We will always travel. For the time being with our nose in one of the classics among the spa books, later in the accompanying spa baths. 3x reading, dreaming and (later) traveling.
1. IN GERMANY
READ? ‘The Player’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1866
Taking a cure was not always fun, this Russian writer knew all too well: Fyodor Dostoevsky became addicted to gambling in the casinos of the spa houses. So feel free to see his short story ‘The Player’ as a veiled autobiographical story – written at a rapid pace to settle another debt.
In the lead role: a gambling addict in a fictional German spa village. He hopes for a win at the roulette table, and if that doesn’t work out, for his mother’s death and inheritance. Detail: Dostoevsky hopped from spa (and casino) to spa (and casino) with his second wife, hoping to outsmart his creditors.
If one village embodied the European spa culture, then Baden-Baden in the southwest of Germany, about 60 kilometers from Strasbourg. The naturally heated spring water, up to 68 ° C, already attracted Roman notables to the edge of the Black Forest in the 3rd century. When ‘beneficial’ water courses became fashionable in the 18th century, it was here that the beau monde wanted to be seen.
Baden-Baden is still popular with the rich and famous.
The Queen of Prussia was treated for her rheumatism, and when Tsarina Elizabeth began to spend her summers there, the Russian elite soon followed in her wake: aristocrats and writers, including Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The latter’s money flowed through the Versailles-based casino faster than the mineral water from the adjacent fountain.
In that sense, not much has changed in Baden-Baden: the village is still popular with the rich and famous. Without corona, music concerts would still be held in the Kurhaus garden. And in the casino you can still squander your money. You should only forget that draft of spring water from the once so popular Trink Halle: the painted galleries towards the pump house are still there, but the tap is ready. Not so beneficial, according to EU regulations.
Don’t let the name fool you: Friedrichsbad is nothing less than a palace. For a long time, this bathhouse from 1877 was the most beautiful in Europe – the Grand Duke of Baden-Baden inspired his envoys all over the continent. All registers had to be opened, because a casino ban was imminent, and water fountains alone would not keep the tourist flow up.
In this way, you can still swim here today between columns and domes, in halls grafted onto palazzos. This pompous Italian symbolism is no coincidence, because the first to erect a wellness avant la lettre in Baden-Baden was the Roman emperor Caracalla, to whom Rome also owed one of its greatest thermal baths.
Friedrichsbad has everything a modern spa resort should have, with imaginative full body massages like ‘Temps de rêver’. But the signature treatment is a tightly timed course of 17 consecutive warm, lukewarm and cold spring water and hot air baths, with or without a soap brush massage – the Seifenbürsten massage.
The climax: sleeping in a blanket for thirty minutes – the wake-up service is included – and then finishing on the sun balcony with a book and a glass of sparkling wine. Cheers.
2. IN ENGLAND
READ? Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’, 1817
Like almost all of Jane Austen’s books, ‘Northanger Abbey’ can be summarized as follows: satirical, Victorian chick lit full of courtship with just under prominent or just too prominent opponents, and always intrigue and drama as a result.
This time, the initially still young, naive Catherine Morland ends up in the social whirlwind of Bath when the wealthier neighbors take her in tow in the spa town.
Interesting: ‘Northanger Abbey’ did not appear until six months after Austen’s death, but it was the first story she wrote 14 years earlier. ‘Persuasion’, which appeared simultaneously in 1817, took place in the same setting.
LOCATION? Bath, England
Today, you can frolic through Bath in the wake of Jane Austen, visiting teatimes and theaters like the crème de la crème of yesteryear.
That’s how the tourist office likes to present it, because ironically, Austen hated the spa town where her family lived between 1801 and 1806. Her father died there, and after his death the family struggled financially. But you can bet that Bath inspired her.
The region south of The Cotswolds was already an important bathing and praying place for the Romans. Their first bathhouses date back to the year 60 – the ruins of which are still a draw.
By the 19th century, Bath was the bubbling heart of the local spa culture, with all the social events and gossip associated with the healing water fountain. The fact that the writer in her novels made fun of that social bickering, the city and her Jane Austen fans dressed up with a smile.
COURSES? The Gainsborough Bath Spa
Less than ten minutes’ walk from Gay Street, where Austen lived, you can stay for yourself at The Gainsborough, a modern luxury hotel set behind the stately sandy facades of two listed 18th-century properties.
The Gainsborough is the UK’s only spa with direct access to natural hot springs.
But forget the suites, the restaurant with the award-winning chef, the cocktail bar or the boudoireske tea room, the highlight of the hotel is underground: The Gainsborough is the only wellness spot in the whole of the UK with direct access to the natural hot springs, including water jet massage, ice cave or personalized aromatherapy massage treatment.
It can also be even more exclusive. Those who prefer the luxury of the hotel, but the feeling of a private home and book the adjacent Townhouse, get access to The Cross Bath: once the water source where the Celts honored their goddess Sulis, now the private pool of the luxury suite.
3. IN SWITZERLAND
READ? ‘The Magic Mountain’ by Thomas Mann, 1924
The showpiece of German modern literature. Before he starts working, the young protagonist Hans Castorp travels into the Swiss Alps to visit his cousin, who is staying there in a sanatorium.
Enchanted by the strange people and their customs, Castorp does not stay three weeks, but seven years on the mountain.
Thomas Mann got the idea for his philosophical novel when his wife was staying at a leading spa town in Davos twelve years earlier, looking for a solution to her lung condition.
LOCATION? Davos, Switzerland
For more than a century, the world’s elite have raved about Davos, a valley town in the Swiss Alps: they used to be spa goers, now they are luxury skiers, and the world leaders who have come to the World Economic Forum every year since 1971. None of this would have come into the house if a German political refugee had not started working as a general practitioner around 1850.
Alexander Spengler soon found that the poor mountain population was blessed with “beautiful, symmetrical, broad-chested bodies and a strong heart.” And above all: that no one had tuberculosis there. For example, he set up his own sanatorium.
By 1900 the village was known as a top health resort and on the promenades you could hear the German, French and Russian chitchat of international guests who came to enjoy fresh air, brisk walks and theater visits on a doctor’s prescription.
COURSES? Waldhaus Flims
In the Waldhaus, guests do not have to think about anything at all.
One hundred years later, guests still rest on the panoramic terrace of Schatzalp, where Thomas Mann’s wife stayed. The Belle Époque sanatorium of the Spengler family transformed into a hotel in the 1950s, but the 1900 design remained untouched.
The cable car, the botanical garden and the overall Wes Anderson vibe make Berghotel Schatzalp well worth a visit, but due to the risk of faded – read: worn – glory, we’ll send you 70 kilometers further to Waldhaus Flims in Flims.
The former sanatorium from 1877 became a luxury hotel, and with its 3000 m² spa resort it has received the necessary updates to pamper modern spa guests. All year round, they swim in heated outdoor pools with alpine mountain water, and relax in Turkish steam baths, infrared rooms and saunas where different views compete for your attention – from forest landscapes in the panorama sauna to the open fire in the classic inground sauna hut.
Nice detail: ‘Youth’ by Paolo Sorrentino is the perfect tragicomic adaptation of the spa genre and was shot at both locations. The garden and restaurant scenes with Harvey Keitel and Rachel Weisz, among others, were shot in Schatzalp, the surreal wellness rites in Waldhaus.