Splashing in Spa
We check out the new Thermes de Spa in the Belgian town that has become synonymous with health and beauty.
Bathtub with view
Spa, the Ardennes town in Liège province that boasted the world's first health resort, opened Belgium's largest and loveliest bathtub this spring.
April 2004 saw the grand opening of the Thermes de Spa, a EUR 15 million project of which 80 percent was financed by public authorities of Spa and the surrounding area. The rest came from Spa Monopole, producer of the famous Spa mineral water, and Eurothermes, a French company that runs similar facilities in France, Spain and Switzerland.
Investors are betting that within the next two to three years, some 150,000 people will come to swim in the 800 square metres of indoor and outdoor thermal pools every year, and that the wellness, beauty and health centre will administer between 80 and 200 treatments per day.
That's certainly a tall order to fill in a country where food traditionally comes before fitness. But Gerard André, who runs the Thermes de Spa, is convinced that Belgium needs to look to wellness and spa treatments as a way to attract tourists.
He believes the new Thermes de Spa "indisputably complements the touristic offer of Spa and the surrounding region. If tourists have two to three hours to spare, they should come here and try the thermal baths."
André knows whereof he speaks: before coming to Belgium he ran a spa near Montreux, Switzerland, for five years that attracted some 450,000 visitors annually.
For now, the Thermes de Spa chooses to keep a low-profile among foreign tourists as it seeks first to court visitors from Belgium and the Netherlands. This has the advantage of keeping large groups of tourists away, at least for now, so there's generally lots of room to splash about. But it's only a matter of time before foreigners get wind of this lovely oasis.
And what will you find at the top?
Eau what a feeling
The centre is located at the top of a hillock overlooking the town centre. For those that not up to the climb, there's a funicular elevator, accessible either from the street or directly from the Radisson SAS Palace Hotel, which offers numerous hotel-spa combo packages. Hotel guests often ride up in their bathrobes and slippers.
Prices are posted at the front desk, and after you pay you get a token for entering the facilities. You'll also need your token at the snack bar, and then pay at the front desk as you leave, so there's no need to worry about carrying cash around.
The normal entry costs EUR 17 for 2½ hours, or you can get an all-day pass for EUR 27. Children under six are not allowed in the baths, though small infants are, provided parents reserve ahead of time.
The complex boasts indoor and outdoor pools
The changing facilities, like the rest of the place, are immaculate — always a good sign in a place like this.
Once you enter the pool area, you're struck by how light and airy the place is; in all it covers some 10,000 square meters.
There's nothing like stepping into 32-degree-Centigrade water, and although it's hard to do laps, it's nice to be able to actually swim as if you were in a bathtub. This is, of course, much more sophisticated, with all sorts of specialties like the subaqua hydromasage and thermal shower for soothing frayed nerves.
Upstairs you'll find the co-ed sauna and hammam, which can be enjoyed in the nude though most people seem to opt to leave their swimsuits on. Between steams and sweats it's important to take a short dip in one of the three small baths of varying temperatures. There's a snack bar on the main floor should visitors get hungry or thirsty.
The perfect end to a day at the baths is the black light-illuminated relaxation room, where visitors can stretch out on lounge chairs and listen to soothing new-age sounds.
The well-being, beauty and health centre offers all sorts of massages and treatments, with prices ranging from EUR 70 for a sampler package featuring unlimited access to the baths to EUR 685 for the 'Silhouette' intensive cure including five free passes to the baths, body wraps and something called thalaxation. There's also a EUR 595 special five-day treatment especially for mothers and babies.
Though the renovated centre feels brand spanking new taking the baths in Spa actually dates back to Roman times, when Piny the Elder discovered the healing properties of the sulphur-filled waters. The springs were rediscovered in the 14th century and a resort was established in the 16th century.
Famous visitors are said to include Henry VIII, Peter the Great and Casanova.
Spa reached its peak in the 18th Century, when it was frequented by European royalty
The 19th century bathhouse, completed in 1868, is a historical landmark and is certainly worth a quick peek. But it's hard to imagine anything more spectacularly regal than the new Thermes de Spa.
The baths at Thermes de Spa are open daily from 9am until 8pm (last entry at 7pm). On Friday and Saturday, the baths are open until 10pm (last entry at 9pm). The Centre for Well-Being, Beauty and Health is open daily from 9am until 5pm and on Sundays from 9am until 1pm.
The new Radisson SAS Palace Hotel located next to the casino and tourist office offers special hotel-spa combo packages for singles and couples, such as a one-night package for EUR 123.50 per person. The price includes a night at the hotel, a "welcome gift” of scented candals, a three-course lunch or dinner at the hotel restaurant and two passes to the Thermes.
The hotel also has its own fitness centre with sauna and Turkish bath for those who can't get enough pampering at the Thermes. For more information, call 087-279-700 or see www.radissonsas.com.
To find out more about the town of Spa and surrounding area, call the tourist office at 087 79 53 53 or see www.spa-info.be.
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