The Hautes Pyrenees has always been popular for the best thermal spas. In the 19th century, the region had some 30 hot spring spa resorts. A well-established tradition, royalty, politicians, and leading ‘faces’ of the day, including Victor Hugo and Edgar Degas, would travel for miles to ‘take the waters’. The Hautes Pyrénées was a popular spot because unlike the Alps, its slopes were lower and therefore warmer, whilst fed with the same mineral-rich water.
In 1907 the French government passed a law which enabled spa towns to run casinos so ‘pleasure domes providing miracle cures’ sprung up. But all that changed post the Second World War when the government decided that it could no longer finance spa treatments as part of the national healthcare scheme. Many of the casinos closed down, but the area is still known for its therapeutic waters, rich in sulphur and other beneficial minerals, and there are still some of the best thermal spas in France to visit.
The Spa Sensoria in St. Lary was our first stop, accessed conveniently straight from our room at the Hotel Mercure through an underground passage. It is a rather large spread out Spa so it saves times to get full directions from the hotel before setting off. Sensoria offers a number of different environments around the central pool area, designed in a naturally lit canyon setting. You can enjoy the solarium, swim in the canyon or revive yourself under a waterfall.
The thermal baths are recommended for those suffering from rheumatism as well as for general relaxation.There is also a zen-like spa therapy centre where visitors enjoy high-quality individual care, body wraps, and massages. Sensoria uses beautiful products from the Nuxe range. In addition, there’s a beauty salon and a well equipped fitness centre.
Les Bains du Rocher in Cauterets is a beautiful indoor/outdoor Spa and is often voted the Best Spa Resort in the Hautes-Pyrenees. It is one of the oldest Spas having welcomed visitors since the 14th Century. From deep within the earth, the thermal waters emerge at a temperature of 53° to 60°. They are rich in oligoelements, silica and sulphur, which make treatments more effective and successful.
The naturally warm thermal waters flows in a lagoon which is delicately lit by natural light filtered though a glass dome, or you can relax outside, surrounded by a breathtaking panorama of mountain views. There are a mixture of very effective, and at times, very powerful currents and massaging jets placed at different heights and angles so every part of the body can be massaged.
There are also jacuzzis, beds and bubble banquettes so you can really float away at your hearts content for several hours. But we recommend getting out of the water every twenty minutes or so to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. There is also a steam room, sauna, and chromotherapy room for the moments out of the water. ENT, respiratory problems and rheumatology are the main therapeutic focus at Les Bains du Rocher.
In the next valley to Cauterets, and close to the amazing UNESCO heritage site Cirque du Gavarnie, is the resort of Bareges. As a ski resort this connects to La Mongie and Pic du Midi as part of the Grand Tourmalet region – one of the best in the Pyrenees. It is also home to yet more wonderful thermal waters at another of the best hermal spas, the Cieleo Spa, also the highest in France.
Here the highly alkaline waters are rich in sulphur, sodium, silica and a substance known as Baregine, found only in the local area. It is reputed to be strongly anti-inflammatory and antibiotic, especially effective in treatment of rheumatic problems and a section of the spa is devoted to varied thermal cures.
Meanwhile a two hour pass allows access to the ‘well-being’ section, an attractive domed area with a selection of powerful jets, bubbles, relaxation areas – all with the bonus of phenomenal mountain views.
Aquensis Spa in Bagneres-de-Bigorre literally is a ‘cathedral’ of well being with its stunning interiors and vaulted structure, mixing woods, marbles and glass to create a haven of bliss. There is a large recreational thermal pool with therapeutic jets, water curtain, counter currents, a relaxation pool with massaging jets and underwater music. You can also find an oriental relaxation/tea area with an exceptional hammam, Finnish saunas and a panoramic roof terrace with jacuzzis and solarium.
Each the thermal spas is totally unique in its location, layout and treatments offered, but the common theme is the quality of the thermal waters, and after visiting all three Spas, we felt all stresses and anxieties literally melt away, and there was definitely a feeling of being more centred. Our Editor, who is coming back from a bad ski injury, also felt a massive improvement re the flexibility of her injured knee.
Thermal waters have been used for thousands of years to heal arthritis, joint pain and burns, and also to relieve the skin of certain afflictions. Thanks to its purifying effect and antioxidant properties, thermal water is the go-to product for those with atypical skin types. And if you have dry or sensitive skin or if you suffer from eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis, the waters will greatly benefit you.
All four of the best thermal spa resorts above can comfortably be visited over the course of a few days, so we highly recommend combining them all. You may comfortably do this from a single base like the lovely Hotel du Lion d’Or in Cauterets (see review here) or as a tour enjoying stopovers in lovely traditional local towns like St Lary, Cauterets, Bareges and Bagneres-de-Bigorre. An added beauty is that they are all located in a spectacular an all year-round destination and can be combined with excellent skiing in the winter (see feature on Pyrenees skiing here) or mountain sightseeing, activities and hiking in the summer.
For further information please visit: www.pyrenees-holiday.com
For information on the region – summer or winter – visit Hautes-Pyrenees Tourism
For details of a winter sports holiday in the region read our feature here
For the Hotel Lion d’Or in Cauterets read our review here
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Hautes-Pyrenees Tourism