I wanted to do something special for my wife on our honeymoon. I thought a good surprise might be a trip to Europe’s most trendy/chic thermal spring, Therme Vals. Vals, Switzerland is about a 2 hour train ride from Zurich.
I worked hard to make sure Katie had no idea where we were going. She had no clue! Even after a dear friend thought she ruined the surprise at our wedding (you know who you are ;-)).
So we boarded the train (Katie still having no idea where it would end up). Here are a couple pictures of the scenic countryside.
Somebody apparently thought the Shakiria girl was pretty cute and stuck a Facebook “Like” sticker on the vending machine asking her to be his friend.
We arrived in Vals around 11 AM. Our room wasn’t ready for check-in until 3 so we asked if we could leave our bags behind the counter while we took a dip in the pools. They had no problem so we went to explore the baths.
The Thermal Springs
I was so excited when we first entered the bath complex. I had read so much about the hot springs and different rooms I was so ready to see them. To be honest, I was a little surprised at how small it was. We began exploring the different rooms. After a couple hours, I regretted reserving rooms at the hotel. One could easily arrive in the morning, explore the baths all day, and return to Zurich in the evening. As pricey as the rooms are, I just didn’t see the value in staying the night.
The next day completely changed my mind.
Entering the baths the next morning was a completely different experience. The baths were the same as the day before, but I was different. Perhaps the time spent traveling on the train and general hustle had me too energized to relax. I’m not really sure. I can just say that on the day we arrived, I could not fully relax and appreciate the baths. The following morning after a good sleep and a GREAT breakfast we went to the baths and good and truly lounged.
We spent at least an hour in the outside heated pool looking at the surrounding mountains. The chilly late January air (around 24 F) was no match for the hot spring heated outdoor pool. We also took our time exploring the indoor pools.
The Bath Complex Design
As you enter the bath complex, the first thing you come across is a lukewarm square pool. This is the starting point/baseline pool. It is a gentle quite pool, close to body temperature. This allows you to ease into the pools to start as well as provides a “normalizing” pool to return to after some of the other extremes. At the corners of this square pool are small rooms that contain different pools. I didn’t realize it at the time, but upon later reflection I realized that the pools were designed to stimulate all 5 senses. Each pool was designed to elevate one sense while suppressing the others.
Sight: Main/Entry Pool
There was a large amount of natural light in this entry pool and yet the water was body temperature. Nothing draws your attention to heat or cold or sent or taste or touch really. Simply light.
Sound: Sound Chambers (& Echo Pool)
A short hallway leads to two recessed niches. The turns greatly reduce the amount of light and sound from the main room. The darkened rooms contain padded benches and pillows to lie on while a changing chorus of bells and tones slowly draw you further and further away from reality.
There is a second pool area that I have to mention in this spot. The amazing Echo Chamber. A warm wading pool leads to a small water hallway that ends in a 10 ft by 10 ft by 20 ft stone cube. A speaker at the top plays low pitch, low frequency and higher pitch, higher frequency tones at the same time. The tones echo melodiously in the large stone room and lights dance languidly along the walls. This was easily one of my favorite rooms. I could spend hours floating, hanging onto the bars on the wall listening to the tones and watching the light dance on the walls.
Scent: Flower Pool
A small hallway leads to quite a captivating pool. This specific pool contains thousands of tiny marigold petals that swirl around in water in an enchanting watery dance. The scent is subtle and relaxing. My eyes (and hands) couldn’t help chasing the petals and trying to catch them! Certainly a very unique pool. I have yet to see a similar pool anywhere else.
Taste: Spring-Fed Fountain
Another short corridor leads to a room with a stream of water jetting from the roof to fall into a big bronze bowl. Here you can drink your fill of the cool spring water. A ladle on a chain is provided if you care to use it (I didn’t). Instead, I just drank directly from the water falling from the ceiling.
Touch: Fire and Ice Pools
Two pools feet away from each other enchant the skin through extreme temperatures. One pool is very hot (107 F) while the other one is frigid, almost ice cold (57 F). Katie and I stayed in the Fire pool as long as we could, then slowly dipped into the Ice pool. Words cannot describe how cold it felt. My legs were basically numb before I got off the steps. I stayed for as long as I could (let’s be honest; it was probably no longer than a minute, maybe a minute thirty).
Back to the Fire pool. The first three or four steps felt like lukewarm water… and then millions of tiny Keebler elves started stabbing my legs with little swords! That’s sure what it felt like. Katie had her fill of the duo pools, but I was not one to be defeated after one bout. It was one more round of ice and fire for me.
There are many room options to select from. I choose one on the lower end of the spectrum as the were all rather expensive (remote trendy hot springs high in the mountains hard to get to = charging a pretty penny). I wasn’t expecting much from the room, but I was shocked to see how small the rooms actually were. Designed to look like a boat, the rooms don’t allow for much more than sleeping. Given that we planned on spending most of our time in the hot springs, it’s not really a problem. Just know what you’re in for even if you choose the most affordable option.
We took a walk around the town on a quest to find a grocery store and replenish our general snack/food pile as well as get dinner. We ended up overshooting BOTH grocery store by a solid mile and seeing much more of the town than we intended. To make matters worse, it was night and very cold with thick snow covering the ground. Usually, I don’t have a problem with the cold, but that night I had forgotten my hat (doh!) at the hotel so my ears and then head were slowly starting to freeze. We eventually found the grocery story and scampered back to the room to enjoy a grand spread.
Wow… I can only say wow. This is by FAR the best hotel breakfast spread I’ve ever had. To give you a rough idea of the options, there were AT LEAST: 10 kinds of bread, twelve kinds of cheese (Switzerland/Europe amazing cheese, mind you), three kinds of meat, eight local yogurts, seven platters of various fruits, six kinds of cereal, sixteen choices for tea, and any coffee you could think of. Oh, and the obligatory partridge in a pear tree lol. But seriously, there were SO MANY options and they were all SOOO GOOD.
Prices, Money Breakdown
To give you an idea of what a place like this will cost, I took a look at my receipts.
The room booking cost 132 CFH per person per night. This included entrance to the spa and sauna and a continental breakfast. We only stayed one night and I don’t remember exactly what the exchange rate was at the time, but the final cost was $289. Without a reservation, entrance to the baths was 40 CHF per person (about $45). So the room ended up being an extra $200 apart from the baths.
All in all, Therme Vals turned out to be a great, relaxing destination. We’d love to go back again someday.