Thermal Baths, Alpine Cuisine, and Hiking in the Swiss Alps: The 4-Day Weekend in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland

View of Lake Walen in Switzerland
Courtesy of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz

The Swiss are doing something right. Correction: They’re doing everything right. Aside from watches, chocolate, and cheese, Switzerland is famed for being downright idyllic. It’s got bucolic green spaces (Swiss Plateau); regal peaks (Swiss Alps and Jura mountains); and glacier-fed, cerulean-blue lakes—not to mention magnificent waterfalls, some of which jut out of hanging valleys. Its towns and villages are the physical embodiment of the most charming fairytale books. And residents enjoy a halcyon sense of bliss. It’s everything you’ve heard and more. But when planning a trip, we urge you to explore a part you’ve probably never heard of—a small municipality some Swiss natives haven’t even heard of: Bad Ragaz. You won’t soon forget it.

Helena Pool at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Courtesy Image

Bad Ragaz is situated in eastern Switzerland, just a stone’s throw away from Liechtenstein, sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland. It’s only about nine square miles, with a population teetering on the verge of 6,000, and it’s home to a famed natural hot spring and the five-star Grand Resort Bad Ragaz.

Once you fly in to Zurich, follow signs for Zurich Flughafen train station. The train ride is roughly an hour to Bad Ragaz, then a quick car ride to the resort. Download the Swiss Railways SBB app for timetables and transfer info; it makes public transportation a breeze. Pro Tip: Consider purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass if you plan to travel around Switzerland. It gives you unrestricted access to train, boat, and bus transit with 3-, 4-, 8- or 15-day travel options, as well as up to 50 percent off some mountain excursions and free entrance to over 500 museums.

Quellenhof King Suite at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Quellenhof King Suite at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz Courtesy of Grand Resort Bad Ragaz

Where to Stay

The resort comprises multiple hotels. The Palais Bad Ragaz dates back to the 18th century and retains much of its historic charm as the site of the governor’s offices of the Pfäfers monastery. The rooms have regal Baroque flourishes, like original stucco marble wall panels and furniture. Just note, to preserve its historical significance, there’s no air conditioning. The Grand Hôtel Quellenhof is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The property underwent five months of renovation (an estimated $45.5 million) to elevate its elegance, transcending the hotel into more modern-day luxury. Architect Claudio Carbone kept the traditional aesthetic, but lightened things up with natural materials and a neutral palette, adding a new top suite to the resort: the King Suite. It’s palatial, especially if you book the King Floor. A spacious balcony overlooks the Falknis mountains, and the bathroom is spa-like, with a whirlpool bath and steam shower. The private butler service and hand-blown crystal chandeliers aren’t bad either.

Elsewhere in the resort, you’ll find nature-inspired installations and lighting fixtures. In the lobby, a 53-foot chandelier fixed to the ceiling cascades down between four floors. Lights alternately glow in 2,600 spheres—made by Czech glassblowers—to mimic a waterfall. Near the new restaurant verve by sven, you’ll find a wine cellar with another unique fixture. When guests clink glasses, the lights twinkle. These features and the “live” green walls adorning the main floor of the lobby lend some warmth to the hotel’s gleaming marble, chrome, and gold.

verve by sven Bar with signature Strawberry Gimlet cocktail
verve by sven Bar with signature Strawberry Gimlet cocktail Courtesy Image

Where to Eat and Drink

The verve by sven restaurant further epitomizes Grand Resort Bad Ragaz’s new direction, led by culinary director Sven Wassmer. Healthy, seasonal, sustainable fare the likes of confit Norwegian cod with potato carbonara and mussel broth await you in the airy space. The breakfast is sensational. Enjoy hemp protein banana pancakes, fluffy scrambled eggs with smoked mountain salmon and crunchy sourdough bread, or chia linseed pudding al fresco. By night, post up at the bar—another architectural masterpiece—that serves a variety of alpine-inspired cocktails. Try the Beeswax Old Fashioned (“complex, waxy, liquid gold” made with beeswax, Beebread Bitters, and Irish whiskey) and Vert Jus 0% (“spiced and acidic highball made with pink pepper, grapefruit, jasmine, and juniper verjus)—best enjoyed as late-night tipples.

