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September 05, 2015

Bad Ragaz: In The Lap Of Swiss Luxury

Text by Aparna Pednekar

Snuggled in the Swiss Alps, the historic wellness town of Bad Ragaz offers more than pastoral bliss. Cavort in space-age thermal baths, play a round of golf or sit back with a glass of fine wine as Verve did

Alpine resort towns can make spiffy icebreakers, pun intended. Waiting for a foot massage at the Six Senses Spa in the Etihad Business Lounge at Abu Dhabi International Airport, I chatted up a dyed-in-the-wool Davos man from Mumbai. After exchanging notes on Zermatt and Verbier (skiing is my bête noire), I admitted it was my first visit to Bad Ragaz and I knew nothing of the relatively low-key spa town in St. Gallen. He, on the other hand, had stayed there more than once, during the World Economic Forum. On our onward flight to Geneva, we continued talking of hot springs, golf and handicaps over refills of Etihad’s signature mint-and-lemon refresher. Perish the thought of a primeval chalet amidst snowy mountains, with rösti and raclette, he advised me. Bad Ragaz may not be Bollywood’s golden-couple haunt Gstaad, or glitzy like St. Moritz, but it had a world of extravagant R&R on offer. Post further talk of Swarovski-studded saunas and Michelin-starred meals, I began suffering business class withdrawal symptoms, loath to trade my flat-bed seat and Shiraz for a Swiss Pass and two train rides to the promised land.

After goodbyes at Geneva and via an obligatory window-shopping stop at Lucerne (don’t feed the swans, they bite!), seven hours later, I finally landed at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, a five-star property in the picturesque Rhine Valley. With less than an hour left for sunset, I opted out of walking the gargantuan estate, and instead took a quick town tour. By the edge of the resort, hikers were returning from the famed Tamina Gorge. This magical hot spring was discovered by a local monk, as far back as the 12th century, prompting his brethren to tie the sick and ailing with ropes and drop them down the dangerously-steep gorge to bathe in the medicinal waters, usually for an entire week. While the warm, mineral-rich H2O was later channelled into the town and can now be enjoyed in the swish setting of the resort, the walking trail of the gorge is a must-do. That unprecedented experience would have to wait a day or two though; I still had unexpected discoveries to stumble upon.

One For The Road
The next morning, after a misguided attempt at twisting my hair into a milkmaid braid, I found myself seated in a horse-drawn carriage, trundling down to Maienfeld. Once at the adorable cobblestone street-lined village, I walked up to Oberrofels, a pastoral paradise which inspired Swiss author Johanna Spyri to create the fictional village of Dorfli, where Heidi and Peter frolicked in the verdant mountains of Bündner Herrschaft and grew up strong on goat milk (the animals are available for petting at the small zoo). Heididorf, as the village has been renamed, is a perfectly recreated mid-19th-century hamlet that is a delight to snoop around.

The region has a formidable wine pedigree, toplined by a spectacular Pinot Noir (Blauburgunder in German). Back in Maienfeld, I visit several local award-winning wineries. But it’s Schloss Salenegg, Europe’s oldest running winery, that stopped me in my tracks: a sprawling baroque castle located on grounds discovered by 10th-century monks. The von Gugelberg family lives on the estate and is always at hand, taking guests to the cellars and across the grounds.

Gushing Peace
My trip would have been incomplete without a trek to Tamina Gorge. I took a bus from the town square up to Altes Bad Pfäfers for the insider tour of drizzling narrow ledges and stunning views of the springs, contrasted by streams of sunlight. (Tip: carry a camera and bottle to bring back the delicious spring water which stays at a constant 36 degrees Celsius.) Add a thermal pool dip and a Michelin-starred meal, and life couldn’t have felt more complete.

Feel The Blues
This year has brought a bonanza for art aficionados travelling to Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. From May 9 to November 1, the resort is hosting Europe’s largest sculpture exhibition, the sixth edition of the Swiss Triennial Festival of Sculpture. Christened Bad RagARTz, it will see close to 400 sculptures gracing the property’s public spaces. Created by world-renowned artists like Robert Indermaur, Mimmo Paladino, Jörg Plickat and Kan Yasuda under the theme ‘Blue’, the sculptures also pay tribute to the 175th anniversary of Bad Ragaz’ thermal water. If you’d like to indulge in art trails, concerts and literary tours, the resort has launched a three-night Bad RagARTz package that includes daily four-course meals at award-winning restaurants Bel-Air or Olives d’Or (do also book a table at Michelin-starred Äbtestube where Chef Roland Schmid’s bison salsiz is legendary), a private tour of Bad RagARTz and a farewell gift. After you have admired the sculptures, soak in one of the bathing pools at the high-ceilinged, all-white Tamina Therme or head to the spa for their signature three-hour Golden Treatment.

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