Category Archives: Switzerland

Bad Ragaz: Heidi-ho from Heidiland

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PRIYA GANAPATHY visits the medieval spa town of Bad Ragaz, riding in horse-carriages past quaint Swiss villages and alpine meadows, a setting that inspired the literary character Heidi

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Zurich from the skies was a muddle of green tree clumps and brown gabled rooftops broken by tall clock towers and a river running through. I landed not to explore this global hub of finance and banking but to romp in the hills where ‘Heidi’ roamed. Boarding the 7.43am train to Bad Ragaz, a spa village frequented by the rich and famous since Baroque times, I was treated to Switzerland’s many moods gliding across my window.

The steep craggy mountains possessed a frightening beauty that suddenly slipped into childlike innocence in its rolling meadows and valleys where curious cows wore tinkling bells and ducks floated along the shimmery lakes of Zurichsee and Walensee. Now and then, a waterfall slithered down like a white snake in the misty grey landscape as sailboats bobbed gently by the pier. In this dream state, wispy ribbons of clouds cut low across hills and swept past rambling barns and a tumble of wooden chalets festooned with fiery blooms in baskets and ivy riddled walls.

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The train soon pulled into Bad Ragaz station, set in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in the Canton of St Gallen. The Rhine Valley spa town presented a sublime welcome – its encircling lofty peaks were dusted by the season’s first snowfall while the town was wet and aglow after a sun shower. Home to only about 7000 people, the historic town totes an 800-year old legacy of healing in its soothing thermal waters.

It is believed that the hot springs emerging from the cavernous tracts of Tamina Gorge were discovered in 13th century by two hunters from the Benedictine Abbey in the Pfӓfers mountains. The abbots decided to tap its curative powers and built the earliest bathhouse at the source, accessible only by strapping and lowering people using ropes. Pilgrims flocked in, willing to risk everything for their health and well-being; some were left there for an entire week to heal!

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The trend gained momentum after noted physician Paracelsus von Hohenheim validated the purity of the waters in 1535. Since then, Tamina’s 36.5˚C waters have healed czars and commoners alike. It wasn’t until the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz was built in the 1840s that Bad Ragaz gained recognition as a spa destination. Little did the abbots realize how they seeded the concept of modern spa tourism. Even the invalid little Clara in Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic “Heidi” published in 1881, came to these waters to cure her paralysis.

Last year marked the 175th anniversary of channelling the Tamina waters to the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz where guests enjoy its abundant curative powers on tap or in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers. Knitting its heritage, luxe modernity and hi-tech medical facilities seamlessly, its two hotels Grand Hotel Quellenhoff & Spa Suites and Grand Hotel Hoff Ragaz draw the elite with world-class health and well-being treatments.

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The resort was walkable from the station but we hopped into our van, not wanting to lug our bags all the way. It was a bright day that seemed perfect for a tour of the sprawling resort and its premises, which extends over 500 acres into the valley. Unlike other spa towns, the resort was really the core identity of the place as the town grew around it. Yet, with no formidable walls, it melted seamlessly into the town in a welcoming embrace. Perhaps the very nature of its design and the promise of its founders to be open to the public, make it unique. While large spaces are open to public, certain zones are exclusively meant for guests, ensuring complete privacy.

Our host Kathrin Boerger-Bechtold said that in the old days, those who knew the value of therapeutic waters, hazarded an arduous journey to take advantage of this ‘blue gold’. Outside, the valley glittered in the sunshine and the encircling mountaintops wore a snowy marbled texture. The resort’s media manager Martin Leiter ushered us towards a fantastic luncheon of seafood, cheesy delights, fine desserts and great wine. Of the eight restaurants, the Michelin-starred Abestube had been recently relaunched as ‘Igniv’, Swiss chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook!

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A few hours of rest and we were ready for supper at Zollstube, the traditional Swiss restaurant with all-wood interior, antler lamps and hunting trophies. We huddled together for excellent Zurich-style veal and hay soup (yes, a delicious concoction made with hay!) Inspired by the décor, I ordered game meat – sautéed deer escalopes, yellow mushrooms, red cabbage and Brussel sprouts.

