Swiss Spa redux

Swiss Spas where Bad means good – Medicus Curat, Natura Sonat… the physician cures but nature heals….Hippocrates.

When I started writing about spas in the mid 80s there were major differences between European treatments which were called wellness clinics and the spas in North America which was more about being pampering than efficacious. Now the two have merged.

However, body image is still the same.  Now and then when I catch an unexpected glimpse of myself in a mirror and haven’t sucked in my tummy, I get a bad case of sap-vitis.  It’s not a condition chronicled in any medical journals.  It only registers in my not-so-friendly mirror.

Spa-vitas, plus my natural inclination to travel for assigned articles on European spas all came together to speed up my plans.  And so I packed my bag and took flight to find the ultimate place to shed unwanted pounds and to get a better view on wellness and staying fit and healthy.

On other assignments I have headed south to the famous fat farms in the land of unwanted cellulite and flab and major pampering. Think Arizona, Texas, California. This time the experience would  be completely different and include drama and history. I would be where spas started.

So, off to Switzerland, where any city with the word Bad before it is really good. (Bad means spa}.  For more than 2,000 years people have traipsed off to these playgrounds to soak in the mineral -fed pools, drinking the awful tasting waters and have hot mud treatments on  various body parts.

Even during the feudal periods, the famous baths attracted the attention of the most powerful and titled leaders.

Before I could say cuckoo clock or Toblerone chocolate, I was sitting on Swiss , a perfect airline for the start of this luxury and stimulating days ahead.  There were moments when I actually concentrated and estimated how many pounds I could shed in the 10 days.

First Stop:
Baden.(not to be confused with Germany’s Baden Baden). This small city, 15 minutes by train from Zurich, has up-to-date- stylish hotels and also the riches mineral thermal springs in Switzerland. But what a surprise the European spas are! Entirely different from their cosmetic counterparts in North America.  In Europe the goal is to work from the inside out.

Day One.
Firstly, it is necessary to get in tune with the spa’s philosophy.  They want to send you home feeling and looking great.  Another difference is that  you’re on your own so discipline becomes the operative word. A third difference is the best European spas are considerably less expensive than the best in North America

I went about setting up my own schedule.  First stop was down to the pools which are filled with innocent looking water, packed with minerals that come from 4,500 feet below the earth’s surface.  The suggested time for your dip is 20 minutes.  A huge clock (after all this is Switzerland ) ticks out the minutes and then an unusual bell rings.  One minute at each jet is recommended as  you moving from one powerful jet to another.  These are at various levels inside the pool, each positioned to hit at just those “ unforgiving” body areas.  A keen -eyed attendant keeps a close eye and gives me a wave when my time  is up.  Then he hands me a heated towel to wrap in. I sleep for hours and as I wake up and check the time, I wonder what has happened to my usual, unusually high energy level.

Let me warn you those calm looking waters betray their exhausting abilities.

And let me (painfully)warn you also to obey the one minute jet rule.  I was over anxious about dislodging the dreaded cellulite in record time and what I got instead were unsightly bruises on my thighs and derriere.  Those jets pack a wallop.

Day Two.
The first day had been a learning curve.  Now I’m ready for the full treatment.  I drink the famous sulphur -filled waters.  Trust me, they have an incredible cleansing effect.  Next was a series of facials, fango mud bath, massages and saunas.  The technicians are trained for at least four years before they are allowed to touch a client and their knowledge of anatomy is awesome.  My assorted aches and pains are worked on with great care.  Afterward, I  stroll along the river, then walk in the countryside and walk through the historic town. I discover a few very special restaurants.

I am staying at the elegant Hotel Staadhof  attached to the Hotel Verenahof.  Both have direct access to the indoor and open air thermal swimming pools, beauty salon, medical and treatment centre.

Day Four
The next spa on the itinerary is Bad Ragaz, which sits below the Alps in a lush valley with the Tamina River meandering around the old town. Guests of Hotel Quellenhof, built in 1870, are treated to old world charm with a capital ‘C’.  Here again, the hotel is attached to the spa facilities.  Public areas are separated from the Hotel Quellenhof’s private section.  A dozen doctors and a team of  physiotherapists are on the premises if you need individual attention

The hot mineral waters, which comes from a gorge three miles away, are kept at 34.5 degrees centigrade.  Doctors think this is helpful for a wide range of illnesses.

Day Six
By now, I’m feeling like an experienced spa-er.  As in Baden, I start off at the thermal swimming pools with their 10 strategically placed underwater massaging jets.  And again after 20 minutes I am wrapped in a hot towel and ushered into a spotlessly clean (after all, this is Switzerland), glassed in solarium.  It overlooks a flower -filled garden and the snowcapped Alps.  During the day, the atmosphere is relaxed.  All the guests, even the very proper Swiss, are wrapped in the hotel’s terry robes.  When I was there they were orange. But then comes the evening.  Men wear shirts, ties and jackets and women don couture silks and flash their bling.

The main dining room is charming and as you might expect, the Swiss service is efficient and the waiters manage to be helpful without being intrusive.

Unlike North American spas, the menu is huge and it’s not at all unusual to see people enjoyed five course meals.  However, diet food is available.

The hotel is equipped with a gym and exercise equipment.  There are massage rooms with treatment from fango baths and facials to ice shock sessions.

For the outdoorsy-type, there is an 18 hole golf course, tennis courts and even trout fishing.  In the  evening here are concerts   My few days fly by and I reluctantly board the train for St Moritz.

Day Eight
The beauty of St. Moritz is hardly skin deep.  It can reflect on 3,000 years of history.  Bronze objects like swords and needles, date back to the Bronze Age which were found during the restoration of the Mauritius Spa. The jet set spot, with its spectacular view, 1,856 metres above sea level, attracts the rich, famous, beautiful and fun loving- even off-season.

As early as the 16th century,. A scientific treatise on the benefits of St. Moritz’s spring water, was written by nature healer, Theophrastus Paracelsus von Hobenheim.

In 1811, the use of the carbon dioxide spring for baths was first mentioned in documents.

The healthy spa centre is completely separate from any of the hotels although more and more hotels are getting into the profitable spa business.

The water of the Mauritius contains calcium sodium,  hydrogen carbonate and iron and is saturated with carbon dioxide.  This is the strongest iron source in Europe.  The minerals are said to cause strong dilation of the blood vessels which intensify the blood circulation

If that isn’t enough, the famous ski run, the Corvatsch (3.303 metres above sea level,) and the stimulating air will get the blood flowing.

If you are a keen skier, the runs are superb.  Off season there are footpaths , golf, tennis, sailing, windsurfing and evening concerts.  The international social set can snap their fingers and get the sport of choice.

The spa centre which I visited the first day cost double digit million dollars to build.  It is fully equipped for modern physical therapy together with a general medical diagnostic department.  There is an emphasis on local mud therapy which has anti-inflammatory analgesic action and is considered helpful for rheumatism and arthritis.  The literature even suggests it will help reproductive organs and menopausal disorders.

And so the search for the fountain of youth goes on.  It’s a never-ending saga.  Everyone who has an interest in  staying youthful will have their own preferences.  Some visitors come to the spas in search of new beauty, others  to find lost youthfulness while others come just to sleep, rest, sharpen their minds and perhaps rediscover their sense of humor.

Maybe I found some of the above.  I know I had fun and the scales tell me that I did, indeed , lose 10 pounds and my skin glowed. But what I did gain were new experiences and I seem to be very cheerful.