Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fonte Vidago

Interior design of one of Vidago's buvettes.
Probably does not depict an actual daily occurrence (unless in the fantasy of artist).

Pendulum
The area surrounding the town of Chaves in northern district of Vila Real (Portugal; also known as Trás-os-Monte, beyond the mountains) is reknown for it's thermal baths. 

Romans were already aware of this and had their thermal establishment in Chaves itself. But since the departure of the Romans there was little to entice the avid Portuguese soaker until the pendulum swung the other way.
'Although the therapeutic qualities of thermal water have been known in Portugal for a long time it was only in the 18th century that King Dom Jao officially recognised the therapeutic effects of thermal water (Portugal, n.d.) [1]'.
It took until the latter part of the 19th century / beginning of the 20th century before both Vidago and Pedras Salgadas, small towns to the south of Chaves, became focal points of grand baths. Establishments were constructed which sought to curry flavour with the Portuguese high society combining thermal baths with extensive gardens / parks and high class wining and dining. 



Palatial
Focussing mostly on the establishment of the Vidago thermal baths, the Portuguese website of Águais Termais has an extensive entry which also lists the many advantages attributed to the thermal waters of Vidago. Other info garned comes from this source
'The hot springs of Vidago were discovered in 1863, when the first analysis was carried out, and two years later they became the property of the local council of Chaves. In 1873 the Water Company of Vidago took over the operation of the springs, building facilities and starting work on the Grande Hotel, which was not completed until 1910'.
If a republican uprising had not occurred earlier in the month, the King himself would have inaugurated the Vidago Palace hotel and baths in October 1910. However though the royal family commissioned the 'palace' hotel, they were never in the opportunity to take up residency, thanks to the revolutionaries. Thus it were the lesser aristocrats which formed it's mainstay. 


Stars
Things apparently went swimmingly until the sixties. 
Renovated during the early nineties, it still caters to the very high end of clientèle.  
Tripadvisor notes it's 5-star grade and it's travellers rating feedback also garners the maximum status excellent (this based on 90+ reviews). 
With prices for current bookings for June 2013 ranging from 130€+ (on booking.com; booking.com rates Vidago Palace at 9.4 based on nearly 300 reviews!), this may well be a bargain. But do note that with 5-stars ambiance comes bland atmosphere, see what standard wear one requires partake on the golf course (see photo below).


Artsy
Heavily influenced by the Belle Époque (and Art Nouveau) construction style, the park and buildings evoke an air of former times. If not able to afford a stay (do note that this part of Portugal entertains cheaper prices than for instance the Algarve) a visit is well worth to take in the atmosphere and the peculiarities of the buildings. 

There is the main building itself as well as various smaller buildings including the obligatory buvette which is exquisite from both the outside as from the inside.

 

Excuse
Listed as having a number of in and outdoor baths, it's soaking qualities are less obvious. 
The palace itself offers a huge range of therapies of which thermal water bathing is just one of the many. 
It's also unclear whether outside guests may enjoy some of the soaking possibilities and how. Strange how all photo's are devoid of persons. Begs the question whether the intentions are to use the facilities. 
Anyway it charges a 50€ consultation fee and 20€ application fee before the real fees kick in .... (10 minute 'bath': 20€).

The water qualities according to the hotel website: 
'Water from Vidago has been bottled since 1886 and can still be tasted direct from the source, in its highly concentrated and naturally carbonated form, from one of four spring fountains that reach the surface in the parkland surrounding Vidago Palace. The water’s chemical composition is slightly different at each spring (each housed in an ornate, Belle Epoque pavilion) but all share an exceptionally high mineral content - particularly of iron - which is said to have therapeutic properties. Generations ago, physicians would prescribe specific fountains from which to drink and encourage patients to ‘walk the water’ - by taking their daily constitutional along the forest paths that lead from one fountain pavilion to the next'.
Genuine natural soakers (includes myself) are excused from visiting Vidago alas ...

Notes:
[1] Erfurt-Cooper, P., Cooper, M. (2009) Health and Wellness Tourism: Spas and Hot Springs. Aspects of Tourism 40. Channel View Publications, Bristol, United Kingdom.

2 comments:

  1. I am a student studying abroad in Lisbon, Portugal. I love centering travels around hot springs but am having trouble finding hot springs in Portugal that aren't extremely developed. My ideal hot spring is free and has to be looked for, but I am also into the more rugged, only slightly costly tubs. Do you have any recommendations? marleeglasgow@gmail.com

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    Replies
    1. Dear Marlee, well Portugal doesn't seem to have many if any wild hot springs. What's more many have been taken over by the medical / wellness establishment. That said I do believe there are a couple left ...., but where?
      If your Portuguese is up to scratch you might try to find more from Águas Termais website (http://www.aguas.ics.ul.pt.) it's a tremendous amount of info.
      If you have more time on your hand you might want to head north of Portugal to Galicia. Especially in the province of Ourense are many free soaking possibilities (esp. around the town of Ourense) as well as near Ribadavia or the Termas de Bande. Others on the Iberian peninsula are near Ronda, Granada or in the Pyrenees.
      Whatever part of the enjoyment of seeking a soak is journey there.

      Rick

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