Another special offering from restaurant manager and ace sommelier Sondra Klutz, was the aptly named Quelle 36.5 (quelle means spring water). Dressed in a red, black and white dirndl (traditional Swiss dress), Sondra told us how this in-house craft beer was created using Tamina thermal water! Dessert was a delicious glass of Toblerone mousse and marinated strawberries.

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The next morning, after an aqua fit lesson and a low-cal Cuisine Equilibreé  menu – a 3-course 600-calorie meal, we strolled to the town square to board the sunny Schluchtenbus to the famed Tamina Gorge. Like other fabulous discoveries by monks – from champagne to coffee – Tamina’s hot water springs too were discovered in 1240 by Benedictine monks. The narrow road leading to the historic gorge is accessible by foot, bus or horse-drawn carriages. No other vehicle is permitted here, so many prefer to walk up.

“I’m Heidi from Heidiland”, our storyteller guide introduced herself, adding that it really was her Christian name, a common choice of parents in these parts! She narrated Tamina’s history as we trod down the 450 m tunnel to the fountainhead with the thundering waters of the Tamina River roaring in our ears.

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We entered the Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa), a Baroque building built between 1704-1716 to see how things were done for nearly two centuries. It was a virtual museum with old relics and even a baroque kitchen that once served 500 guests. Today, it also houses an excellent restaurant and has a small renovated chapel with ancient wall tracery, dedicated to St Maria Magdalena, patron saint of the sick.

Heidi whispered conspiratorially, “The monks carried the paralyzed people all the way through the rocky crevasses and finally lowered the patients down using ropes to a platform from where they again carried them through a natural tunnel right up to the spring itself, where they left them for days in the water. Nice and cosy, all the time at 36.5 degrees! That was the basic cure. The monks even brought food and wine from the cultivated blue burgundy vineyards in neighbouring Malans.”

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The journey was deeply mystical for it reminded us of how grim things would have been in the past with poor access to this remote locale. We walked along the sunless pathway past jagged rock faces swept into the thundering soundscape of water that tumbled into a stream below, before reaching the site where it all began – the sacred grotto of Tamina behind a sheet of glass, bubbling and gurgling out 7000 litres of thermal water per minute. After a quick visit to the museum, we hiked back to the resort along the narrow road.

Channelling the waters from a spring deep in a grotto, the resort was a grand aqua haven comprising the colonnaded Helenabad, the Sportbad and open Garden pool besides the public Tamina Therme, replete with an outdoor rocky waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks. Carrying forward the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the place retains much of its historic architecture but reinvents its ambience and infrastructure to complement modern demands of luxury. In-house designer boutiques, two golf courses, a casino, ski safaris, outdoor activities, Harley Davidson bikes and low-slung sports cars to zip around the countryside besides a dog-friendly code; all add up to its lavish appeal.

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It was tough to tear ourselves away from the relaxing massages, luxuriating soaks and sumptuous meals but the carefree Alpine hills which inspired the book “Heidi” beckoned us to Maienfeld for a true taste of Heidiland. En route, we stopped at a local flea market and the Fromm vineyard in Malans to try the signature Pinot Noir with Francesco Benvenuto, the resort’s passionate Italian sommelier. However, the guided tour with founder Georg Fromm, regarded among Switzerland’s finest wine makers, was a bonus. We clip-clopped in a quaint horse-carriage down the narrow lanes of Grison canton past vineyards, torkels (wine bars), wooden chalets and meadows where herds of cows gawked with odd curiosity before we reached Heididorf.

It was a return to innocence as scenes from “Heidi”, the book I won in a school elocution contest came flashing back. We trudged up to Heidihaus, the 19th century homestead regarded as Heidi’s original house, a souvenir shop and a museum replete with statues, models and props that brought the book to life… Just a little further down was Switzerland’s smallest post office, perfect to mail a ‘Wish You Were Here’ postcard to the world.

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FACT FILE

Getting there: Swiss Air flies direct from Mumbai and Delhi to Zurich (8 hr 55 min). A train from Zurich Airport to Zurich HB connects to Chur via Bad Ragaz, a 1½ hour journey.

