Imagine rising one morning after a good lay in, slipping into some comfortable clothes and strolling through a beautiful park to take the healing thermal waters of a grand spa town. You may enjoy a mud bath, bathing in the hot spring waters or drinking the waters (although this would be strictly for medicinal purposes as the taste is not the reason most people would choose for ingesting them!).
This is a common activity in picturesque Vichy, located on the banks of the river Allier in the Allier department in the north of the Auvergne region in France. The famous Vichy name is reflected in the grand and beautiful spa buildings and parks of this attractive town.
The Romans were the first to recognise the healing properties of Vichy water but the town fell into obscurity after this and it was not until the 17th century that the spas were resurrected. The spas were frequented by the French nobility in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. One of the most prominent and frequent visitors was Napoleon III, positively influencing the towns status among the elite. Since the Second Empire the town has been a popular retreat for countless celebrities.
The golden era of the town came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and much of the buildings from this period have been restored and are listed and protected, maintaining a rich part of France’s architectural heritage. A fantastic range of architectural styles are exhibited in the town reflecting the design influences of the period, from Byzantine to Alpine chalets. The Parc des Sources, designed under the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 18th century, is the epicentre of the towns spa district, and connects the main springs. On the south edge of the park is the Grand Casino-Theatre which opened in 1865. Originally housing various assembly rooms and gaming halls it was renovated and extended at the turn of the 20th century to include a theatre and opera house. The sumptuous Art Nouveau interior and Belle Époque façade overlooking the park, to which it is linked by a beautiful flight of steps, make this one of the grandest buildings in Vichy. Today, the original gaming hall has been extensively renovated to provide modern conference facilities.
The six Vichy thermal springs contain primarily bicarbonate of soda and carbonic acid and the waters are used to treat a variety of conditions such as diabetes, migraine, digestive disorders and rheumatism. The hot springs provide the basis for the Vichy drinking cures. The waters in the Grand Grille rise at a temperature of 40ºC/104ºF from a depth of 1,000-1,200m. The Chomel (41ºC/106ºF) spring was captured in 1750 by a doctor and bears his name. A third hot spring, the Hopital (33ºC/91.4ºF) rises in the pavilion behind the casino. The Parc is a ‘cold’ spring (24ºC/75ºF) which rises in the Parc des Sources. The cold spring, the Lucas (24ºC/75ºF) is another spring named after a doctor, although he bought rather than discovered the spring in the early 1800’s. The third cold spring is the Celestins (21.5ºC/71ºF), named after the Celestins monastery founded in 1410. It is the waters of this spring which are bottled and sold commercially worldwide. All six springs are brought together in the Hall des Sources, the symbolic centre of the spa. One of the largest of the thermal establishments is the Centre Thermal des Domes which, in keeping with its surroundings, is of architectural note. The gold enamelled roof tiles over the central dome and roof cupolas are one of this buildings many stunning features, designed in the neo-Moorish style by Charles Lacour. Up to 2500 people can be treated in these pump rooms each morning.
The beautiful Auvergne region contains many other spa towns providing a variety of treatments and cures. Among these are La Bourboule, Le Mont Dore, Royat, and St. Nectaire, each towns waters being best suited to a different type of treatment or cure.
So, if you require a healthy retreat in beautiful surroundings, then Vichy, or any of the other spa towns in the Auvergne, could be the perfect place for you.
by Mary Smith