Thermal water with all the power of fire

Franz-Josef Julier likes to take an early dip – he often bathes at eight in the morning, and not just because of everything there is to contemplate at this time of day. “I feel revitalised after every bathe, it sets me up for the day”, says the head of the thermal spring guild who knows all about the beneficial effects of this “wonder water”.

What nature has given Leukerbad – in addition to the sublime, awe-inspiring mountain backdrop with the steep face of the Gemmi – borders on favouritism. Every day, 3.9 million litres of thermal water flow from its hot springs at temperatures of up to 51°C – the largest volume in Europe. The many different ways in which the local facilities make use of their water means that sport freaks will feel just as happy in Leukerbad as wellness lovers, those in search of peace and quiet, or families.

A walkway to the spring

“Thermal water is not the same everywhere” – Julier is adamant about this. Visitors from Italy especially – as well as elsewhere – make a point of coming here because of the composition of the health-giving water: alongside sodium, strontium and iron, it is rich in calcium and sulphate and has a remarkable fluoride content. The water strengthens the muscles and improves joint lubrication, thus helping alleviate osteoarthritis, acts as a diuretic and stimulates the digestion. Julier lets the gentle massage jets at the Leukerbad Therme soften his back, keeping it supple, while contemplating the topic of water and miracles of nature.

He can’t remember whether it was while bathing or over a beer in the evening at the Leukerbad Therme bar: in any case, he and his friends decided that visitors should be shown the actual hot springs. A thermal spring walkway was needed. That was a good 15 years ago. “Bathing and hiking make an ideal couple.” At that time, Julier was leader of the local community and he set up a water group that would later evolve into the thermal spring guild. “We know a lot about the thermal water here and we wanted to share that knowledge with a wider audience.” In 2003, the International Year of Fresh Water, the walkway was ready – and what a walkway it is, allowing even wheelchair users to go deep into the Dala Gorge, past sheer walls of rock. The trail brings visitors 600 meters into the gorge, face to face with the power of water, past moss-covered rock faces to a 35-metre waterfall. “That’s the spot I like best. The way the water gushes out of the ground is nothing short of a miracle.”

Mystical water

Writers and poets such as Mark Twain or Goethe used the wonderful natural setting of Leukerbad as a source of inspiration. That source continues to be tapped today, and so the thermal spring guild is never short of new ideas. Together with the guild’s 256 members, Julier aims to build a Kneipp facility and to turn the springs that feed the foot baths in the village into an experience.

There are many water-related topics. “The Leukerbad Therme offers a unique bathing experience with its Aqua Mystica, where the water almost appears to be on fire, and its champagne breakfast. The latter even managed to impress an old sceptic like me, who tends to not get too excited about such things.” Enjoying breakfast with friends amidst floating wooden boards is something different even for the dyed-in-the-wool bathers around these parts.

A hiking tour through Dala Gorges in Leukerbad is always a mystical experience.

Green heat for the village

“My grandmother told us she fetched warm water from the village fountain to do the washing up. Today, we have an ingenious system for recovering energy.” The 51-degree thermal water passes through a geothermal heat converter and so heats up normal cold water. This is used for heating and for the water supply to various hotels and thermal baths. Steep access ramps to indoor car parks also remain free of snow and ice in winter as the thermal waste water from the Lorenzbad is channelled underneath.

Franz-Josef Julier is a man of action. Every year, he helps out at the shepherds festival, when the farmers drive their sheep down from the steep slopes of the Gemmi to the Daubensee lake. On 27 June 2015, he will set up banqueting tables at the cantonal competition for young Swiss wrestlers, before watching the action in the sawdust ring. “The water, the visitors, our cliffs – all of these make it a privilege to live here.”

Time to really relax

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Relaxation at the thermal baths of Leukerbad, wellness in Valais, Switzerland