Stay: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz www.resortragaz.ch/en.html

For more info, visit www.myswitzerland.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 11 Sep 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

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Top of Europe: Interlaken Adventure

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ANURAG MALLICK explores the Swiss tourism haven of Interlaken by e-bike, boat and horse carriages before taking the Alpine Railway to the top of Europe 

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‘We serve beer colder than your ex-girlfriend,’ announced a pub on Höheweg, Interlaken’s main street – a tourist highway lined with restaurants, casinos, Victorinox centres, Eiger adventure stores, Swiss watch shops and catchy signs. ‘A dark chocolate a day keeps the doctor away,’ said Swiss Chocolate Chalet, selling chocolates from Ballenberg. Miranda advertised itself as the ‘last sex shop before the Jungfrau’. The charming town of Interlaken, ‘the area between two lakes’, was a tourist hotspot named after the lakeside towns of Thun and Brienz.

My hotel Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel was bang in the middle of all the action. At the pretty flowerbeds of Casino Kursaal nearby, many a Bollywood song had been shot. Indian cinema’s love affair with Switzerland started in 1964 with Raj Kapoor and Vyjayanthimala in Sangam and has lasted more than a Bollywood relationship these days.

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Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha’s Silsila, Rishi Kapoor and Sridevi’s Chandni to Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol’s Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, were all filmed in scenic Switzerland. Yash Chopra’s immense contribution to tourism in Switzerland earned him the honour as Ambassador for Interlaken. A Jungfrau Railway train is named after him and Lauenen Lake where he shot many film scenes is called Chopra Lake. For cinema buffs, Swiss Tourism even runs special Bollywood location tours in Gstaad-Saanenland.

A red mini train offered a sightseeing tour of the city while some enjoyed horse carriage rides. A great way to explore Interlaken is a guided e-bike tour with Flying Wheels. Led by our guide Miriam, our group pedaled across the Aare River, which flows from Lake Thun to Lake Brienz, connected by a tongue of land called Bödelli.

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Since the Middle Ages, bridges over the river’s various arms were the only way of getting to Jungfrau. After a monastery came up here in 1133, a mill and bathhouses sprung up and the place was called Aarmühle (Mill on the Aare). Cycling past old buildings, we continued upriver to the old city of Unterseen. We took photos of the Gothic tower and old city walls, before leaving the urban settlement for the countryside to a farm to taste some fresh cheese.

Dinner was a typical Swiss feast at Restaurant Laterne with rösti (pan fried grated potatoes) and raclette (roasted cheese), originally peasant staples. In the old days, Swiss herdsmen often carried cheese while moving cows to higher pastures. At night they softened the cheese by the campfire before ‘scraping’ (racler in French) it onto their bread or plate. Usually served with pickled onions and gherkins, raclette goes best with wine or warm drinks. Locals often warn against drinking cold beverages so that the cheese doesn’t harden in the stomach and cause indigestion.

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The next morning, we were off to Interlaken Ost to catch the Wengernalp Railway for a ride on the century old Alpine train network. Past Wilderswil, the Schwarze (Black) Lütschine flowing from Grindelwald and the Weisse (White) Lütschine from Lauterbrunnen Valley joined at Zweilütschinen, where the ‘two Lütschine’ meet. According to a local joke between villagers settled on the two rivers, folks on the Weisse Lütschine claimed the others were so dirty it turned the river black while those on the Schwarze Lütschine said the other tributary remained perfectly white because they never washed!

Green pastures turned to flecks of snow as reached Grindelwald. The cheese platter and wine at Hotel Kreuz was perfect for the cold clime as we warmed up with fondue – rustic country bread dunked into melted cheese infused with wine and garlic. It was a short walk to the cable car station for a ride up to First (7,113 ft) to experience First Flyer, the only such zipline installation in Europe. In 45 seconds we zipped down 800 m to Schreckfeld at a maximum speed of 84 km/hr before taking the sedate cable car back to Grindelwald.

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From Grindelwald, skiers made a beeline for Kleine Scheidegg (6760 ft), a short ride through tunnels past magnificent slopes. With a trio of majestic peaks, the Mönch (13,474 ft), Eiger (13,020 ft) and Jungfrau (13,642 ft), there’s no better backdrop for skiing or snowboarding. We hopped across to Restaurant Bahnof for sausage soup, röstizza (pizza with rösti topping) and crisp Rugenbräu lager. The ride back to Interlaken went via Wengen and Lauterbrunnen, the Valley of Waterfalls. The sight of Trummelbach Falls plummeting in a misty spray from a rocky cliff with the church steeple in the foreground is unforgettable. Dinner was a light affair with wasabi-risotto and giant shrimps in chili oil at Restaurant Wineart.

