Baths in Saillon and Leukerbad (Switzerland)

The German Wellness Association describes wellness as “Living Healthy with Pleasure”. Wellness is more than just passive pampering. It is a health concept which serves to promote fitness and prevention. It includes aspects about a healthy lifestyle, e.g. relaxation, physical activity and healthy nutrition.
According to the Swiss Society for balneology and bioclimatology the many thermal resorts in the Valais region of Switzerland rate high in environmental and other benefits. The mineral and therapeutic elements of the natural springs are widely recognised.
Dating from ancient times, health and wellness from thermal baths using geothermal springs and sea water was widely developed and used by the Romans. While “taking the waters” was long reserved for the powerful and rich including people from the upper middle class, today many ordinary people have access to thermal baths for health and wellness. Several have specialised medical facilities providing a vast range of treatments.
Baths and Saillon
With a Neolithic, Roman and medieval past, Saillon is in the district of the municipality of Martigny, Canton of Valais, Switzerland. Its well preserved medieval village has a 1000 year old turret and many other attractions for visitors and curists alike.
The Baths at Saillon have existed since Roman times. Situated between Sion and Martigny, the region’s capital, the thermal centre is nestled in the mountain foothills surrounded by vineyards. A short walk from the medieval village, the modern centre provides a range of facilities in and outdoors with hot thermal pools, saunas and steam baths. Many medical and related ailments are also treated. The centre offers a separate adult space with jaccuzzi, relax, massage and beauty facilities and a gymnasium.
It also offers accommodation, restaurant and social facilities and a wide range of local historical and nature trails can be explored. There is a traced walking itinerary to the spring source at Gorges de la Salentze that also serves other thermal centres.
Saillon’s local hero is Joseph-Samuel Farinet (1845-1880) a sort of Robin Hood, a money forger, whose legend has brought fame to Saillon well beyond Switzerland. A Vineyard of Peace, smallest in the world, was created in 1980 by Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeline Renaud. More than 300 world known personalities, Pilgrims of Hope, have visited and cultivated the tiny vineyard as volunteers towards the Farinet Fund that is used to support many humanitarian and cultural causes. His story and legendary link to Saillon is recounted in a separate text.
Baths and Leukerbad At 1141 metres above sea level, Leukerbad is in the Canton of Valais in the south-west of Switzerland. It offers a wide range of relaxation options and activity programmes amidst a breathtaking range of majestic peaks. Leukerbad is also a popular ski resort renowned for its superb views. Its thermal springs date from Roman-Helvetian times.
From a list of important dates in the history of Leukerbad, the name “Boez” was used for the first time in 1229. French was the spoken language when Leukerbad became part of the town Leuk in 1200. In 1315 the oldest document in the Leukerbad municipal archives mentions the baths (via, qua itur ad balnea). From 1449-1460 a mule trail was built between Leuk and Leukerbad. In 1478 the mineral water springs and baths became the property of the bishop Sitten (Jost von Silenen). The first inns were established. The place acquired a new name: Balnea leucensia, thermale leucenses or “Baden”.
Centuries ago people were aware of the therapeutic effect of the thermal water and undertook the arduous journey to relax and recuperate in the thermal baths. Still today 3.9 million litres of thermal water (up to 51 degrees) flow from the springs and feed thirty thermal pools. The springs in Leukerbad mainly contain calcium sulphate minerals, i.e.gysum. Warm gypsum water alleviates rheumatic and neurological conditions and is beneficial after accidents. It also has a diuretic effect and counteracts constipation.
In the sixteenth century seven avalanches destroyed Leukerbad and visitors stopped coming. The ownership of the baths went to the Werra family (“Werrabad”). In 1682 the commune acquired ownership of the thermal baths. Following a further avalanche in 1719, Leukerbad was rebuilt on the right side of the Dala Gorge.
The Russian scientist Mazomousky published a geological treatise on Leukerbad. In 1829 an avalanche wall was built followed by a second since which time the village has been protected. The mule trail helped construction of thermal baths and several hotels and inns were built. The village population was 619 when the“Chemin de Fer Electric Leukerbad” was established in 1908.
From the eighteenth century Leukerbad received many visitors of renown including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1779), Guy de Maupassant (1877), Mark Twain (1878), Pablo Picasso and Paul Val?ry (1933) and writer James Baldwin (195l and 1953).
Within short distances, Leukerbad offers a variety of spa programmes monitored or carried out by specialist doctors or therapists. The Leukerbad rehabilitation centre is accredited as a Swiss Olympic Medical Centre by the Swiss Olympic organisation. The centre runs a sports medicine clinic for sport rehabilitation programmes at all levels.
Burgerbad is the largest alpine thermal spa in Europe with many outdoor baths, pools, bubbling water beds and fitness facilities. An enclosed area descends to a darkened grotto with unfiltered water at 43 degrees direct from the mountain spring. Foot baths with hot and cold waters are nearby. The public space also offers children’s wading and kiddie pools with play facilities and equipment including water slides and a high toboggan.
Leukerbad’s communal indoor thermal swimming pool adds to baths and thermal facilities in other places, including hotels, offering wellness programmes. The mountain resort is famous as a training destination for altitude training to a height of 2,400 metres. Its sports facilities provide target-oriented training both in terms of fitness and technique. As one of Switzerland’s five Olympic training bases, Leukerbad offers Swiss athletes ideal conditions to prepare for the Olympic Games.
At its Sportarena, the resort provides a great range of sports all year round from ice skating, squash, tennis and badminton, gym, safe climbing and an indoor football pitch. Table tennis and pool are included in the list of indoor sports on offer.
From spring to autumn, an impressive thermal canyon walk path leads to Dala Gorge. At almost 600 metres, the thermal spring trek takes between thirty to forty-five minutes at least four metres above water level. The trail stretches over three kms through the village. It is accessible to wheelchair participants who are accompanied.
Ita Marguet, January 2010
Note: Acknowledgement is given to sources used in preparation of this text. It relates to a fuller text on Health and Wellness: Baths and Saillon, Switzerland (Ita Marguet, January 2010) and a visit to Leukerbad, Switzerland, December/January 2010.