Nature and outdoors

Why Your Next Wellness Getaway Should Be an Alpine Spa

Autumn promises breezy weather, scenic foliage, better value and fewer crowds across Europe’s Alps, where resort spas pamper with time-tested wellness treatments

Wellness seekers have been drawn to the European Alps for centuries – well before wellness became a global tourism trend. Mineral-rich springs, healing botanicals and fresh mountain air are part of the enduring appeal, as are resort spas that continue to refine traditional therapies, such as whey milk baths, fragrant arolla pine saunas and silver quartzite stone massages. Secluded, yet easy to reach from major cities, our favourite Alpine spas also treat guests to exceptional dining and even art and adventure experiences. Here’s where to find them across Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Italy and France.

Green Spa Resort Stanglwirt, Tyrol, Austria

This historic Tyrolean property has 170 rooms, many with wrap-around fireplaces and private saunas overlooking sheep meadows and Austria’s Kaiser Mountains. The 129,000-square-foot spa is a warren of waterfall caves, fragrant arolla pine saunas, salt grottos, marble steam chambers and numerous thermal baths and pools. It welcomes kids with a water world of 120-meter-long water slides – plus manis and pedis for teens – while a dedicated area lures adults with whey milk baths, herbal pouch massage, cellular regenerating peat wraps and Haki-flow underwater massage (designed to reduce anxiety and popular with expecting mums). A team of nutritionists, therapists, cosmeticians and personal trainers can help with personal goals and in coordinating tennis, Nordic walking, yoga and excursions with Lipizzaner horses from the Stanglwirt riding school. The family who’ve run the resort for 250 years are deeply committed to sustainability: energy comes from a biomass plant that burns bark from local sawmills; wool carpets and natural linens are used instead of synthetics. Foodwise, don’t come looking for new age cuisine made with tweezers. Instead, you’ll find hearty Tyrolean pretzels, air-dried speck and rich cheeses, plus options for vegetarians and vegans. You can even bring home organic produce from the on-site farm shop and bakery.
Price range: $$$
Closest cities: Innsbruck, Austria (an hour by car or 1.5 hours by train) and Munich, Germany (1.5 hours by car or 2.5 hours by train/bus)

Hotel Castell, Zuoz, Switzerland

Deep in Switzerland’s Romansh-speaking Engadine Valley, Hotel Castell is as much an art destination as it is a wellness one. Every September, the castle hosts intimate Art Weekends on its grassy summit in the village of Zuoz. These gatherings encourage small groups to interact with artists during conversations, lectures, informal sessions and impromptu aperitifs. Previous artists have included Tadashi Kawamata, Olaf Breuning and Fischli/Weiss; some have left installations that punctuate the hotel grounds, alongside permanent pieces by Roman Signer and Carsten Höller and a stone tower featuring a James Turrell light show. The hotel’s hammam was the first in the Alps and remains a maze of steam rooms, tepidariums, watery caverns and hammam slabs with lif bags to fill with soap for lathering up. Treatments include Rasul, a mud wrap, and lumbar massages using St John’s wort oil. A standalone timber terrace wrapping around a hillside was designed by Kawamata and includes a reflecting meditation pool, a waterfall window and a small Finnish sauna for two that must be reserved ahead.
Price range: $$
Closest cities: Milan, Italy (three hours by car or train) and Zurich, Switzerland (three hours by car or train)

Schloss Elmau Spa and Resort, Bavaria, Germany

Bavaria was a byword for wellness long before the Romans occupied the region 2,000 years ago. Ancient Celts living here made good use of the alpine lakes and thermal baths, and a spa destination was born. Protected by a nature reserve in the Wetterstein mountains, Schloss Elmau is a quick shuttle run to the slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Seefeld or Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain. The imposing Bavarian castle, built in 1916 by Johannes Mueller, burnt down in 2005, however Mueller’s grandson Dietmar Mueller-Elmau reopened the property two years later. In 2015, the retreat and spa opened a second complex on the grounds, with larger guest suites featuring contemporary European furnishings and high-end amenities – though the views of snow-capped alps are the real showpiece. Six spacious spas, three adult and three family-friendly, ensure a recharge space for everyone, including a spacious marble hammam and a series of infinity pools for soothing post-hike soaks. Treatments include ayurvedic abhyanga (massages with herb-infused oils) and physio floating (a zero-gravity floating treatment to help relieve back aches), while post-workout feeds can include nutritious, luxurious dishes at two-Michelin-starred Luce d’Oro (one of 11 on-site restaurants). Three libraries and a bookshop add some cultural weight, and a salon-like concert hall draws musicians like the Yonathan Avishai jazz trio and readings by authors like Ian McEwan and TC Boyle.
Price range: $$$$
Closest cities: Innsbruck, Austria (60 minutes by car) and Munich, Germany (two hours by car or 2.5 hours by train/bus)

