A spa break that has plenty of bottle

The water at Evian-les-Bains takes 15 years to absorb its health-giving minerals, but then it's put to good use, says Andrew Eames

Standing on the southern shore of Lake Geneva last week, I found myself facing a fusillade of façades of sumptuous belle époque buildings, backed by magnificent mountain scenery, including the distant peak of Mont Blanc.

Around me, wealthy Russians in fur hats were sashaying along the prom towards the casino, being carefully ignored by well-coiffed Parisiennes; old money doesn't like to rub shoulders with the nouveau riche.

Both, however, had been drawn here because of something that is actually, at its source, available free of charge. And "source" is the operative word because, despite its distinctly Swiss appearance, this is the French spa town of Evian-les-Bains.

In our house we have a regular argument about the freshness of water. When it's been standing in a jug for an hour or two on the table, my partner insists it is no longer good to drink, so she goes back to the tap to get more. However, my personal view is that water wasn't born yesterday, and so its freshness is not going to be much affected by standing around for a couple of hours.

I was reminded of that debate while walking up the slope away from the manicured prom and its cream-cake architecture towards the Source Cachat, the spring which provides the mineral water we all know by its home town's name. Usually only available at a price, and in the supermarkets of 143 countries, here in the Avenue des Sources you can take your empties to the spout in the wall, as I did, and fill them up as often as you like. I'm happy to say that plenty of locals were doing just that when I was there, full of belief in the water's curative properties.

But what they were getting was far from fresh; Evian's official line is that the water coming out of that spring has spent 15 years percolating down through various geological strata from the hills.

Fifteen-year-old water may not sound appealing, but that's extreme filtration for you, and it's how the water manages to assimilate the cocktail of minerals that makes it particularly health-giving. Ever since it was first put on the map back in 1789 by an ailing Marquis de Lessert, who claimed it saved his life, Evian's speciality has been helping people with liver and kidney problems. People still come here on doctor-prescribed cures to drink and bathe in it for weeks on end.

Usually, those clients clutching prescriptions head for Les Thermes lesthermesevian.com), a special, medically oriented spa building which is currently undergoing renovation and which will reopen in the spring. But that's not the glamorous end of the town's business, not where the Russians, the Parisiennes and their dogs, and I, are staying. Because these days Evian's international profile is more about healthy pampering than water-drinking, and its glamorous turn-of-the-century palace hotels, the Royal and the Ermitage, have their own spas and health-oriented restaurants. This is where the ladies in big hats with little dogs take their tea under the chandeliers, and try to ignore the wealthy Russian children rushing about.

I was staying in the Ermitage, a little less chandeliered than the Royal, and although Evian wasn't exactly rammed down my throat, it was there whenever I turned round. In the spa I sat in Evian Jacuzzis and then had it rubbed all over me in Evian body scrubs, before repairing upstairs to drink alcohol-free Evian "mocktails" in the bar.

So while the Evian of today may not be quite the fashionable resort it once was, it is still blushing with good health. It's a place to come to feel a whole lot better about life, while gazing down across immaculate lawns and Japanese gardens and out over Lake Geneva, and wondering what riches lie on the other side.

So Near, so Spa

Fresh Water: Vittel and the Vosges

The Vosges Mountains in eastern France (west of Strasbourg) are a hotbed of hydrotherapy. The best-known names are Contrex, and Vittel.

Vittel certainly looks fabulous; its elegantly colonnaded spa (a 20-minute massage here costs €45/£37) was designed by Charles Garnier, who was responsible for the Paris Opera. It has three springs, each with different curative properties, although one, Hepar, is so heavily mineralised I found it hard to drink. The resort has several hotels, including a Club Med, where the emphasis is on sports and leisure.

Contrexéville, which feels a touch more refined, lies six kilometres to the south-west, and is known as a slimmer's spa, with most of its hotels offering carefully tailored menus.

Club Med (08453 670670, clubmed.co.uk) has week-long all-inclusive packages at Vittel, starting in April, from £674 (transport not included). The best access is via TGV to Nancy or by flying into Strasbourg. Regional information from tourismevosges.fr.

Salt Water: Roscoff

One of Europe's oldest seawater spas is in Roscoff, out towards the western tip of Brittany, where the bracing air is refreshed every split second by Atlantic winds. It's good value, too: a hydromassage costs €37.

The Roscoff Thalassotherapy centre (thalasso.com) offers a variety of packages. I spent a half day sampling a salt-water hosedown, a seaweed bath and a seaweed wrap. After all that I staggered out mightily refreshed, albeit smelling a bit like something that was washed up by the tide.

Brittany Ferries (0871 244 0744, brittany-ferries.co.uk) has two-day cruise-and-stay breaks in Roscoff from £70 per person, including crossing. Local information on roscoff-tourisme.com.

Travel Essentials

Getting There

Access to Evian is via Geneva airport; packages are offered by Expressions Holidays (01752 878045; expressionsholidays.co.uk) from £1,139 per person, including flights, car hire and seven nights' B&B at the Hotel Ermitage.

Further Information

eviantourism.com.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

    £26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Day In a Page

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border