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Summer staycation in Belgium: Spa
Renowned for its mineral springs and thermal baths, Spa was once frequented by the likes of Queen Marie-Henriette, Tsar Peter the Great and King Gustav III of Sweden. Though its glory may have since faded, the picturesque town from which spa centres all over the world take their name remains one of Belgium’s most popular destinations for a day trip or weekend getaway.
See & do
Nestled within gently rolling hills, the town’s centre features a cluster of neoclassical architecture, including the abandoned 19th-century building that once housed the famous thermal baths. A two-minute walk east brings you to Pouhon Pierre le Grand, the city’s main mineral spring, where you’ll find a permanent exhibition of works by Joan Miró. The building’s modern wing serves as a tourist office and it houses the famed 1894 Livre d’Or painting by Antoine Fontaine. On the way out, head past the world’s oldest casino and the city’s main square to the Leopold II Gallery. This cultural centre from 1878 turns into a bustling flea market on Sunday mornings (8.00-13.00). Follow it up with a free afternoon concert in the adjoining Parc de Sept Heures, which also contains a mini-golf circuit (from five years).
From here, a two-minute uphill ride in a cable car takes you to Les Thermes de Spa (pictured, above), the modern thermal baths offering a range of health and beauty treatments, including an outdoor swimming pool with a view of the valley below. Only the three-hour sessions are currently available during the post-confinement period. For an alternative visit of the town and surrounding area, rent a vespa from V’Spa (pictured, top), available by the hour or join a half-day or full-day tour.
Where to eat & stay
For the perfect balance between price and quality, stop by Le Sarani on Place Royale. Owned by racing enthusiasts, this quaint restaurant offers a wide selection of mussels and meatballs à la Liégeoise. For a more sophisticated dining experience, the nearby La Belle Epoque and La Tonnellerie won’t disappoint; the latter is also a two-star hotel. Top off your meal with a dessert at Marc Buchet, where the ice-creams and waffles come covered in a thick layer of freshly whipped cream.
There’s no shortage of hotels in the town, but for the ultimate experience, the Radisson Blue Palace Hotel is linked to the thermal baths by a private cable car and offers a range of spa packages. An alternative out of town bolt-hole is La Cabane du Bois Dormant (pictured, above), a tree house resembling an African hut. Climb a wooden ladder to the spacious forest retreat where modern comforts stretch to a TV and wifi, while breakfast is hoisted up in a basket.
Spa is surrounded by dense forests and hills, which are ideal for hiking. Gaëtan Plein, a city guide and cartoonist who lives in Spa says: “The 8km forest walk towards the Jean d’Ardenne stream and down the Chèvrefeuille trail offers a beautiful view of the Manoir de Lébioles, a manor house worthy of fairy-tales.”
Photos: © V'Spa ; Thermal baths © WBT - Joseph Jeanmart