Architects Pilgrimage

29 June, 2013

I am on a train from Zurich to Chur traveling through Switzerland’s countryside, it is December, snowing and we are en-route to the architectural Mecca that is Therme Vals. Therme Vals is a boutique spa located high and remote in the Swiss Alps designed by the architect Peter Zumthor.

Arriving at Chur, I ask at the visitor’s information desk how to visit the shelters for the roman archaeological site? She points to a map gives me a key. I ask what the key was for and she replied, “to open the museum door.” We made the short walk to the museum; I unlocked the door, entered and turned on the lights. Whilst we were there, intrigued people began to enter and enjoy the space and we waited until they’d left before we locked up the museum.

The next morning [having already visited Zumthor designed old peoples home in Chur pre-breakfast] we board a train from Chur to Illanz. The train stations are rural, without platforms and very beautiful especially in the snow. We then take the bus from Illanz train station to the remote village Vals [on the hour from 0700 - 2100 hours]. So eventually after 2 bus rides, 1 flight and 2 train rides we arrive at our destination of Vals. There are different packages available at the spa with differing levels of with accommodation, meals and treatments. We stayed in the Selva Stucco rooms, chose the Restaurant Chessi menu and had mud pack treatments, all were very good choices.

I would highly recommend the daily night bathing in silence and particularly attending the weekly Gregorian Monk chantings. This experience was the defining moment of the trip. Whilst bathing in silence pre-breakfast, you start to hear a faint humming and you feel small reverberations through mountain rock, then through the water and finally infiltrating through your body - all from the chanting. It gradually gets louder and more intense as the procession enters the building. The finale involves the monks actually enveloping the central pool in which you are bathing. As we sat there in naturally heated spring water, with views across the snow capped mountains in a building made from mountainous rock with monks chanting around you, I couldn’t help feeling that this was a truly spiritual experience. The mystic sense of place you experience whilst bathing in here in this beautiful contemporary architecture is truly memorable. For me it’s the best spa in the world and one I urge you to visit in your lifetime.