Les Fermes de Marie, Megève, France

At Les Fermes de Marie, the hammam, Jacuzzis, fitness centre and indoor pool overlook meadows in bloom with geranium, wild narcissus, edelweiss, broom and blueberry – and these botanicals are key ingredients in the available spa treatments. The 70-room chalet lies in France’s Mont Blanc massif in the Haute-Savoie department, a 10-minute walk from Megève’s town centre. The chalets’ recycled farm timber and weathered pine walls create a sense of alpine hardscrabble, but interiors are downright cosy, with crackling fireplaces, wall-mounted antlers and a palette of mellow winter greys. The cuisine also celebrates the surroundings, with Alpine comfort classics like silky truffled fondues, gooey raclettes and tartiflettes made with melted reblochon (a local raw cow’s milk) and potatoes. Organic eggs with local chestnuts, Beaufort cheese ravioli and Alpine lake fish soup with fennel, potatoes and saffron are modernised twists.
Price range: $$
Closest cities: Geneva, Switzerland (an hour by car) and Lyon, France (2.5 hours by car)

ADLER Lodge Ritten, South Tyrol, Italy

Not to be confused with Tyrol – its lobbed off northern half in Austria – Italy’s German-speaking province of South Tyrol is where alpine austerity meets la dolce vita. From its capital city of Bolzano, ascend Renon Mountain by cable car, or follow the footsteps of one-time visitor Sigmund Freud along hiking trails that wind their way up the mountain. Opened in June 2019, ADLER Lodge Ritten (one of five ADLER properties) is a constellation of fragrant black chalets and saunas surrounded by birch trees, a lake and uninterrupted views of the Dolomites. Rooms are minimalist, mostly woodgrain, and bathed in sunlight from the panoramic terraces or balconies. The spa, located in the stilted main lodge, offers hay baths; lichen wraps; and honey, arnica and silver quartzite massages. Wellness activities range from forest bathing to yoga in the woods and guided hikes and e-bike rides. Resourceful chef Hannes Pignater whips up degustations of Kohl mountain apple juice and Loacker wines, best paired with wagyu-style beef from Oberweidacherhof village, roasted chestnuts and local honey from the Plattner Bee Museum.
Price range: $$$
Closest cities: Innsbruck, Austria (two hours by train or car); Verona, Italy (two hours by train or car) and Milan, Italy (four hours by car)

Grand Resort Bad Ragaz, Switzerland

In Switzerland’s pinot noir-producing Rhine Valley, Bad Ragaz has been known for the constant 36.5°C degree thermal water discovered here in 1242 and healing visitors ever since. At Grand Resort Bad Ragaz’s spa, Tamina Therme, oversized Victorian oval windows draw your gaze to the source of that magnesium- and bicarbonate-rich water: the toothsome Glarus Alps. Clam shells filled with lava minerals, jet peel facials, caviar treatments and singing bowl massages are among the novel wellness offerings. Grand Hotel Quellenhof, the resort’s flagship property, reopened in 2019 with renovated champagne-hued rooms showcasing Italian granite, modernist chandeliers and parquet walls and floors – and with elevated dining options. IGNIV by Andreas Caminada (one of only three chefs in Switzerland that have three Michelin stars) and Verve by Sven – as in Sven Wassmer, who has a taste for foraged, seasonal Euro-Asia hybrid dishes like dashi (stock) with Swiss kimchi and onsen egg with wild leek noodles.
Price range: $$$$
Closest cities: Zurich, Switzerland (an hour by car or 1.5 hours by train) and Milan, Italy (three hours by car)

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