The town of Spa is perhaps best known for its Grand Prix racing circuit and for its globally known mineral water brand, “Spa”, which has been bottled in the town for over 400 years. Perhaps more touching is that its namesake water therapy treatments are known throughout the world. Not many destinations on the planet have given a new word to the dictionary, but Spa is one of them and is honored as a UNESCO world heritage site candidate. Even in Roman times, Pliny the Elder wrote of the water’s healing qualities. It was in the 12th century that an iron master from Liege discovered a spring in the hilly forest landscape that eventually led to Spa’s becoming an established resort for iron–rich water.
The town began attracting visitors and became a favored wellness escape for the 16th- and 17th-century beau monde. Spa then became known as “the café of Europe”, with grand royals such as Peter the Great giving it even more celebrity. Today, the historic resort town has a stylish yet accessible selection of exclusive spas. Evidence of the town’s illustrious 18th-century past is everywhere you look, with iconic art nouveau architectural flourishes in the Maisons de maîtres and the tall townhouses whose balconies are adorned with flamboyant wrought iron swoops.
Spa is quieter than some other spa towns and visitors are, more often than, not locals who come to stay in places such as the Radisson Blu Palace, with its funicular ride straight to the Thermes de Spa, a modern complex of state-of-the-art spa and treatment rooms.
Les Thermes de Spa, is a modern complex of pools sourced from the local Clementine spring and is heated naturally to 33C. Water jets and Jacuzzis abound, with a fabulous outdoor section surrounded by nature. The connection with the surrounding countryside is probably what makes Spa so magical. The complex here has huge windows looking out on stunning scenery. There is also an in-house center offering a variety of beauty and well-being treatments.
Spa is a great jumping-off point for countryside walks. Paths carving through deep forests surrounding Les Thermes and into the valley below. There are also 10-mile hikes through peat bogs and mountain bike trails for the more adventurous.
Cuisine is also something Spa does well. The town is full of cozy restaurants serving stews, croquettes, and game dishes, often with sauces infused with local berries, and the local beer, Bobeline, which is given a distinctive flavor by the mineral water.
Many comments on the town’s sleepy feel. In contradiction to its championship-racing course, the pace is slow, and there is a sense that everyone has a shared aim: to relax. After all, people have been doing that here for hundreds of years.