxing dip, but a lot going on and a lot of fun.
Les Bains de Lavey – Lavey-les-Bains (www.lavey-les-bains.ch/en)
Les Bains de Lavey are among the biggest thermal baths in Switzerland, and as such get very busy at the weekends when the tourists come en masse from Geneva and Lausanne, so a midweek visit is preferable. They also declare that their mineral water comes from the hottest spring in Switzerland, caught at a depth of 600m and chock-full of apparently beneficial minerals including chlorinated sodium sulphate, sulphur, lithia, fluoride and hydrocarbon-calcium – we’ll take their word for it. Apart from the 1,600 sqm pool with various massage jets, they have particularly good saunas, single-sex hammams, a rest pavillion, a nordic pavillion and a bar in case you get hungry or thirsty. Their wellness centre offers tons of treatments including massages from all over the world. It’s not cheap: you can only stay a maximum of four hours, which will set you back 26.50 Euros – but it’s popular so they can afford to charge these prices. Not cosy or intimate, but well-maintained and nice.
Bains de Saillon – Saillon (www.bainsdesaillon.ch)
The Bains de Saillon are situated within and around their hotel des Bains, and while reviewers can be somewhat lukewarm about the hotel, everyone likes the baths, which are fairly vast and have something for everyone. The outside thermal lazy river affair winds gently through the grounds, connected by bridges and sympathetic rock grottos, and you’ll also find a whirlpool water cave, massage jets and benches in the pool arrangement. Within they have a wellness centre called Carpe Diem, with all sorts of saunas and steam baths (swimwear not permitted, no under 18s allowed), and you can also book treatments and massages here. The area surrounding the baths is nice too, as it is in the heart of Valais vineyard land and is great for strolling and visiting in the summer. Entrance to the four thermal baths, the thermal river, the saunas and the steam room is about 20 Euros, which isn’t bad value at all in comparison with others in Switzerland.
Bains d’Ovronnaz – Ovronnaz (www.thermalp.ch)
The Bains d’Ovronnaz are expanding! They are currently (as of July 2012) building a new spa and hammam which should be ready by 2013. In the meantime there are two outdoor pools, one indoor pool and a spa area available, but there are also cranes and building works so it’s quite noisy and hardly the peaceful retreated that you’d expect. D’Ovronnaz is also quite removed from other areas of Switzerland, so it’s not somewhere to base yourself if your plan is to travel around the country. It’s a peaceful (usually), silent area surrounded by mountains, and somewhere to relax. When the new spa is completed the baths will be expanded by 1,200 sqm, and will include three saunas, two steam rooms and a large jacuzzi, as well as a resting room, a relaxation room and a gym, not to mention two separate areas: one for naturists and one for swimwear use. Best to wait until it’s all ready to go: keep an eye on their site for developments.
Thermes Parc – Val d’Illiez (www.thermes-parc.com)
The Thermes Parc in Val d’Illiez offers a selection of pools, both inside and out, which are all very clean and well-maintained. You’ll also find Turkish style baths, a natural thermal river and a new spa centre, all of which is overseen by qualified lifeguards to keep things safe. If you get a massage in the spa, you automatically get access to the baths and sauna areas. Surrounded by mountains, woods and traditional chalets, the atmosphere is great for outside bathing. As there are no kids’ zones or water slides, this is more a place for adults to relax rather than a fun for all the family experience – indeed, kids under four aren’t allowed. It’s worth getting the sauna pass as well as access to the baths, because then you aren’t limited and you’ll find you can spend many hours here. Parking is free for the first two hours, but it’s hard to reach without your own vehicle. The water is rich in phosphorus, and five hours here will set you back 25 Euros and a few extra for access to the saunas.
Tamina Therme – Bad Ragaz (www.taminatherme.ch)
Tamina Therme’s unique selling point is its extreme relaxation qualities – evidently more so than other thermal baths in the area. They’ve gone to town on lighting concepts, and “emotional” architectural states to create a haven for relaxation, so you can probably guess that this isn’t really one to which you take the kids, and indeed children under three are not allowed. You can drive to the baths easily, but if you are staying in Bad Ragaz resort then it’s quite a pleasant thirty minute walk from the centre to the spa. The complex has several pools of varying temperatures and you can even see the hot water bubbling directly out of the mountain. There are also saunas and spa treatments on offer, and access to the baths alone is 25 Euros for four hours, with an extra 6 Euros for access to the saunas. So it’s not cheap, but is a cut above the average in class.
Thermalbad Bad Zurzach – Bad Zurzach (www.thermalbad.ch)
The Thermalbad has four outdoor pools with water and massage jets galore, set out in lovely spacious grounds. Dominated by a rather ugly 60s-build tower, the remaining surrounding view is nevertheless very scenic, with hills, forests and mountains. The sauna area inside is very nice and the steam rooms have been lit up in various colours, the better to entertain/relax you. When dusk falls, the outside pools are also lit up very well in different colours. There’s also a kids’ pool available, and everything is extremely clean and well-maintained. The spa in the complex has many treatments and fitness options available. Access to the baths and sauna area is 30 Euros for five hours, and the water is obtained from Glauber’s thermal spring at 430m depth.
French Thermal Baths and Spas
Les Thermes de Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains – St. Gervais (www.spa-thermal-mont-blanc.com)
Set in the Parc Thermal in La Fayet, les Thermes de Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains (what a mouthful – referred to from here on as les Thermes) are a beautiful set of steam rooms, pools and saunas set around a network of outdoor pools. The pools have several jets for massaging your muscles with vigour. The water is sulphurous – expect it to smell a bit, it’s doing you good. The park itself is beautiful for walking and contains a waterfall which is well worth seeing. You could use a bit of French here – don’t expect to be able to speak English – and it’s best to go in the mornings because things get busier after lunch. A full day at Les Thermes can cost nearly 40 Euros, but between 11am-7pm it’s more like 33 Euros, including towel, slippers and bathrobe, and a couple of teas are served.