There’s no denying that the Swiss set a fine example when it comes to making time for one of the oldest but most simple forms of relaxation – bathing.
Walking into the steamy mist of Zurich’s Thermalbad spa, built within the former Hurlimann brewery, you can just about make out the families, couples and friends indulging in this time honoured Swiss tradition.
From the street below though, the old brewery looks menacing; a concrete hulk and its dark, towering chimney, glaring coldly down. For 130 years, it was the centre of the Hurlimann dynasty, brewing one of Switzerland’s most popular beers. Although in 1880 it was the country’s largest brewery, a merger with rival beer maker Feldschlosschen in 1996 made Hurlimann’s Zurich premises obsolete.
The site then became fertile ground for the niche boutiques, buzzing offices, inviting restaurants and trendy apartments that sprang up on the property. It also attracted another name that signposts modern industry as much as Hurlimann did in its time: Google established its largest engineering centre outside the US here in 2008.
The genius conversion of the brewery itself into the Thermalbad spa in 2010, alongside the opening of the B2 Boutique Hotel in March last year, has completed the transformation of this former industrial zone, marking it as a neighbourhood that is prising Zurich socialites away from the riverside city centre or warehouse-edgy Zurich West.
Time to take on the ancient bathing ritual at Thermalbad…
Water gushes straight from the city’s natural mountain water source into the maze of pools constructed within Thermalbad’s cave-like depths. With its sweeping arches, rugged stone columns and dark ceilings, Thermalbad’s appropriately preserved interior lends the bathing ritual its rightful, ancient effect, akin to how the Romans may have washed in Bath at the beginning of the millennium.
Clear liquid upon jagged stone; only now, instead of the hops resting in the dark, flames of soft orange light flicker up the wall. The dance is mesmerising, hypnotic as you surrender your body to the water that gives life to what would be an otherwise forgotten cellar. The feeling of resurrecting history is what has made Thermalbad an institution both frequented and protected by locals – we’re the only out of towners here, privileged to be taking part.
So let the bathing begin. We follow a series of signs, like children on a treasure hunt. They take us from steam room to shower, where we liberally apply a seabuckthorn scrub that ploughs away impurities.
Pores detoxified, the next “station” awaits – a bath so hot that you may struggle to stay the suggested eight minutes before wanting to rip off your own skin – but it’s all a build up to the reward of the soothing, invigorating cold pool. Ritual completed, we loll in the expansive bubble pool, before stretching out on the warmed platform to dry off and close our eyes to the sound of the gurgling water.
The photos below – courtesy of Thermalbad – just about do it justice, but don’t convey the warm, intense cleansing atmosphere – you need to experience it for yourself!
Complete your Thermalbad experience with a treatment, such as the Cleopatra beauty massage: a full body milk herbal massage, facial peel and Shea butter mask, with neck, décolleté and head massage. Or really indulge with a Toi & Moi private session in your own candlelit room with five metre high stone ceilings. Bathe in a blend of milk, honey and flowers while sipping on sparkling wine, before a full body massage and canapes.
Experiencing Thermalbad is like a baptism of sorts – you emerge feeling so clean you radiate purity, like a beacon of physical virtue. Take your time bathing, of course, but do not overlook the jewel in Thermalbad’s crown, the rooftop pool. It offers a 360 degree panorama of Zurich, from pine covered hills and snow-covered Alps, to regal clock towers and pointy church steeples. Better still are the bubbles frothing up to your neck, jostling you around like pieces of fruit in a champagne cocktail.
All images courtesy Thermalbad and B2 Boutique.