From Business Class Travel on Etihad Airways to blissful thermal spas at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in the Alpine region of Switzerland, PRIYA GANAPATHY enjoys a life of luxury
Would you pass an invitation to indulge at the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland, one of Europe’s most reputed wellness health resorts and a ticket to enjoy the privileges of the newly refurbished First and Business Class Lounges at Abu Dhabi? Not I. So when all attempts of an online check-in for a flight to Zurich via Abu Dhabi turned futile, I imagined I’d be in for trouble at the Bengaluru International Airport. The Etihad Airlines ground staff were huddled for the daily briefing. Before I’d begun to gripe about the online check-in muddle, I found myself smiling back at the staffer who promptly said, “No problem, I’ll take care of your confirmation ma’am”. He even obliged my request for a window seat! A perfect omen for things to come.
As the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Etihad Airways prides itself as an international airline that constantly challenges the definitions of comfort and luxury. Wafting on a carpet of clouds, feet outstretched, sipping Sauvignon Blanc while carving into a platter of chicken breast, salad, sautéed veggies and assorted breads. Thanks to Etihad’s Wi-Fly connection I was simultaneously dashing off mails and tweeting from 35,000 feet. It was easy to see how wonderful life is, while travelling Etihad Business Class.
Touchdown at Abu Dhabi Terminal 1 was smooth but I couldn’t check out the recently refurbished First and Business Class Lounges as I had to rush to Terminal 3 to meet my companions onward to Zurich. Thankfully, a genial Mohammed led me through the maze of people and prevented any further loss of time lest I got waylaid by duty-free shopping outlets! Just past the neon lit corridors, I slowed down to observe the exquisite art on display. Eid was just a day away and the themes explored in the paintings and shadow sculptures were enough to move anyone walking through the open gallery.
A little further on the left was The Premium Lounge at Terminal 3, near Gate 35 – a spacious realm designed for waiting in style. After witnessing rapid growth in a relatively short time, Etihad Airways has upped its ante to meet and perhaps exceed the expectations of its clientele. Many had already settled in the multiple dedicated areas to relax besides the business centre and work stations with free Wi-fi access. A few made a beeline to the smoking room while others curled up to sleep in the choice of cushioned couches.
Making full use of the convenient shower facilities and the thoughtful amenities pouch, I felt totally refreshed. Talking of subtle details, the pouch is a keepsake as it wears a traditional Emirati “Sadao” weave crafted by local artisans at Sougha, a social enterprise owned by the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development. Sougha incidentally means “travellers gift” in Arabic (not too different from ‘sougat’ in India). There are several buffet counters for starters, mains and desserts that I had to forsake this time round. A quick bite and I was set to catch up with the trio accompanying me on Flight EY 73 to Zurich.
Emblazoned in gold the words “From Abu Dhabi to the World” gleamed in the darkness as I climbed aboard. Buckling up at Seat 9A, I felt like Nicole Kidman, brand Ambassador for Etihad in my very own luxe box chamber. Muted lights, a warm blanket, a flute of French Champagne Jacquart, Brut Mosaique – a dry medium bodied wine complemented by cheese and a bowl of nuts… I could drift into a dream or watch a choice of entertainment shows on TV. I chose the latter. The night wore on and the champagne made me daringly try the Rheinhessen, Grauer Burgunder from Trocken. Noting my expression after the very first sip, Etihad’s very perceptive F&B Manager Vera Ivanova, swiftly offered to change it to a delightful white wine from one of New Zealand’s best vineyards, and I gracefully gave in!
The attention of the cabin crew to keep every passenger’s preferences and needs in mind was commendable. How and when I slipped into slumber and was tucked in was anybody’s guess but in the wee hours of the morning, Vera bent down to whisper, “Would you like some breakfast? We have half an hour before we descend.” The menu tempted with a host of offerings perfectly crafted by the staff trained at The Savoy, London no less. A decadent round of Banana sweet chilli loaf with mascarpone (a thick creamy Italian cheese) and dulce de leche (a delicious thick caramelized spread) followed and I was literally in food heaven, floating on a sea of soft clouds.
Zurich airport to Bad Ragaz in the Canton of St Gallen in the north eastern Switzerland was a beautiful 1½ hour train ride past green fields and meadows, wooden Swiss chalets tumbling down the high ridges where louvered window sills overflowed with baskets of flowers and the glittering ribbons of Lake Zurichsee and Lake Walensee slithering past colourful sailboats docked near the pier. I couldn’t prevent myself from yo-yoing from one side of the compartment to the next, fearing I’d miss something spectacular on other side!