The next day, our Jungfrau railways guide Elena Monakhova met us for our ride to the Top of Europe. In 1893, inspired by the Wengernalp Railway’s steam locomotives that had reached Kleine Scheidegg, Zürich businessman Adolf Guyer-Zeller hit upon an audacious plan. As he sat in Mürren, he scribbled a new train route on a napkin that burrowed through the Eiger and Mönch mountains right up to Jungfraujoch. It was to change the face of tourism in the region.

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After Kleine Scheidegg we rode past yellow and red ski lifts into Jungfrau Tunnel. Crossing Eigergletscher (7612 ft), the train stopped for 5 minutes at Eigerwand (9400 ft) with an excellent lookout through a glass window. The 9km journey past Eismeer (10,360 ft) culminated at Europe’s highest station Jungfraujoch (11,333 ft), a project that took 16 years and many lives to complete. Plaques were erected in memory of workers who died on the job. The fact that this superhuman feat was achieved a century ago was even more commendable.

Jungfraujoch was a maze of delights – Alpine Sensation, Aletschgletscher and tunnels of ice leading to Eisplast (Ice Palace). Tourists posed against delicate sculptures of polar bears, eagles, Sherlock Holmes with his trademark pipe and deerstalker cap and Scrat, the acorn-loving sabre-toothed squirrel from Ice Age!

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Outdoor sights like Plateau and Jungfrau Panorama, a 360-degree experience of the snowscapes, were breathtaking. On 15 August 2009, Kapil Dev joined British and Indian legends for a cricket match at Jungfraujoch on an artificial pitch in a 100m long, 70m wide snowfield. Last year, Swiss tennis ace and Lindt ambassador Roger Federer played a tennis match at Aletsch Glacier overlooking the Sphinx to commemorate the opening of Lindt’s new store Chocolate Heaven.

A lift deposited us at the Sphinx Observatory (11,760 ft), the highest structure in Europe. Perched on snowy crags against a backdrop of peaks and glaciers, the domed astronomical station has featured in several movies – from Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows to Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to Krrish 3 and The Hero. After the customary selfie by the fluttering Swiss flag, we headed back to the Berghaus to pick up memorabilia and dine at Crystal, touted as Europe’s highest restaurant.

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We reluctantly caught our train to Interlaken but just as the high was wearing off, the bus dropped us at Bönigen for another shot of adrenalin. After exhilarating twists and turns, the hour-long jet boat ride on Lake Brienz took us close to Giessbach Falls with the cliffside Grandhotel Giessbach playing mute witness to our antics.

By evening, we were back at the Victoria Jungfrau to watch paragliders land on the grassy lawns of Höhematte. The peak dazzled in the fading light before being enveloped in a blanket of clouds. Interlaken paused to catch its breath for the night…

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FACT FILE

Getting There
Jet Airways flies to Zürich via Paris and Abu Dhabi while Swiss International Airlines has daily direct flights from Mumbai and Delhi (8 hr 55 min). www.jetairways.com www.swiss.com

Interlaken is 2 hr 15 min by train from Zürich International Airport. Board an SBB (Swiss Federal Railways) train to Bern (1 hr 20 min) and take the connecting train to Interlaken Ost (54 min). www.SwissTravelSystem.com

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Getting Around
Berner Oberland Bahn (BOB) from Interlaken Ost station provides the first stage of mountain railway routes like Wengernalpbahn (WAB) and Jungfraubahn (JB) to Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg and Europe’s highest station at Jungfraujoch.

A 3-day Jungfrau VIP pass with unlimited travel costs CHF 235 (available from 1 May-26 Oct at all stations). www.jungfrau.ch

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Where to Stay
The centrally located Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel is the best place to stay in town (doubles CHF 438-588) www.victoria-jungfrau.ch. Hotel Interlaken (CHF 224-325) www.hotelinterlaken.ch, City Hotel Oberland www.city-oberland.ch (CHF 230-254) and Metropole Hotel (CHF 166-191) www.metropole-interlaken.ch are good city hotels besides B&Bs and chalet-style Typically Swiss Hotels.

