It seems odd to think of China, as I ease into a soothing, mineral-rich pool, which overlooks the Alps in Eastern Switzerland. But as I gaze at the mountains, their pointy peaks nearly touching the clouds, their eggplant-purple shadows like paint smears on the pine-tree pocked facades, I do ruminate on Chinese philosophy. Suddenly, there, beneath the downpour of a waterfall meant to unravel my steel-tight shoulders and neck, as my body melts into the velvety caresses of silky H20, I very clearly remember a Chinese proverb that seems apropos—even in Switzerland: When you drink the water, remember the source.
At Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a legendary spa destination for nearly two centuries, the centerpiece of a timeless Swiss mountain village, I ought to be thinking of Johanna Spyri’s novel Heidi, which takes place here. This area near the Austrian border, fringed by the Pizol Mountains, a patchwork of bubbling brooks, sinuous hiking trails, and emerald hills, bears the nickname Heidi Land. Literary inclined tourists often gallivant up the slopes in search of scenes from the book—such sights as Heidi-like mountain huts and flower-abundant meadows awaken a desire to cavort “like the light-footed goats.” But, I’m here solely for the water.
This Leading Hotel of the World, an elegant behemoth of a 120-acre grand dame resort, is a complex comprised of two interconnected hotels (Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz and Grand Hotel Quellenhof & Spa Suites), a respected medical complex, a world-class spa, seven restaurants, and an immense surrounding parkland, I partake of the bevy of mineral pools. Filled with water piped from the further flung mountain spring that first made the region famous centuries ago, the therapeutic pools range from fancy to sublime, from indoors to al fresco. A mind boggling sauna, which features various temperatures and herbal infusions, only enhances the wellbeing factor. Anyone can visit the public Therme Tamina on a day pass, while hotel guests enjoy the privileges of a variety of other water elements, as well, (including a Kneipp hot/cold segment) throughout their stay. But, I’m the luckiest hotel resident of all. I’m staying in one of Hotel Quellenhof’s new spa suites, kitted out with contemporary-styled rooms, a personal sauna, a chromotherapy tub, which (get ready for it) pours water from its faucets straight from the mineral spring.
Here, centuries ago, local people believed the underground spring to be a dragon’s lair, due to the fog and mist that escaped from an aperture in the stony slope. Later, monks discovered the gap to be a portal that led to waters they considered healing. By medieval times, those monks had turned the site into a hospital, lowering the infirm via ropes through the crevice, down multiple stories, into the middle of the mountain.
The source of this body-temperature constant, ailment-curing, spring (touted to alleviate muscle aches, improve circulation, and soften skin and hair) has made an impression on me. That’s because I’ve taken the hike up the mountain to the Tamina Gorge, where the spring was first discovered. Ascending a paradisiacal trail that follows a stream, I arrived to the site the day before to explore the subterranean oasis, learning about its history. Here, centuries ago, local people believed the underground spring to be a dragon’s lair, due to the fog and mist that escaped from an aperture in the stony slope. Later, monks discovered the gap to be a portal that led to waters they considered healing. By medieval times, those monks had turned the site into a hospital, lowering the infirm via ropes through the crevice, down multiple stories, into the middle of the mountain. There, the ill would rest at water’s edge, and be submerged by ministering monks at intervals, that might last as long as entire days—or weeks.
Thinking of the poor, terrified, unwell Medieval people dangling on cords (perhaps falling to their deaths into the crevasse before having the opportunity to heal), I feel almost guilty flitting from pool to pool, fitness hike to fitness class, and in and out of the resort’s treatment rooms. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying such amenities as stellar spa cuisine and unique, curative treatments in the swanky spa—such as the Sequoia Ceremony, a ritual that pays homage to an impressive tree on the resort’s lawn, said to be a source of positive, healing energy. In that treatment, I’m massaged by a poultice method, popular in the Alps. Linen sachets, filled with local, restorative herbs—chamomile, mallow, birch,marigold, and sage—are dipped in oil, then pressed over the body, stimulating relaxation, releasing the botanical properties, and recalibrating my life force. At treatment’s end, I see a reassuring beacon of golden light.
After a few days well lived, wellbeing blossoming within like one of Bad Ragaz’s ubiquitous, colorful, flower-filled window boxes, those red-lipstick geraniums wafting their scent as a gifted tonic to the streets, I reward my efforts. Joining the resort’s own water sommelier, I sit down at the bar, and hydrate on bottled H2o from around the globe with Irina Taculina, one of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz’s two highly trained water experts. Today, dressed in her tuxedo best, she pours, and I tipple. She brings the conversation back to water. “It’s the healthiest thing you can do for your body,” she says, gesturing to 30 varieties of water lining the wall behind her.
Thinking of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, the multitudinous healing pools, and those poor pilgrims from the Middle Ages who risked death to bathe in ancient times, I respond: “I know. It’s a tonic for life. For mind, body, and spirit. And, I’ve been to the source.”
For more information: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Becca Hensley is Editor at Large for Insider's Guide to Spas. Based in Austin, she writes regularly about travel and spas. She believes a good story draws you in like laughter in a crowded room, and challenges you to do it justice. Her work appears regularly in Austin Monthly, Travel Channel, Toronto Star and National Geographic Traveler.