While”lounging” at a rehab hospital in France, I’m reminiscing this time last year. I was beginning a voluntary stay in a totally different part of the French health care system: a French thermal spa.
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. Full of life and style, she made her grand entrance 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.
A Tour and a French Thermal Spa
To ready myself for the tour and the cure, I had to learn something about why the French Thermal spa is so popular.
Saint-Paul-Le-Dax and it’s 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 were first to discover 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 here 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 pack 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-Vilde-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 she was considered by many to be the “real” queen of France. Born into one of the noblest house 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 Corneille, Racine and La Fontaine.
French thermal spa experience: Dinner fit for two Queens
French Thermal Spa Experience: Next stop
Saint-Bertrand-des-Comminges: Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) Association