What to Do
There’s lots to do for adventure lovers. Take an e-bike tour www.flyingwheels.ch, enjoy a jet boat ride in Lake Brienz www.jetboat.ch, learn skiing www.wyss-sport.ch, go tandem paragliding www.flystar.ch or www.swiss-paragliding.ch and skydive from 14,000 ft. www.skydiveinterlaken.ch

For tourist info, visit: www.interlaken.ch www.myswitzerland.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the April 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Haute Springs: World’s top thermal baths

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For centuries, the earth’s thermal springs have been harnessed for their curative and restorative properties. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out top spa regions across Europe.

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What better way to beat the winter chill than soaking the warmth of thermal baths that spring forth from the bowels of the earth? While India has its share of hot water springs known for their healing properties – from Tattapani, Vashisht and Manikaran in Himachal Pradesh to Surajkund in Jharkhand, thermal baths around the globe have raised the bar on relaxation and rejuvenation experiences. Here’s a list of top international hot spa destinations where the beau monde (fashionable elite) submerge in nature’s bathtubs. It’s time to get out of your thermals and get into one!

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Bad Ragaz, Switzerland
Bad Ragaz, a tiny town snug in the foothills of the Pizol Mountains in Switzerland’s St Gallen Canton, has been a famed destination for health care since Baroque times. The concept of wellness dates back to 13th century, when hunters discovered the hot springs and Benedictine monks built the first bathhouse near the source. Monks risked life and limb to lower people down into the thermal waters of the cavernous Tamina gorge, sometimes leaving them there for a week to heal! Back in the day, only the Russian aristocracy could afford such luxuries. Channeling the pure 36.5˚C ‘blue gold’ waters from a spring deep within the splendorous Tamina Gorge in the Pfӓfers, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is Europe’s award-winning top Wellbeing Thermal Spa and Medical Resort. The warm healing waters form a vast watery oasis comprising the azure colonnaded haven Helenabad, the Sportbad and Garden pool besides a dreamy white public Tamina Therme replete with an outdoor waterfall and panoramic views of snowy peaks.

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A place for blissful wintertime rejuvenation, Bad Ragaz is an ideal sanctuary for personal wellbeing. Indulge in massage and aqua therapies, beauty treatments, specially designed health packages and menus, romantic private couple spa suites and outstanding cuisine in a choice of 8 elegant restaurants (including the Michelin-starred Abestube relaunched as Swiss top chef Andreas Caminada’s gourmet nook ‘Igniv’). True to the vision of its founding architect Bernhard Simon, the Grand Resort retains much of its historic architecture. Bad Ragartz – the triennial art festival virtually transforms the whole place into a sculpture park. Other wonderful distractions include its backyard casino and wine-tours in nearby villages of Malans and Maienfeld, visits to the highlands of Heididorf which inspired Johanna Spyri’s literary children’s classic, winter sports in Pizol’s ski resorts, mountain biking, quaint horse carriage rides and tours in the Schluchtenbus to Tamina Gorge and Altes Bad Pfӓfers (old thermal spa). 2015 marked the 175 Year Anniversary of routing the Tamina waters to the resort where guests have the privilege of enjoying its abundant curative powers on tap or, in its waterfalls, pools, saunas and steam chambers.

Getting there: Fly to Zurich and take the train to Bad Ragaz, 1 hr away.

For more info, visit www.resortragaz.ch/en.html, www.myswitzerland.com

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Bukowina Tatrzańska, Poland
South of the old Polish capital of Krakow on the Slovakia border lies the tiny village of Bukowina Tatrzańska. Tucked at the base of the Tatra Mountains, thermal geysers have been used for their restorative powers throughout the Carpathian range for centuries. But the geothermal health complex at Bukovina Hotel is the largest of its kind in Poland. Thermal waters rich in sulphur, calcium, chloride and sodium are piped from fissures as deep as 2400-2700 m. Rejuvenate in 20 indoor and outdoor swimming pools equipped with hydro-massage, choice of eight saunas including Roman, Finnish, Highlander, Floral and Infrared, besides spa and wellness treatments. With thermal waters ranging from 30 to 38°C, the outdoor pools are popular in winter as well! The adventure sports hub and Poland’s winter capital Zakopane is just 14 km away. Enjoy all things Polish with a traditional meal and highlander music at Bakowo Zohylina Wyznio and pick up unique local souvenirs such as the ciupaga (shepherd’s axe), highlander hat or oscypek (mountain cheese).

