On the 70-minute journey by train from Zurich airport to Sargans town, I feasted my eyes on the green fields that radiated peace and tranquillity—and perhaps that had to do with sighting so few people en route. My destination was Bad Ragaz, a little town near Sargans, most known for the healing powers of the thermal water that springs from the tamina gorge a few miles upstream. While little known in india, Bad Ragaz draws a steady stream of local and european tourists, most of who head for the spa and wellness centre housed within the five-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz set up about 150 years ago.
Everything you have ever heard about Switzerland is true: it is utterly, utterly beautiful. The air is pure, the water is clean, there’s no noticeable dirt on the roads, even the houses are pretty. People are friendly, speak english and are few in number. No wonder, Switzerland is such a popular destination for millions of indians. I saw so few human beings that I wasn’t surprised to later learn that Bad Ragaz has a population of just 5,500—fewer than indira nagar in Bangalore. And yet, it is just a few minutes away from the modern urban buzz of Zurich.
From the Sargans railway station, the driveway of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is under 10 minutes with fascinating sculptures were everywhere. Coming through the town, I had spotted interesting installations at street intersections and learnt that I had unwittingly landed bang in the middle of the biggest sculpture exhibition of europe, a hugely popular cultural event named Bad Ragartz.
Thanks to this, the usually placid Bad Ragaz was buzzing with activity. Young musicians were everywhere, keeping eager crowds happy. Called Classic on the Street, this music event accompanies the sculpture exhibition and showcases young musical talent. Later in the day, I was pleasantly surprised to see busloads of people arriving with a guide to spend hours just learning about the art displayed in the open. the uniqueness of what I was experiencing prompted me to walk down the narrow, winding little roads dotted with charming houses and unexpectedly stumble upon some contemporary art in wood, metal, stone or even paper—at a crossing, in a corner, or in front of a building. On the hotel grounds too there were several installations calling for a second look.
However, the thermal spring water is still Bad Ragaz’s biggest attraction. Accidentally discovered in 1240, this natural springs’whose water is 36.5°C (the ideal human body temperature) was to become a world-famous spa in later centuries. Monks from the nearby Benedictine monastery found the water to have a healing effect. I also learnt that the natural scientist, physician and philosopher, Paracelsus, who is regarded as the first spa physician of the region, worked there in 1535 and wrote a book on the therapeutic effects of the water. Now the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz has exclusive right to this precious commodity.
I liberally used the thermal baths. A group of young mothers with their babies occupied one pool, the babies having been brought here to learn to swim. there are several pools, both indoors and outdoors, an expanse of over 12,500 sq m in total. the crystal clear thermal water is set at various temperatures in different pools while overhead spouts and underfoot apertures push the water out at tremendous force—giving you a back and foot massage that is utterly relaxing.
Although I display all the zeal of a new convert when it comes to swimming—having learnt it only recently—and have no inhibitions about wearing a swimsuit despite my sorry figure, all courage left me when I reached the sauna. naked only, I was told, no bathrobes or even towels allowed. there were ladies-only timings but even that concession left me squeamish!
I was hungry after the swim and couldn’t wait to get to the resort’s restaurant, Bel-Air. Although spoilt for choice, it was the sensible thing to do to eat healthy—and having heard much about the high quality of fish in Switzerland, I chose salmon with local greens. It was lightly grilled in olive oil and words cannot do justice to the taste and texture of the fish. the food here is delicious.
Plump peaches, dates that melt in the mouth and give an instant sugar rush, at least six types of cheese whose names I have forgotten (but not the taste!) and the glorious, glorious breads. Wellness doesn’t always mean giving up on great food!
I made immediate amends. On my final day, I headed for Zollstube, the restaurant on the premises that serves local delicacies. the chalet atmosphere inside is a throwback on old-world, rural Swiss hospitality, with seemingly rough-hewn tables and benches providing a homely atmosphere. Waitresses dressed in heidi-style clothes complete the picture. the three-cheese fondue was left at our table, bubbling gently, begging to be swooped up by forks holding lightly sautéed vegetables. the aroma—rich and sensuous, is a perfect prelude to the smooth, full-textured, luxurious cheese on the palate. Dry white wine from the neighbourhood proved to be the ideal partner for this life-giving meal.
All this eating must sound scary to someone looking to get fitter on a visit to Bad Ragaz, but i was in for a surprise. I lost three pounds in three days. Dr Christian hoppe, who specialises in sports medicine and rehabilitation and runs the weight loss programme at the Bad Ragaz medical centre, explained that those who wanted to lose weight had to have a certain minimum amount of protein in their diet, whether it came from dairy products or meat. All sugars were to be avoided, including fruits. When I raised my eyebrows at that, he said, “it’s true fruits are good, but not if you want to shed pounds.”
I returned to india with a new awareness of water as a precious thing for the body and overall health, sugars and proteins, a determination to walk (I saw a 60-year-old woman bicycle up a steep hill and then stop to have a hearty snack of cheese and sunflower-seed bread), swim, eat fish and the hope that one day I will be able to return to Switzerland for a trekking holiday.