Features

Bad Ragaz: Hills alive

2 Mar 2020 by Becky Ambury
Grand Resort Bag Ragaz

Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is a wellbeing destination that redefines indulgence

For a clue about what to expect of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, look to the name. Not the “Bad” bit, rather the “Grand”. This Swiss wellbeing and medical resort in the foothills of the Alps enjoys a setting that reinvigorates purely by sight. Wooded peaks slope down towards vineyards, while the fresh mountain air is a revelation after London’s diesel-saturated streets. Add to that the presence of a natural thermal spring in the Tamina Gorge, a 15-minute drive from the village of Bad Ragaz, and you have all of the ingredients for a world-beating spa resort.

Benedictine monks discovered the spring in 1242, and the first bathers had to endure a 70-metre descent into the gorge in straw baskets before they could take a dip in its 36.5ºC water – not the most relaxing start to a spa visit. In 1840, the waters, known as “blue gold” for their precious healing powers, were piped into town, turning Bad Ragaz into a spa destination (bad means bath in German). Then, just over 150 years ago, the Grand Hotel Quellenhof was constructed, accepting its first guests on July 10, 1869.

That property was to become the first part of the puzzle that makes up the extensive Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, which comprises a further three hotels – Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz and Palais Bad Ragaz within the resort and the more rustic Hotel Schloss Wartenstein, perched on a hillside on the edge of the village – plus two golf courses, two spas (a public one and one for guests only), a medical centre, eight restaurants, four bars, a bistro, a café and a sushi takeaway. Taken together, they form an intriguing hotchpotch of architectural styles dating from different eras, all interconnected. Getting lost is almost inevitable and always interesting.

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz

Luxurious revamp

Located only 90 minutes by train from Zurich through spirit-lifting, classically Swiss scenery, the hotel reopened in July last year following a SFr 45 million (£35.2 million) refurbishment under the helm of Swiss interior designer Claudio Carbone. The revamp included new furniture and furnishings, dramatic lighting with a natural theme and thermal fountains installed throughout.

The building’s striking exterior makes a memorable first impression, and the lobby does nothing to contradict that. Capacious in size, it features gleaming marble so shiny you could use it to apply make-up. Two curving staircases lead up to the rooms, with a 16-metre-high chandelier fashioned out of blue and white glass baubles spilling down between them through four floors. Beyond, an open-plan bar and seating area with fires beckons guests further inwards. It is elegant, opulent and comfortable, with just enough bling to satisfy its well-heeled clientele.

While smaller (and cheaper) rooms are available in the other properties in the resort, the most basic accommodation in Grand Hotel Quellenhof are the Junior suites at 50 sqm, all of which have been refurbished. Floors are made of burnished Swiss walnut, while glimmering velvety and silky fabrics and wall coverings in neutral and blue tones mean the temptation to bed in and do absolutely nothing is strong. The marble bathrooms feature glittering gold floors, Japanese-style toilets and TVs embedded in the walls.

Junior Suite

The pinnacle of the hotel’s revitalisation isn’t here, however, but rather in Memories, one of two new restaurants from acclaimed chef Sven Wassmer, the resort’s culinary director. Showcasing modern Swiss Alpine cuisine, it celebrates local ingredients and serves them up in a beautiful, peaceful setting. Descriptions of the food were elaborate and I sometimes felt I was reading from Private Eye’s Pseud’s Corner. “Pull beets from the plump, black soil, brush them against your trousers, take a bite,” one menu said, but the food itself drowns out any hyperbole. I enjoyed a tasting menu of delicacies, including pigeon leg topped with shaved mushrooms, and celeriac somehow magically transformed into exquisitely delicate, wafer-thin autumn leaves atop a tender, rich pigeon breast.

The hotel already has a Michelin star, awarded to IGNIV by Andreas Caminada, a cosy, convivial eatery with an emphasis on fun small plates, such as an upmarket take on chicken nuggets and barbecue sauce, and a sweet stall brimming with fancy handmade treats and chocolates. You can fill up a small bag to take away with you, should you have room after dessert. For less extravagant fare, there is Verve by Sven – dedicated to health and wellbeing. This is also where breakfast is served.

Sparkling spa

As you may have grasped, indulgence, not asceticism, is the order of the day at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. To wit, there is an astonishing 6,050 sqm of spa facilities for the use of hotel guests, and that excludes the separate (and unmissable) Tamina Therme public baths that are also located on the complex, with their own sauna village.

Facilities at the hotel include the ornate, historic Helena pool with its whirlpools and jets, decorative columns and arching ceilings. There is also a Finnish sauna, a steam bath and sanarium, and a non-nude salt sauna. During my visit, I enjoyed a blissful morning bobbing around like a lady of leisure in the liquid glamour of the pool, which was never anything but peaceful. Afterwards, I braved the nude section of the spa, also thankfully empty, roasting myself in the sauna before dousing myself in the icy plunge pool – an exhilarating experience that was worth the pain, honest. Signature treatments include the excellent 75-minute Tamina Flow massage, which involves a variety of movements for the joints alongside massage techniques.

Thermal spa

While staying within the resort complex is tempting, the lure of the Swiss scenery is hard to ignore. I headed out on an electric bike into the “Heidiland” region, named for Johanna Spyri’s well-loved children’s books, and cycled past vineyards, through villages and up and down hills, following the line of the turquoise Rhine river as it flowed over white pebble beaches, where locals lounge in the warmer months. This landscape is particularly fine at sunset, especially in the knowledge that a delicious meal at one of the resort’s restaurants awaits.

Other outdoor activities include hiking, exploring the region’s wines, or a trip to see the origins of the spa in the Tamina Gorge, where a spellbinding light show is projected on to the limestone walls throughout the day. Then there is the quaint village of Bad Ragaz itself, which is worth a visit for its chocolate box cuteness.

To get such a wealth of facilities in such a glorious, natural setting is rare. The Grand Resort Bad Ragaz manages to offer a package of everything the weary business traveller could want for an indulgent, recuperative break, bringing glamour and a thoroughly good looking-after to one of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Junior suites in the Grand Hotel Quellenhof in April start from SFr 895 (£700). Rates include breakfast, use of the thermal spa area and Tamina Therme, and daily fitness and relaxation lessons. resortragaz.ch

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