Insider's Guide to Spas

An Austrian Spa Journey

Austria’s traditional garb may be Germanic dirndls and lederhosen, but natural bathing sets the style for spa culture.

Bernard Burt


Austria is Alps in the west, Vienna and Salzburg in the east, and romantic spas. A collection of territories, Austria is roughly represented by nine Länder (provinces) with histories predating the modern Republic celebrating its 100th birthday in 2018. Home to a new breed of spa and sports resorts, where thermal waters, saunas, and herbal treatments mix with outdoor adventure, this is wellness without the sound of music.

Think of Austria through its west-east divide: The Alps and Tyrol in the west are 62 percent of its territory. Perched in the flatter eastern end, Salzburg and Vienna are tourist magnets. The cosmopolitan capital has one-third of Austria’s 8.7 million people.

Tucked into scenic valleys, vineyards, and farmland are resorts designed for health tourism: sports, springs, and romance. Packages from 320 euros include hikes, skiing, and kayaking, along with massage and mineral water soaks to make you look and feel your best.

The Start of an Austrian Spa Journey

Our spa journey took us to the Aqua Dome amid Tyrolean Alps, stylish Tauern Spa near Kaprun in Zell am See, and luxurious Therme Geinberg Spa Resort near Salzburg. All developed and managed by VAMED Vitality World, Vienna-based operator of eight Austrian resorts.

Passing Tyrol’s busy capital, Innsbruck, and main ski resort Kitsbuhl, we drove west into the snow-covered Alps to the Aqua Dome resort at Längenfeld. Green meadows and farmhouses line valleys, glaciers still open for skiing through June. Set in a pasture, the 400-bed Aqua Dome adds a touch of fantasy: bowl-shaped soaking pools, indoor pools, herbal and Finnish saunas. Thermal mineral water powers two levels of aquatics: family pool where kids frolic, and clothing-optional spot where couples discover each other nude.

Herbs from nearby mountains infuse spa treatments. I was offered a choice of full-body massage using pine sticks, warm forehead compress of pinewood, or honey-ginger oil, and beeswax facial. Whisked to dinner with hotel director Barbel Frey, we discussed how spa and sports are packaged and marketed. “With seventeen treatment rooms, we tailor each visitor’s experience,” Frey commented. Products used include Shiseido, Biosel, and Trehs.

Aqua Dome has the largest spa and beauty complex in Tyrol. The fitness center equipped by Cybex is staffed by sports scientists to develop personal training goals. Or sign up for classes and yoga. Currently on tap: Taiji Bailong Ball from China.www.aqua-dome.at

Worth a Detour

The Starkenberger brewery near Tarrenz, Tyrol, converted an obsolete fermentation cellar into a health-tourism destination. Brewer’s yeast, said to be good for your skin and circulation, makes yeasty soup for soaking. Tap unlimited free lager. www.starkenberger.at

Drive east towards Salzburg for Austria’s crystal capital: Swarovski. The factory is not on any tour, visitors enjoy kitschy displays of crystal creations, lasers, shopping, and restaurant. www.swarovski.at

A True Respite

Looking for privacy? Therme Geinberg5, VAMED’s luxurious spa resort in upper Austria, features 21 villa suites with glass-walled sauna, dock on secluded pond, butler service, and exclusive bathing pools. Austria’s first hammam, Oriental World, offers body scrub, tea lounge. Work out at Technogym fitness center, relax at rooftop thermal pool. It’s all about you, says managing director Manfred Kalcher. The spa uses Ligne St. Barth and the grape-derived Vinoble product lines.

Chefs at Aquarium Restaurant create meals to match your mood and diet. Located amid farms, this private villa restaurant features fresh produce, fish, venison, and dairy products. Or you can go for day spa package at the resort hotel. www.geinberg5.com

A Modern Spa Resort Nestled in a National Park

Nature themes Tauern Spa in Kaprun, a cottage colony one hour from Salzburg. Situated in the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, the valley view from all 160 rooms and suites made for instant relaxation. But my “Glacier” spa treatment set up a dinner challenge: quail, halibut, and beef!

Managing director Karl Berghammer says new Salzburg cuisine complements the resort’s wellness focus: healthy, fresh, and light. There are 13 different saunas and steam baths, 10 swimming pools; Alpin Vital spa facials with the region’s natural products, 17 treatment rooms offer cosmetics by Dr. Spiller, Alpienne, and Reviderm; running trail through the village, including a castle, river, and village shops. Golfers have access to two 18-hole courses; ski buffs are on the glacier well into summer. www.tauernspakaprun.com

VAMED’s eight thermal health resorts in Austria, and Budapest’s Aquaworld, demonstrate how innovative design and nature-oriented treatments keep spa culture alive. www.vamed.com

 

Bernard Burt

Bernard Burt

Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Examiner.com. Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.