Bonjour, mes amis. Last time we met, we were in France, debating whether fecal flushing is a good thing, and even if it is, whether to undergo that particular spa offering. Then we examined the bigger question: Are health spas healthful? You may recall the three conflicting answers.
- Of course they’re healthful; people have been seeking wellbeing at them for eons.
- Of course they’re not; just check out the people who go there, work there and live next door. How healthy do they look? (My answer: Not very, but they’re perhaps not so pale and sallow as the people who work in American health-food stores.)
- Forget health; you’re gonna live till you die. Warm water, massage, relaxation – how bad can that be?
Now, we’ve left France for our next spa encounter. It’s in Switzerland. In Leukerbad, Switzerland, the country’s biggest spa-and-wellness resort.
Leukerbad combines two Swiss traditions: snow tourism and health curism. The curism came first. Since 1501, the mountain town has been a destination for ailing and overwrought Europeans intent on taking the waters.
Leukerbad is rich in waters, with 65 thermal springs feeding 30 pools: hot pools, warm pools, cool pools and freezing-yer-pants-off (assuming you’re wearing pants) pools. This town of 1,500 may have the highest pool-to-person ratio in Europe, all fed by thermal waters. Those waters flow in at a rate of a million gallons a day, naturally heated to just under 125 degrees.
The waters draw a variety of visitors. Skiers, of course — it’s Switzerland. But not just skiers. Swiss athletic teams come to recover from sports injuries, European patients come for a cure, and roughly half the visitors appear to be here for the restorative aquatic experience.
Some of those experiences are unexpected, to say the least. My first night there, I encountered a Leukerbad activity called “Kino im Pool.” What’s that mean? Drive-in movies without a car but viewed instead from a warm swimming pool.
I donned a swimsuit and headed down to the big indoor/outdoor pool at the Lindner Alpentherme. As we relaxed in the warm waters, the lights dimmed, and on a large screen, a familiar film played — James Bond’s Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow, Mama Mia. I’d been to drive-in movies; this was my first swim-in movie.
How sweet it is. But here’s a Leukerbad tip for my fellow Americans. At the multi-level, many-pooled Burgerbad, a.k.a. City Bath, swimsuits are required. Not optional — required. At the tasteful Walliser Saunadorf, a.k.a. Sauna Village, swimsuits are verboten. Not discouraged — verboten. Unless you enjoy a stern lecture in front of a lot of naked people, don’t even think about wearing, well, anything.
I didn’t get the lecture, but I watched as a forceful Swiss woman employee castigated a gang of large, loud, swim-suited Russian men. When they didn’t strip fast enough for her liking (just possibly because they didn’t understand Swiss-German), she summarily kicked them out of the spa. In front of the rest of us.
I swiftly dropped my togs and any thought I had about skirting the skin-only rule. My new motto: Better nude than screwed.
Jules Older is author and publisher of the ebooks, DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love and SKIING THE EDGE: Humor, Humiliation, Holiness and Heart.