Getting there: Fly to Krakow and drive 80km south to Bukowina Tatrzańska.

For more info, visit www.termabukowina.pl, www.poland.travel

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Black Forest, Germany
Wellness has been a longstanding tradition in Germany with health resorts harnessing natural springs and spa towns often prefixed with bad meaning ‘bath’. The invigorating climate, woodland air and therapeutic waters create the perfect recipe for wellness vacations. From iodine-rich salt waters of Bad Bevensen in the heart of Lüneburg Heath to Bad Driburg, a family-run mud and mineral spa set in a nature reserve, there are plenty of other options. Bad Harzburg’s  saline thermal spring wells, the mineral and saltwater spa of Bad Salzuflen, the restorative properties of spring water, Ahr wine & Eifel mud at Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, the erstwhile royal spa of Bad Homburg vor der Höhe and the 150-year-old Bad Reichenhall in the Alps known for treating respiratory illnesses. In Bavaria, get pampered at the mineral spa and golf resort of Bad Griesbach or in the sprawling 120,000 sq m pools at the legendary spa resort Bad Füssing. However, Germany’s largest nature reserve Black Forest, has the highest number of hydrotherapy, climatic, thermal and mineral spa resorts. From the world-famous thermal spa Baden-Baden or salt-water spa and climatic health resort Bad Dürrheim, the Northern Black Forest Spa Route is a 270 km circuit of idyllic valleys, mineral springs, spa towns and health resorts, besides immaculate half-timbered buildings, castles, palaces, monasteries, lakes, coniferous forests, peat bogs and vineyards. Relax in the bubbling waters of mineral baths and peat spa at Bad Rippoldsau, the adventure pool at Bad Wildbad or Paracelsus Spa at Bad Liebenzell.

Getting there: Fly to Zürich, Frankfurt or Stuttgart and drive to Black Forest

For more info, visit www.schwarzwald-tourismus.info, www.germany.travel

Pamukkale Turkey Thermal bath

Turkey
Steamy hamams (Turkish bath), soft Turkish towels and stepping out of a thermal pool into the comfort of a bornoz (thick traditional bathrobe), there’s no place like Turkey for hot water relaxation. The country ranks among the 7 richest places in the world in terms of thermal sources. The presence of seismic faults has blessed the vast country with nearly 1300 hot springs across Anatolia, with temperatures ranging between 20-110oC. Start at the historic capital Istanbul with several hamams designed by master architect Mimar Sinan for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. Many have been restored and modernized to provide a superb hamam experience – Çemberlitaş Hamamı, the five-century-old Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Hamamı or Roxelana’s Bath and Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, part of a historic mosque complex dating to 1500. An hour’s cruise by ferry south of Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara and a short taxi ride gets you to Termal, 11 km southwest of Yalova, a resort popular in Roman times and rebuilt by the Ottoman sultans. However, the highlight is the UNESO heritage site of Pamukkale. Perched on a 200 m high cliff overlooking the plains of Cürüksu in southwest Turkey, the name literally means ‘Cotton Palace’ after the calcite-laden waterfalls and dazzling white terraced basins resembling fluffy cotton clouds. The nearby thermal spa city Heirapolis established at the end of the 2nd Century B.C thrived throughout the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods. Soak in the ethereal crescent basins in pools of warm 35°C water and dream of a once vibrant city full of baths, cathedrals, churches, necropolis and theatre; now in ruins.

Getting there: Fly to Istanbul and Denizli, from where Pamukkale is just 50 km.

For more info, visit https://goturkey.com, www.yalovatermal.com

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Budapest, Hungary
Thanks to a unique geological feature, Budapest sits on over 100 thermal springs that feed the city’s famous bathhouses. It’s called the ‘City of Baths’ for good reason. Budapest is the world’s only capital blessed with thermal waters. Enjoy a unique spa experience at its prime health spa resorts like Four Seasons Gresham Palace or Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget. Take a dip in any of the historic thermal baths in town – the Széchenyi Baths in City Park ranks among Europe’s largest public baths and boasts 18 pools. The century old Gellért Baths, built in Art Nouveau style with a Romanesque swimming pool, is easily Hungary’s most photographed spa. Budapest is also one of the few places to experience traditional Turkish baths built during the Turkish occupation of Hungary in 16th-17th century. Designed with traditional octagonal roofs, domes and pools, the typical Turkish baths at Király, Császár or Rudas Bath hark back to a bygone era where public bathing was not mere indulgence but a way of life.

