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Taking the Cure at Leukerbad Spa

By guest writer Bob Bestor

A lovely range of indoor and outdoor pools and spas, in a beautiful setting, make Leukerbad a popular choice for spa seekers and holiday maker in general.

For many more suggestions about what to see and do in Switzerland, Germany and Austria, consider subscribing to the monthly Gemtlichkeit Travel Letter.



Enjoying the spa waters at Leukerbad is a tradition dating to the ancient Romans and even further back.  Almost 1 million gallons of hot mineral water gush out of the springs in this area every day.

Add to this the beautiful scenery, the crisp mountain air, and the network of hiking trails, and you have a lovely destination with a varied range of attractions.


Our own spa experience

To many on this side of the Atlantic — certainly including this writer — "taking the waters" is a mysterious, almost occult, European ritual.  How, the unsophisticated American mind wonders, can procedures that all seem to involve one’s body being pushed, pulled or pounded by streams of air, water or by a person with incredibly strong hands who pretends not to understand cries of pain in English, heal anything?

Such strange rites surely have their roots in medieval dungeons.  "Therapies" like Bain hydrolectrique, Bain ou sufureux and Interferator sound suspiciously as if they might be used to obtain the truth. More sinister yet is Drainage lymphatique manuel complet.

A few years ago, at the Hotel Les Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad, Switzerland, we took the opportunity to find out under the most ideal of circumstances.

My therapist —  Mr T., as I came privately to refer to him — ushered me to a small, tiled room where I would undergo Bain bouillonnant (Sprudelbad, in German).  Doffing my fluffy, hotel-supplied terrycloth robe, but still wearing swimming trunks, I climbed into a tub of warm, murky water, there to lie suspended in the contoured vessel, my limbs arranged just so. My head rested on a rubber pillow at the edge of the tub.  Mr T. positioned himself at its end, facing me.  Grinning, he begin to manipulate the various dials, switches and valves.  Soon the tub began to vibrate and emit a series of noises that at once reminded me of a steam train leaving the station and the Blue Angels flying at Mach 1.

The first sensation was of air or water — perhaps both — slowly at first, but with gathering force, directed at the bottoms of my feet.  The pressure next found my ankles and worked its way along the contour of my body.  It ended with a rather satisfying stream that traveled the length of my back. Once this rotation of feet, ankles, kidneys, elbows, etc., was completed (in  about 30 seconds) it began again.  This went on for about 20 minutes. Strangely, the surface of the water was virtually undisturbed.  Quite an unusual and agreeable experience, but not one I imagine that has appreciably extended my life .  Twenty minutes of Sprudelbad set me back about $25.

Mr T. was a robust, 60ish man with a bushy grey mustache who spoke no English and little German.  We communicated in grunts.  During my "tare-a-pees" he must have grunted "Gute?" every three or four minutes.  Whether it was a machine pummeling me, his hands fine tuning my ribcage, or jets of water and air attempting to bore through my body, his question was always the same: "Gute?"  In my limited German I varied my replies among "Ja, Gute," "Sehr Gute," "Wunderbar" and "Schne." Occasionally, I was even telling the truth.

A less enjoyable procedure employs a forbidding looking apparatus which the "interrogatee" faces while seated.  Each leg from the knee down is placed into separate metal containers on the floor, and each arm into identical vessels about the size of roasting pans.  These are affixed to a machine bristling with knobs and various digital counters, two of which were to rivet my attention over the next 10 minutes.  The idea, apparently, is to increase circulation in the joints by directing alternating streams of warm and cold water into the four pans.  My cycle was one minute of warm followed by seven seconds of cold.  That’s Alpine cold. It is a process that cannot possibly be designed to relax.  Yes, at first it felt great, but that precious minute of warm water soon ticks away and the seven agonizing seconds of cold must be endured yet again.

A digital indicator which displayed the temperature of the water quickly commanded my full attention. My running thought commentary went something like this: "34, 35, 36, (Celsius), ah good, nice and warm but I could stand it a little hotter, oops, 30, 27, 20, 10, 7. Lord, that’s cold."

After one or two cycles, like Pavlov’s dogs, I began to anticipate the changes (ok, ok, so it took me a while to get the correlation between the numbers and the pain). But they never came close to breaking me. Fuss-und Armwechselbad was about $20.

My wife reported less salubrious results.  One of her therapies was a CO2 bath. She sat in a tub of the murky but health-giving waters draped with towels so only her head was visible.  No noise, no rush of air or water, just a few bubbles occasionally rising from the warm liquid.

She also was favored with Douche de Vichy ou d’Evian — a $28 number — which consisted of a massage while being sprayed with either Vichy or Evian mineral water.  An acquired taste, perhaps.

There were other adventures.  A fancy battery charger-like device kneaded my back with little black suction cups, and Mr. T. did it further damage during a massage that demonstrated steel rod fingers with which I have no doubt he can rearrange internal organs without the necessity of surgery.

The best part of our "cure," however, was its epilogue.  Swathed in robes and bath slippers, we padded the few steps to the warm, sparkling little outdoor pool, with its fabulous view of the sheer rock wall looming over the city.  There we luxuriated for 20 or 30 minutes. When we emerged from the water, a pool attendant met us with large, heated bath towels.  Wrapped in these and our robes, we sank exhausted onto chaises and capped our therapy with – since we're on a health kick – a cold beer.

Now in it's 18th year of publication, Gemtlichkeit is a monthly travel newsletter sent via regular mail to European travelers with a special interest in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Each issue features a different destination with recommendations on what to see and do plus hotel and restaurant reviews. Other stories include country hideaways, suggested backroads drives, scenic rail routes, regional cuisine, off-the-beaten track travel finds, plus consumer advice regarding where to find the best deals on hotel rates, car rentals, flights, etc.

Subscribers have free access to an online archive of hundreds of stories on the subject countries as well as a database of some 900 hotels reviewed and rated by the editors.

We have negotiated a generous discount on Gemtlichkeit subscriptions for Travel Insider readers.

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Originally published 26 Feb 2004, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this copyrighted article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to Bob Bestor as original writer and link to

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