A spa bath in Switzerland for £13? Healthista’s Sally Brown reviews Tamina Therme where you can experience the healing benefits of thermal water on a budget
The word ‘bargain’ isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind when you think of Switzerland, home to some of the wealthiest people on the planet, so I wasn’t expecting to stumble across one of Europe’s best-value spas on a recent visit. You enter Tamina Therme, a thermal spa filled with naturally warm water from the nearby Tamina spring, by pushing through metal turnstiles, like the ones at your local swimming baths. And the place is, in fact, the town’s public bath-house. But that is where the similarity to your local baths ends. Housed in a breath-taking building constructed from 2,200 fir trees, I couldn’t work out whether I was most impressed by the double-height ceilings and cathedral-style roof, immaculate white-themed décor and marble floors or the floor-to-ceiling oval-shaped windows overlooking the Grisons mountains.
It’s mindboggling that Tamina Therme is a public facility, as little as 19 Swiss francs (around £13)
It’s mindboggling that Tamina Therme is a public facility, and that as little as 19 Swiss francs (around £13) gets you entry to the various indoor and outdoor pools, whirlpools, steam baths, saunas and relaxation areas (some of which, it’s worth noting, are ‘textile-free’). It’s also one of the few places in Europe to offer Haki, a back-to-the womb like treatment that’s a cross between massage and yoga, carried out on a warm pool.
When you need a break from hopping between pools, you can dry out on a sun lounger in one of the relaxation areas, or if weather permits, on the large lawn, and gaze up at the stunning mountain backdrop. There’s even an attendant to solicitously drape a warm fluffy towel around your shoulders to stop you getting cold. Popular with families during the day (I can attest that Swiss children are spookily well behaved), it’s quieter in the evenings and open until 11pm. At weekends, it attracts groups of young professionals, effortlessly switching between French, German and the local St Gallen dialect, while unknotting their muscles in the outdoor thalassotherapy pool.
The source of the naturally warm water, Tamina spring, was first discovered by Benedictine monks in 1242. News of the water’s healing effects spread, and it attracted people from miles around. The sick and dying were lowered down the mountain side in baskets tied to ropes to be immersed in the waters, sometimes for days at a time. If they survived, they tended to feel better. Things got a little more civilized in 1840, when a 4km pipe was built to bring the water direct to the town, and the health resort of Bad Ragaz was born (‘bad’ is German for ‘bath’).
At times the train came so close to the water’s edge I could see the faces of the fishermen in their boats on the lake
Close to the border with Austria and in the heart of Heidi country (the author Johanna Spyri wrote the novel while living there), Bad Ragaz is 90 minutes from Zurich by high-speed train direct from the airport. Having caught a very early morning flight, I intended to snooze my way through the journey, but instead found myself immersed in the breath-taking scenery. Skirting the edges of Lake Zurich with its chocolate-box houses, at times the train came so close to the water’s edge I could see the faces of the fishermen in their boats on the lake.
Tamina Therme was opened in 2009, an upgrade from the existing public bathhouse. It was funded by the owners of the adjoining Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a sprawling wellness resort which also houses its own thermal water spa, 36.5° Wellbeing and Thermal (named after the temperature of the water when it comes out of the ground). Guests at the resort have free access to Tamina Therme (you can get there in your dressing gown via a series of corridors).
It’s hard not to feel a tiny bit envious of the Swiss when you consider that this clinic is their version of the NHS, with treatment covered by their health insurance
Grand Resort Bad Ragaz has a reputation as one of the world’s best medi-spas, and a price-tag to match. As well as the thermal spa, there’s Clinic Bad Ragaz, with a staff of 70 doctors, including dermatologists, cardiologists, gynecologists and cosmetic surgeons as well as psychologists, dietitians and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. There’s a laser clinic to improve your skin, and even a full sleep lab for insomniacs. It also has a world-class reputation for sports rehabilitation, attracting athletes like Roger Federer and the Swiss Olympic team. When I visited, a Saudi Prince complete with burly-looking Russian bodyguards had booked all the Spa Suites for his extended family to have full health MOTs. I have also heard that European heads of industry come to Bad Ragaz for a discreet nip and tuck under the guise of enjoying the healing powers of the thermal water, which the fiercely discreet staff would neither confirm nor deny. It’s hard not to feel a tiny bit envious of the Swiss when you consider that this clinic is their version of the NHS, with treatment covered by their health insurance.
