Many people visit Switzerland for its countless cultures and languages (depending on the region, locals speak French, German, Italian or let’s not forget, Romansh), outstanding cheese, to-die-for chocolate as well as those breathtaking Alps. But, at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in the northeast section of the country, also known as Heidiland, it’s all about the water.
Last year the resort and Bad Ragaz celebrated 175 years of thermal water, which technically dates back to 1242. Fifty years before the foundation of the Swiss Confederation, hunters from a local monastery discovered hot springs emerging from the Tamina Gorge, the same hot springs which fuel its spa today. The hotel opened Europe’s first thermal indoor pool in 1871, and over the years it has expanded considerably.
Aside from two options for sleeping rooms—the Grand Hotel Quellenhof & Spa Suites (106 suites, originally built in 1869) or the Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz (113 rooms, originally built in 1849)—they also have an 18-hole PGA Championship golf course and a 9-hole executive course, a medical clinic (with programs ranging from weight loss to check-ups, beauty treatments and preventive medicine), the well-being and thermal spa, seven restaurants, a business center, a cigar lounge and a casino.
Overwhelmed yet? The key to enjoying the Grand Resort involves focusing on two things: the bathroom and thermal spa. (OK, more like three, the third being the breakfast buffet that features 10 varieties of cheese).
As you lose yourself in the bucolic scenery and arrive in the village known as Bad Ragaz, you can’t help but notice the Grand Resort—all 120 acres of it.
Here’s the thing: When you approach the front doors and enter the lobby, we admit, it’s a little overwhelming in its old-Hollywood grandeur and opulence. But you get used to it; a little glamour now and then won’t kill you.
As you enter the lobby and are greeted by a large wrought iron winding staircase, you may wonder where, oh where do I actually check in? Look no further than two desks to the right where the receptionists greet you, check you in and provide you with a fresh glass of water (and so it begins). As they begin to tell you about their impressive thermal spa, don’t feel bad if you need actual directions to get there—you make a right off the lobby and walk past the corridor of luxe gift shops (think bling). En route, you may want to take a detour and check out the Bel-Air restaurant right off the lobby with elaborate chandeliers and plush blue and gold carpeting but this is an upscale type of place; if you think you’re going to pop in for a late lunch after your weary bones jump into the sauna wearing one of their plush white robes, think again.
And while it’s easy to be mesmerized by the spaciousness and openness of the lobby and quickly find your way to the various restaurants and spa, especially if you live in a rather small dwelling, first impressions of this property are similar to reading a Harry Potter book. You like what you see but don’t want to necessarily stay where you are—you want to explore, keep turning the page and see the spa as well as what your room actually looks like.
While the grand staircase and marble floor upon entry are quite classy, the sleeping rooms themselves are more colonial looking with a yellow and royal blue color combination, light yellow walls with off-light crown molding and dim lighting, perhaps as a nod to its origin in the mid-1800s of nobility colors. In the junior suite, for example, you immediately notice the king-size bed (though technically it’s two beds pushed together), which has an adjustable AirTouch sleeping system to adjust firmness and support.
Your oasis for the evening, at least in the Grand Hotel Quellenhof, is decked out in both stripes and plaid (the desk chair is plaid and two comfy chairs are striped) but somehow it works. The plush royal blue carpeting and lamps with a blue base complement the wooden furniture that seems to blend into the ambiance. For instance, the stack of pillows overpowers the wooden headboard and you don’t really notice it until you move the five pillows aside. As for a nice touch that’s totally on brand: the skinny spray bottle of thermal water sitting on one of the two night tables.
What’s most impressive, you ask? The ultra sleek granite bathroom—flat-screen TV included. You may notice something missing (um, yeah the actual toilet). That’s because there’s an glass door you’ll need to open to find it. So, what’s behind the second door? The shower, duh. You’ll probably want to spend more time in this bathroom than you ever would have at home.
The Spa Suites are a little more modern, with white walls, a brown leather headboard, white furniture and hardwood floors. These rooms come with balconies and views of the surrounding vineyards, the Alps or the resort grounds.
In the Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz rooms, soft yellow and earthy shades create a relaxed atmosphere, a little less high-strung than the other property. However, the marble bathroom and textured wall behind the headboard remind you of where you are. The smallest beds are queen-size, and feature satin bed linens. Each of these rooms comes with a balcony. The Palais rooms are an entirely different story, but let’s not go there …
Did somebody say agua? The hotel spa is called 36.5° Wellbeing & Thermal Spa for a reason. (They even hired a water sommelier for its restaurants.)
It seems pretty normal at first; as you walk down the hallway into the spa area, you’re greeted by a receptionist and notice plush white robes and towels neatly folded. No big deal, right? After all, massage rooms, the sauna and steam baths are clearly within reach. Continue walking through the glass doors and that’s where the real magic happens, when you run into an impressive indoor rectangular pool in the solarium and then another and oh yes, another (the last one’s actually a whirlpool but still …).
If you take a dip, you’ll notice the water isn’t chlorine. In fact, it’s warm thermal water, hence the 36.5 degree Celsius title, sprung directly from the nearby Tamina Gorge. The main pool is outlined by stately Romanesque columns and yet ironically juxtaposed by colorful swimming noodles sitting near the steps.
If you fly into Zurich, after an hour-long train to Bad Ragaz, the station and town itself look like a sleepy village, the type where locals enjoy a cup of coffee at 3 p.m. on a weekday afternoon without a care in the world. You can always stroll to the property within about 20-minutes (OK, so we totally cruised in the courtesy ground transportation a la Porsche SUV waiting at the train station), but either way you’re mesmerized upon arrival by the property.
The hotel is intended for guests who want a relaxing, scenic, healthy, thermal stay (after all, if you wanted to go on a cheese or chocolate tour, you’d travel to Gruyere or hop on a train back to Zurich for a more cosmopolitan jaunt), starting with an early morning swim to commence your day followed by deep inhales of that crisp, clean Swiss Alps air. When you yearn for a tourist fix, head over to nearby Heidi Village (yes, the fictional Swiss children’s book character Heidi’s house is there). Or, to get in touch with nature, take a 45-minute walk to check out the impressive gorge with spectacular scenery and an old bath and guest house museum.
Website: Grand Resort
Room Rates: $442 – $812
Vicki Salemi is a globetrotting public speaker, author, columnist and career expert based in New York City.