The famous spa village of Bad Ragaz surpassed all I had imagined it to be. It lounged against the Pizol mountains, freshly washed by rain as clouds split and the sun broke through gilding the autumnal leaves on the trees and shrubs. The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz was just a stone’s throw from the railway station overlooking snowcapped peaks and an elegant Evangelical Church, whose steeple shot into the blue sky.
The palatial resort lived up to its name on all fronts – luxury, size, hospitality, treatments and health-care and of course gourmet cuisine. Sprawling across 5000 acres were the resort’s realms of relaxation – the five star Quellenhof and the Hof Ragaz hotels, lush gardens, restaurants, golf course, casino and the lifeline of the resort – the healing thermal waters channelled from Tamina Gorge.
Over the next three days and nights we surrendered to the enveloping warmth of the Tamina’s waters, breathing lungfuls of the crisp, clean mountain air, tasting fine wines and eclectic flavours in the hotels many world-class restaurants. With 8 restaurants including the one Michelin star Abestube, and 58 GaultMillau points to its credit, this is a haven for epicureans.
The timing of our trip was perfect as we caught BadRagartz, the fantastic triennal festival of art (9 May-1 Nov 2016) featuring works of renowned international and local artists. This was the sixth edition of Europe’s largest sculpture exhibition and was themed “Blue” as a tribute to the 175th Anniversary of the land’s Blue Gold – the thermal waters of the Tamina spring. Deep in the jagged Tamina Gorge the thermal spring emerged from a grotto, gurgling behind a sheet of glass.
The trip to the gorge was not the only high point. The following day, we had a round of wine tasting at Fromm vineyard in Malans en route to Heidi Village in Maienfeld. The latter was the land that inspired Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic ‘Heidi’. On the way back, the River Rhine whizzed by in a blur as did the 18-hole sprawling golfing greens of Bad Ragaz and we were back at the resort, ready for our last unforgettable supper. At Namun, the Pan-Asian restaurant we met our delightful hosts Thomas Bechtold and Kathrin. We stepped into the casino later knowing fully well how our chips were down. We had run out of luck in terms of time and relaxation and had to bundle our bags for a train from Sargans to Zurich HD at dawn and another rail ride to the airport.
On the return flight from Zurich to Abu Dhabi, I lay cocooned in my flatbed by the window, gulping the welcome fresh orange juice thirstily and answering mails, tweeting my Swiss holiday photos and squeezing the most from the wi-fly facility. Meals were spot-on in terms of taste and portions and the voyage of 6 hours and 20 minutes over the snowy Alps to the hotter hemisphere was blissfully dealt with generous refills of bubbly and a delicious serving of veal steak layered with tomato and grilled Emmental, Tagliatelle noodles and veal jus.
A 6 hour layover at Abu Dhabi was ideal opportunity to wander into the revamped Terminal 1. The efficient staff stowed away my jackets and woollens in a closet leaving me free to roam around lighter. I made a beeline to the Six Senses Spa to book a complimentary back massage before entering the buffet section for dinner. The lounge presented a surplus of choices from Western to Asian and Arabic that was devoured with great zest by all who walked in.
With enough time to shower and snooze, I snuggled up in the comfortable seat, to catch the news on TV. The back support massage at 11.40pm was the key to destress. All I did was straddle up on a massage chair and let Balinese masseuse No Ketut Sukerni work her magic. Her firm fingers combined shiatsu and oriental techniques to ease my hidden aches and pains, almost seducing me into peaceful slumber.
The range of 15 minute complimentary offers – be it Massages (Back Support, Bamboo Fusion, Foot Massage, Hand Massage, The Hedonist, The Realignment) or Facial Therapies (Eye Retreat, Face Radiance) or Wellness (Reiki) and a Six Senses Spa experience is highly recommended. They even have a Style & Shave Salon giving the complete package of grooming. Before long, I was curled up in the waiting lounge.
At 2.40am when the final boarding call was announced, a concerned Etihad staffer appeared genie-like to wake me and speedily escort me to my flight. Be it the lounge or in-flight, Etihad’s signature efficiency and style in hospitality was discernible. All I did was learn how to give in, gracefully.
Etihad Airways flies from Bengaluru to Abu Dhabi and Zurich, from where Bad Ragaz is an hour’s ride by train. www.etihad.com
Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Bernhard-Simonstrasse, 7310 Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Ph +41 81 303 30 30 www.resortragaz.ch
Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article on the Etihad-Bad Ragaz trip was written exclusively for the blog.