Into thermal waters ...

I truly came to appreciate the wonders of my job last weekend, during a three-day visit to Leukerbad, a pretty village tucked into a basin between sheer cliff faces at the heart of the Valais. That I arrived in sunshine, winding up a precarious road in the local bus, was no surprise - the Valais is bordered by 4,000m mountains, which prevents cloud from entering the Canton. The road winds through little hamlets, splashes of colour either side, and Leukerbad isn't visible until you get there. It's a secret wonderland, really. Ancient wooden buildings stand next to 1960's concrete blocks, and quaint streets wind past numerous vegetable gardens. And there is something else special about it too - it is home to 65 hot springs, eight of which are used in the village's array of thermal spas. Therein lay my task - research for an article about this concept of "wellness" in thermal waters.

It was the cliffs that made a first impression on me - they rise vertically around the village, huge jagged lumps of sculpted rock. If you look up, you see a Swiss flag, which looks tiny but is quite big, and marks the vertical ascent of the Via Ferrata, looming high above the village. The hotel was my next treat: a 5 star haven of large, airy rooms, fresh fruit laid out, and luscious bath robes. Heavenly treatment, and a thermal pool that I was dying to jump into. The hotel, Les Sources des Alpes, is the only Relais-Chateux in the world with it's own thermal spring. More on that later.

My first "job" was to ride in a cable car with the village's marketing manager to the top of the Gemmi Pass. This is a famous mountain pass that many literary greats have gushed about, including Guy du Maupassant and Mark Twain. It's a hair-raising ride, as the cable car rises over steep cliffs at break-neck speed. The view from the top, though, is just beautiful. You can see as far as the Matterhorn, and look along a panorama of enormous, snow-topped peaks. In the restaurant at the top, we enjoyed traditional "Rosti" - a dish of chopped up, fried potatoes.

After overcoming my vertigo during the ride down the mountain, it was time to enjoy some "wellness". David Kestens, the marketing manager, told me wellness was about enjoying fresh air and exercise, dining well and topping it all off with relaxation in thermal water. So to the hotel pool I went. The water is high in calcium and sulphate, meaning it is good for the bones. And you literally feel the need to sigh with pleasure as you step into it, and it envelopes every stressed or aching muscle.

Tim joined me later in the evening (having had to spend the day working - ha!), and we went to enjoy our first 5 star dining experience. We dressed to the nines, and felt let down when we noticed a couple wearing tracksuits! Never mind, at least the waiting staff had made an effort. I'll just say, the restaurant has been awarded the gault millau, and it shows. We dined like kings: I enjoyed plenty of fresh bread, salmon served with a courgette stuffed with saffron risotto, then an apricot creme brulee - not to mention the delicious Valais wine, Petite Arvine, which felt like silk in the mouth.

Our nutritious fine dining experience meant we awoke on Saturday feeling energetic enough - or crazy - to decide to walk up the Gemmi Pass. 1,000 metres of vertical, unrelenting ascent. And a truly magical experience. The path zigzags up the cliff, offering wonderful views, and we even saw what we think was a golden eagle dancing in the air above us. After that energetic excursion, the hotel treated me to a complete spa pampering. First of all, I sat in a massage bath, where jets of water course along every sinew and muscle; then I had a salt scrub to detox and cleanse; followed by a full body massage with luscious alpine creams. The hotel spa was amazing. It had a small outdoor pool, with a jacuzzi and a view across the cliffs, then an indoor pool, with the hot spring gushing directly into it from little fountains. The nicest thing was, it was so quiet. There was hardly anybody staying there, and it felt like true relaxation. The hotel was so quiet and calming - you could really escape from the stress of the city there.

Let me skip to a highlight of the following day. We visited Leukerbad's two largest public spas: the first, the Burgerbad, is all about fun, laughter and roller coaster slides into the thermal water. The other, the Lindner Alpentherme, is more grown up and designed for relaxation. We made like tourists and walked between the spas wearing our bath robes - we got away with it I think, because they had 5 stars on! At the Lindner, we had a very special "Roman-Irish Baths' experience. This is a two-hour treatment designed to warm the body and cool it again slowly, as you make your way between saunas, steam rooms and pools of different temperatures. In the middle you have a scrub with coffee granules, then a soap brush massage, involving soap being brushed into your skin, and rinsed off with a splash of warm water and a massage. The climax of the treatment is plunging into a pool of only 8oC! The only snag: you have to be naked. Tim and I were terrified, but actually, it was more pleasant than we expected. You quickly get used to the sensation, and the number of people in the complex at any one time is limited to about six.

I feel I've blabbered on enough now, so I guess you'll have to read my article to find out more ... I could go on for pages. But it's safe to say, this is a lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed.
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