Two weeks ago I made my second trip to Vals, and spent the night in the Hotel Therme adjacent to Peter Zumthor's thermal baths. What an experience.
Driving to the village of Vals is an experience in itself. Heading south in my rented Smart Car from Ilanz, off of route 19, it's just under a half hour of twisting, climbing roads. Small 4 or 5 house villages dot the way; most of these have absoultely jaw dropping mountain sides all to themselves, and you, the traveller headed to Vals, only get to enjoy them for those brief few seconds as you pass. Keep your eyes on the road though, it wouldn't take much to fly off one of the many sharp turns down the hillside.
You pass through 3 or 4 tunnels, all have one side open to the opposite hillside, sometimes a natural spring rains down over it, giving the sense of driving under a waterfall. At one point you'll pass a fantastic waterfall across the valley, over a hundred feet tall.
Sometimes traffic comes to an abrupt halt, sitting there for several minutes, but its not because of the mass of vehicles, its due to the locals walking their cows along the road. This 2 lane road is shared by drivers and livestock, which you'll notice once you reach your destination in the form of cow droppings on your tires and fenders :)
As you finally reach the village of Vals, your first pass the Valser bottling plant, the local spring water company. This water comes from the same springs that feed the thermal baths ahead.
Not far after the bottling plant is the hotel and baths. Parking on the main street you have a brief climb up some steps to check in. You are treated to your first taste of the thermal bath here. Valz Quartzite, the locally quarried stone that lines the walls, floors and ceilings of the baths, also paves the way up to the hotel, in similarly laid strips of stone.
You come face to face with the solid stone walls and large openings of the baths on this path. Through the windows you can see the feet of people relaxing and enjoying the view.
I stayed in the cheap rooms, but still had a south facing view of the whole town of Vals and the thermal baths from my window.
The rooms were very simple. a small kitchen area, a plain bathroom, two single beds on either side of the room that both fold up into sofas that face each other. No television, no distractions. You come here to relax and rewind, you have yourself, the baths, and the view. Here's a link to a room/condo for sale in the hotel, Only $70,000.
Night bathing is for hotel guests only, as is early morning bathing. I went in just before 10pm. I'd only been there in the day before, the night is en ethereal experience. As you swim out into the open air pool, the water throws the submerged lighting all over the walls, the whole place twinkles with constantly moving lights, even though dimly lit. It was nearly a full moon that night in the eastern sky... but a full moon behind an alpine ridge creates a massive, intimidating black mass across the valley. A solid dark wall, it looks like a frozen tidal wave of shadows with the moon behind it.
I slept like a baby after spending an hour in the baths. I woke up around 7:30am to the clinging of cowbells; the herd was starting its morning trek down the road I drove in on.
I spent the first hour waking up in the baths, the sky was bright but the sun doesn't rise over the mountain ridge until 11am or so, direct sunlight is limited in Vals. After showering and packing, I spent a little while meandering through the village. I'd seen a large dam further southwest in the valley (Zevreila Dam), but couldn't reach it on any road I found. (google image below)
The view north over Vals
I headed out around 11am, off to Zumthor's Chapel in Sumvitg, a short drive from Vals, and then on to Luzern.
What an amazing place to experience. If you are ever able to swing through, take your time, turn off the radio and tv, slow down, and take it all in. You'll leave a whole new person. My first trip here taught me how special this place is. My second trip was like pressing the reset button on life.
My previous blog post on Vals