Clinic aside, many guests do come to ‘take the waters’. Stay at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz and you’ll be given a tailored programme of bathing cycles designed ‘to strengthen the immune system and encourage inner balance’ which may include time in a sauna, steam room, treading water, lying outside in the fresh air, and rubbing yourself with ice. As well as immersing yourself in the ‘Ragazar’ water, you’re encouraged to drink it – you’re offered a glass as an aperitif before eating, and at the start and end of every treatment. Served at the temperature it comes out of the ground, it’s lukewarm and pleasant enough, and although I wasn’t there long enough to discover if it really does have therapeutic effects, I probably drank twice as much water during my stay as I usually do, and felt clear-eyed and full of energy by the time I left. The water from the spring is classed as an acratotherm, a carbonate-sulphate water traditionally used to treat musculoskeletal problems. It’s also thought to be good for balancing hormones and improving circulation.
Not surprisingly, treatments at the spa are all water-related. I had a 60-minute Thermal Water Massage, which started with one of my favourite things, having my feet washed, this time in thermal water. There’s also a range of anti-aging treatments devised by Clinique La Prairie, including one that involves being smeared with caviar. There is also a well-quipped gym and a timetable of studio classes including yoga, Pilates and Zumba. Throw in super-attentive staff who have an impressive ability to remember every guest’s name, and I can see why they have guests that stay for a year.
The resort itself is sprawling, and made up of three separate hotels, the traditional Hof Ragaz, partly housed in the oldest building on the site; the grander and more corporate-feeling Quellenhof, with its sweeping staircase and huge chandeliers; and the new, ultra-modern, glass-fronted Spa Suites building, with EMF-free bedrooms, freestanding baths with mountain views, and thermal water on tap. All rooms are generously sized and many come with a balcony.
Even at breakfast, there’s a chilled bottle of champagne next to the freshly squeezed orange juice and a table groaning with freshly baked bread
Guests do come here to lose weight, but they must have better willpower than I do. At the eight restaurants across the resort, there are plenty of healthy cuisine équilibrée options on offer, but you have to resist a plethora of more indulgent choices. Even at breakfast, there’s a chilled bottle of champagne next to the freshly squeezed orange juice and a table groaning with freshly baked bread. Lunchtime is easier in the Mediterranean-themed Olives d’Or, when you can browse a buffet that includes a stunning array of colourful salads, seafood and cold cuts.
Easy as it would be to spend your entire stay in the spa, there is much to tempt you outside the resort. Even the most inexperienced hikers can follow the well-marked mountain trails that lead from the resort, including one that takes you to the ruined castle Schloss Wartenstein, with views across the whole valley. If you’re feeling lazy, they’ll lend you an electric bike, or if you’re feeling adventurous, take the resort’s Harley-Davidson or Porsche (bizarrely, included in the price of the room, but you have to bring them back!). A 40-minute walk in the opposite direction will take up a winding mountain road to Tamina gorge. Tunnels and glass-floored walkways take you to the source of the thermal spring – notice how the air gets warmer the closer you get to the naturally warm water source. If you feel like venturing further afield, take a tour around the many small, family-run vineyards dotted around the mountains in between sleepy villages, and fantasize about moving into a little wooden house with painted shutters and a goat in the back garden. Or potter around the town of Bad Ragaz and spot the many modern art installations on street corners and green spaces, a legacy of the sculpture festival that takes place in the town every three years. Simply breathing in the cool, crisp mountain air is therapy in itself.
There’s no doubt that if I were as wealthy as many of the guests, I’d also check into Bad Ragaz for weeks at a time, as many of them do, to iron out all my health niggles and have my frown lines mysteriously erased. But if you’re clever, you can also experience this world-class spa at a fraction of the cost, by staying for just a couple of nights. For even less, you can fit a day visit to Tamina Therme into a mini-break to Zurich. You’ll be glad you did.
Entry to Tamina Therme costs from 19 Swiss Francs (around £13) per person. To book, see tamintherme.ch. Nightly rates at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz start from £166 per person sharing a double room, including breakfast, welcome aperitif, use of the 36.5° Wellbeing & Thermal Spa area and Tamina Therme, fresh fruit and Ragaz water each day and daily fitness and relaxation lessons. Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS) offer flights from the UK and Ireland to Switzerland starting from £38 one-way including taxes swiss.com. For rail travel, book a Swiss Travel Pass via MySwitzerland.com, or see swisstravelsystem.co.uk. For more information on Switzerland see MySwitzerland.com.
Sally Brown, is Healthista’s resident therapist and agony aunt. She loves finding out what makes people tick and will winkle out your life story if you sit next to her at a dinner party. She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential. Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press. Find out more at therapythatworks.co.uk.
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