Memories also serves up contemporary cuisine, keeping to minimalist sensibilities. The menu changes with the seasons, but is strongly influenced by dairy farming since it’s so integral to the territory. IGNIV is the spot to go for those who want Michelin-starred quality. Andreas Caminada’s concept for the restaurant centers around comfort and shared enjoyment, so chef Silvio Germann has curated a few sharing sessions with wine accompaniments in lieu of a classic menu. The 20-course meal unfolds in a steady rhythm. Highlights include egg royale with leek and potato mousse and brown butter; beef tartar with airy potato chips; venison saddles with plum; pork belly with onion; and a banquet of desserts including puff pastry, soufflé, and ice cream, and that doesn’t even include the restaurant’s candy store loaded with fruit jellies, pralines, montélimars, and canelés.

For another unique experience, venture off the resort and head to Hotel Schloss Wartenstein. The restaurant boasts the best panoramic views in the area. Don’t miss the fried scallop with lobster sauce, gnocchi with duck’s rilettes and dried figs, or the risotto of the day.

Tamina Therme at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz
Tamina Therme at Grand Resort Bad Ragaz Courtesy Image

What to Do

Thermal Spa: Grand Resort Bad Ragaz is a health and wellness destination with offerings ranging from physical therapy to dermatology, but the main attraction is the natural hot spring. The public thermal baths are free for guests of the resort. The Tamina Therme area is massive, with warm- and cold-water pools both indoors and out. You can lounge next to the Garden Pool in the warmer months, or soak in the mosaic-tiled Helena Pool when winter settles in. They’re all filled with the Tamina gorge’s water, which, because of its mineral content and unique temperature (it’s the same as the human body), is said to be intrinsically healing.

After, make your way to the saunas. Mosey through the kelo-infusion sauna, a classic Finnish sauna made from a unique form of pine that emits a fresh, resinous scent. The Nera ritual sauna replicates the Tamina Therme gorge. Here, you can receive pirts rituals, which originated in Latvia hundreds of years ago. The sauna attendant will massage your body with a scrub and natural oils, perform energy flapping with tree branches, sing folk songs, and lead you through more treatments involving wicker bunches and herbal feet baths. There’s also an herb sauna, in which you can meditate and partake in incense rituals and “goodnight infusions” for total relaxation. Book a signature treatment, like the Tamina Flow Massage, or something alternative and holistic like the Inner Balance Chakra Massage to complete the experience.

Water Tasting: We know what you’re thinking, but, yes, you really can pick up on the nuances of water just like you can with wine. Meet with a water sommelière at the water bar in the Spa Suites lobby. They’ll walk you through a tasting, educating you on how a water’s minerality influences taste, what it pairs best with, and how your inclination toward a specific one could indicate a deficiency.

Guided E-bike Tour: Convene outside of Tamina Therme at the resort’s e-bike station, where you’ll embark on a tour of the neighboring Heidilands. You can bike along the Rhine River, climb through the winding streets of Sargans, venture into trails for some fun descents, and cut through neighboring vineyards. It’s a beautiful way to tour the surrounding area. Our guide, Mirjan, was kind enough to bring us on a sunrise hike the following day, too. Word to the wise: Always ask locals about their favorite activities, restaurants, and bars.

Hiking down the side of Gonzen mountain at sunrise
Hiking down the side of Gonzen mountain at sunrise Brittany Smith

Sunrise Gonzen Hike: You’ll need to coordinate transportation (e.g. rent a car or befriend a local) to drive up the winding road to the start of the hike, on the northern side of the mountain. Gonzen’s part of the Appenzell Alps. On a clear morning, before dawn, you can pick your way up the trail by moonlight. It’ll take roughly 50 minutes to get to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with views of the Rhine Valley at Sargans. You can sign the travel journal at the top and watch the sun rise. Bring coffee and croissants to enjoy on the side of the mountain, just as the sun begins to spill over the horizon.

Pizol Panorama Mountain Trail: This is another beautiful trail—less of a hike, more of a walk. You’ll need a car transfer to Pizol Gondola Station. From here, take the gondola to Pardiel, then the chairlift to Laufböden. Follow signs for Pizol Panoarama Höhenweg, where you’ll begin the 3K walk. Snap photos of Tectonic Arena Sardona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as Rhine Valley and Lake Constance. The “Tagweidlichopf” viewpoint has killer panoramic views to boot.

Tee Off at Golf Club Bad Ragaz: This is the only resort in Switzerland that has two of its own golf courses, and Golf Club Bad Ragaz is one of the oldest in the country. Play a round at the 18-Hole PGA Championship Course or 9-Hole Heidiland Executive Course (or both). The maintenance of the course is impeccable, and the mountain views aren’t half bad either.

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