Getting there: Fly to Budapest via London, Paris, Dubai or Doha.

For more info, visit http://visitbudapest.travel

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of JetWings magazine.

The Art of Indulgence: Etihad Business Class to Bad Ragaz

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Getting there
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

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Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article on the Etihad-Bad Ragaz trip was written exclusively for the blog.

Crescendo: Snowpenair 2014, Switzerland

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ANURAG MALLICK takes the narrow gauge Swiss mountain railway to Kleine Scheidegg to attend a high altitude music concert featuring Deep Purple and Swiss rockers

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Having attended Deep Purple’s ‘Battle Rages On Tour’ in 1995 (their first appearance in India), the prospect of attending another Purple gig nearly two decades later didn’t seem that exciting. Gillan, Glover, Paice and Morse hadn’t gotten any younger. However, what got me hooked was the venue – Kleine Scheidegg, with the backdrop of three spectacular Swiss peaks Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch! This wasn’t just open air; this was Snowpenair! I had heard of music festivals in rainforests and secluded islands, there was Burning Man in the Nevada Desert, but a high altitude music show on snow, hell this was new…

Interlaken, that scenic tourist destination located ‘between the two lakes’ (Thunersee and Brienzersee named after the lakeside towns of Thun and Brienz) was buzzing with tourists. Travellers from around the Bernese Oberland had congregated at Interlaken Ost railway station. The narrow gauge railway breezed past quaint stations like Wilderswil and Schynige Platte to Grindelwald. We hopped on to the connecting Wengernalpbahn train. Soon, Alpine meadows flecked with snow were transformed into an endless sea of white as we pulled into Kleine Scheidegg.

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We disembarked, inhaling the cool and crisp mountain air. The setting was like a Mondrian painting – blotches of red, yellow, blue, green, orange of fluorescent ski clothing against the white snowy expanse. At 13,842 ft, Mount Jungfrau (the Virgin) stood shoulder by shoulder to the Monch (the Monk) at 13,449 ft. As the gates opened and people stomped down to the arena, we slip-slided our way to the VIP enclosure. Unlimited wine and starters got us into the groove as the Lewis-Bowie-Hammer Band took centre stage. Sharon Lewis, the frizzy-haired Big Momma of Soul belted out R-E-S-P-E-C-T with Joseph Bowie on the trombone and Michael Hammer hammering away at the drums.

After a dose of Southern style R&B and numerous references to Ganja, it was time for the local musicians to take over. Marc A Trauffer got the crowd to sing and sway along to ‘Brienzer Buurli’ (Boy from Brienze) and ‘Nit min typ’ (Not my Type). It seemed we were only the klutzes who didn’t know the words to the songs. But the music was infectious and catchy. Then it was Gola’s turn to rock the house. The tattooed musician with a shiny pate whose rags to riches story from being a carpenter to a rockstar was legendary.

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To a world that thought Swiss music was just about Alpenhorns, cowbells and yodeling shepherds, these new artists were giving a definitive voice to the nation. Despite Montreux’s association with its iconic Jazz Festival, Swiss rockers were still a rarity on the world stage. Finally, Deep Purple came on. It was an epiphany seeing the ageing rock stars in Switzerland, a country that had unintentionally given them one of their biggest hits and the most recognizable guitar riffs ever – Smoke on the Water. In 1972 when some joker with a flare gun burnt down the venue at a Frank Zappa concert at the Montreux Casino complex, the band members watched the scene from their room in The Grand Hotel just across the lake!

Soon the Kleine Scheidegg arena transformed into a Japanese karaoke bar as people mouthed the lyrics ‘We all came down to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline…’ with nationalistic pride. It was as if they were singing the Swiss national anthem! But this time there was nothing to fear – no mad arsonist, no rattan ceiling, just the shadow of the peaks and the blue sky above. As a man swayed recklessly with his lit Zippo, I only prayed there would be no Deep Purple song in future ‘We all came down the Glacier’…  

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.