The original town of Spa, from which spa centres all over the world took their name, is actually located in the south east Belgian province of Liège, in the heart of the beautiful lush forests of the Belgian Ardennes.
Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century, made the first reference to the town when he mentioned the Sparsa Fontana in his 37-volume Natural History, a work that aimed to “set forth in detail all the contents of the entire world”. In the first half of the 16th century the town became famous as a health resort after Henry VIII, who was occupying the city of Tournai at the time, championed the curative powers of Spa’s waters. Royalty (among them Charles II and Peter the Great of Russia), statesmen and aristocrats from all over Europe flocked to the town in search of an elixir, and by the 18th century such was the flow of wellheeled visitors that Spa became known as “The Café of Europe.” In the 19th century, so many of these visitors were British that some of the streets were given very Britishsounding names, such as Avenue du Lawn Tennis and Route du Balmoral, and one of its 200 springs was named after the Duke of Wellington who frequented the town along with Disraeli. British gamblers even had their own casino, The Vauxhall, and one of the luxury hotels of the day was the Hôtel Britannique, where James Joyce once stayed.
Today, Spa is still famous for its waters, some which are bottled and available in UK supermarkets in the forms of the blue bottled Spa Reine, or the redbottled sparkling Barisart, but it is also receiving a lot of attention for its recently built Thermes de Spa, an ultramodern thermal centre located on the top of a hill directly overlooking the picturesque town. This beautiful modern spa facility, spectacularly designed in glass and wood by one of Belgium’s foremost architects, is equipped to provide up to 35,000 treatments a year to those with heart and respiratory problems or rheumatism. Facilities include two large heated circular indoor and outdoor swimming pools with hydromassage jets, each heated to a blissful 32°C, so that you can sit out in the exterior pool overlooking the woods even in cold weather, as well as Hammams, Jacuzzis, relaxation rooms and an infrared lamp area. Treatments range from bathing in carbogaseous water in brightly polished copper tubs to soaking in glorious mud baths containing rich peat originating from the High Fens of Spa. A more conventional beauty centre offers face and body pampering, and a Mother-Baby institute, which runs five-day packages for mothers and babies up to six months will help new mums regain their shapes while getting babies relaxed at the same time.
The Thermes de Spa is directly linked by glass funicular to the newly opened Radisson SAS Palace Hotel, a chic interior-designed 120 room hotel which also offers its own spa facilities and treatment rooms. The hotel complements the already existing Radisson SAS Balmoral and guestrooms all have minibars, bathrobes, modem points, personal safes, trouser press and tea and coffeemaking facilities. It is located right in the centre of the pretty town, and makes an ideal base for exploring the many other attractions the town has to offer, such as shopping in the many boutiques or at the Sunday flea market, golf on the excellent course of the Royal Golf des Fagnes, or long walks and excursions in the forests and marshes of the Ardennes where many of the natural springs can be visited. Not forgetting of course the excellent restaurants and the prestigious Belgian F1 Grand Prix which takes place every year on one of the world’s most exciting racing tracks at Spa-Francorchamps, attracting hoards of visitors from every corner of the globe.