A French thermal spa experience is an adventure this ex-pat couldn’t resist. So the Barefoot Blogger is off for a tour through the Pyrenees and a cure.
Since moving to France, I have met some very interesting people. Few are more entertaining than Nevenka. Serbian by birth, she has lived and traveled all over Europe, Asia, and the US. She speaks five languages fluently. I was introduced to Nevenka at a “Hen Party.” For those who have never heard of such, a Hen Party is a bridal shower. Nevenka arrived at the Hen Party like the diva she is. She made her grand entrance full of life and style — with a flourish and a song.
When Nevenka suggested I accompany her on a visit to Saint Paul Les Dax for a week of relaxation and a “cure,” I couldn’t possibly turn her down. The trip would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure. Certainly a story for the blog.
France and the “Cure”
To ready myself for the tour and the cure, I had to learn something about why they’re so popular in France.
Saint-Paul-Le-Dax and its neighboring city, Dax, have fifteen thermal spas and a thermal hospital where 60,000 spa therapy patients visit each year. The spa resorts specialize in rheumatology, phlebology, and fibromyalgia. Chemical vapors in the water help relieve asthma. The Romans first discovered the restorative benefits of the local water and silt from the Adour river that flows through Dax. The city’s early name was “Aquarius Augustae” in honor of Julia Augustae, who sought cures during her father, Emperor Augustus’ reign. Thermal spas have natural, warm (64 degrees centigrade) spring waters, mineral waters, or clays.
It took centuries for the Dax area to claim its premier spa therapy status. The emergence of the railways in the nineteenth century brought masses of patients to the cities in the Landes area of France. In the 1950s, medical thermal spas and therapies began being funded by the state.
French thermal spa experience: The trip to the cure
Our journey to Saint-Paul-Les-Dax started mid-morning when I arrived and parked my car at Nevenka’s home. When I saw the stuff she’d packed in the back of her SUV, I knew this was no ordinary road trip. In addition to a Nespresso and special lights for the hotel apartment we would share, there was champagne, a box of wine, and “gourmet” sandwiches.
With her customary flair, Nevenka arranged for us to stop overnight along the six-hour route through the Pyrenees in Villeneuve-de-Rivière. L’hostellerie des Cédres to be exact, the seventeenth country home of Françoise Athénaïs de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise of Montespan, better known as Madame de Montespan.
Madame de Montespan was the mistress of King Louis XIV of France. She bore him seven children and was considered by many to be France’s “real” queen. Born into one of the noblest houses in France, Madame de Montespan appeared in Louis’ life when she danced with him at a palace ball hosted by King Louie’s brother, Phillippe I. Her downfall came because of her involvement in the Affaire des Poisons. Claims against her ranged from murder to worse, perhaps because of Louis’ new affair with another beauty. Never tried for her alleged transgressions, Madame de Montespan retired to a convent, given a pension of a half-million francs by the King. Before her death, she was respected as a benefactress to the arts, befriending the likes of Corneille, Racine, and La Fontaine.
French thermal spa experience: Dinner fit for two Queens