Although it might be difficult to imagine during the extended lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some public baths and Spas were fully functional in Switzerland during March 2021. I had received a recommendation to visit Les Bains d'Ovronnaz because the thermal baths there were said to have water with curative properties. I was also enticed by the idea of going there during the last weekend of March because there were still good ski conditions in that region. Skiing in Switzerland was certainly safe during the pandemic with the health measures implemented, but the idea of public baths worried me.
I made a reservation at the Hôtel de l'Ardève, which was listed on the tourism office website (www.ovronnaz.ch) as a partner hotel of the Spa and Wellness center at Les Bains d’Ovronnaz. My choice to stay in this small hotel at the foot of the mountains was due to my concerns about crowds of people around the main attraction of the village, which is the Les Bains d'Ovronnaz. I reserved the cheapest available room just a few days before my departure for 229.00 CHF, which is higher than average for a one-night stay at a 3-star hotel.
The road up to the village was very steep and with many tight turns. My hotel was at the highest level of the village, with spectacular views over the valley and to the snowy peaks of the surrounding mountains. Behind the street where my hotel was located there was only undisturbed nature and forest. Upon arrival, I was pleasantly surprised with the convenience of free parking just in front of the hotel entrance. I had arrived at 11 am on Friday 26 March and couldn’t find anyone at the reception. Hearing voices, I discovered a group of people enjoying a meal at the restaurant. One of them was the receptionist, who immediately jumped up from his seat and offered his services. He provided me with a room key and explained how to reach the baths and the ski lift.
I had traveled in my ski clothes and immediately rushed to the ski lift after getting my room (the ski lift was just a short drive from the hotel). There were many cars in the parking lot, but no people around. There was not a single person waiting at the ticket office or even for the ski lift, and it felt a bit strange being the only one there. At the ticket office I was sold a day pass for 49 CHF, which was not as expensive as day passes in most other Swiss ski resorts. I put on my skis and got on the ski lift alone. As my chair moved upward over the forest at a very steep angle, I was quickly able to absorb the beauty of the local area. The wide slopes were absolutely empty, but I decided to proceed to the very top of the mountain as I always do at the beginning of a ski day.
Changing to the next ski lift, I finally noticed a few people on the slopes who seemed to be lost and even reluctant to ski. The last ski lift that would take me to the top of the mountain was a platter lift, which is not my favorite one because my legs don’t get well rested while being pulled uphill. In any case, I grabbed the hanger and started to ascend. It was a long ride and it became very windy towards the end, but I finally saw more people skiing on both sides of the ski lift. At the top, the panorama was magnificent. I got so excited taking photos and videos of the 360 degree panorama that I could not feel my fingers anymore because of the freezing cold wind. When my iPhone stopped responding to my touch on the screen, I realized that it was the time to put on my gloves and start skiing.
The slope was thrilling with very few other skiers, so I was able to fully enjoy it with wide carving turns. The snow conditions were great, allowing my ski edges to hold while being hard enough let me gain speed. I reached the bottom too fast to fully appreciate the surroundings and returned up several times on the same lift.
Descending further appeared to be more challenging than it seemed from the chair lift. Because the lower ski area is well protected by the surrounded mountains and accumulates not only lots of snow but also plenty of warmth from the sun, the snow there was deep and wet. Now I understood why I had seen almost no people skiing here. Luckily, my touring skies were designed to enjoy this kind of wild snow and I enjoyed cutting through the high piles of heavy snow all the way down to the parking lot.
Getting back into my car, I realized how tired my legs were and I could not think of anything else but the thermal baths and a sauna. Upon arriving at the hotel Les Bains d'Ovronnaz, I parked in the underground garage and walked up the stairs to the reception (avoiding the closed space lifts). In the lobby of the hotel there was a long line of people waiting to receive their bathrobes for the Spa. I took a place in the line and spent about half an hour waiting for my turn. Finally, my bathrobe was provided to me and I proceeded to the changing room. It was a mixed changing room for both men and women with endless rows of lockers and several changing cabins. It took me some time to find a free locker with a key, and that had me wondering about how many people might already be inside.
Hotel Les Bains d'Ovronnaz has two independent areas for leisure, one is the Spa with upscale design and facilities and the other area is with the thermal baths or pools and saunas. Since the weather was sunny and warm, I went directly to the heated outdoor pool. Masks were not required there and I almost forgot for a moment that we were still in a pandemic environment. The pleasure of that experience is difficult to describe, but I really enjoyed the warm water with jets massaging my tired muscles while observing the snow covered peaks of the scenic mountain surroundings.
The water had a pleasant fresh smell, probably from being recirculated and disinfected by UV. People kept a distance as best they could until it became really crowded in the pool. At that point I decided to explore other areas of this thermal paradise and moved to the sauna, which was located outside of the main thermal bath complex and had a glass south wall so that the magnificent panorama was observable from inside. On the door of the sauna it was stated that not more than 2 people at a time were allowed inside. As soon as I entered the sauna, one of the attendants came to verify the number of people in there. It was very pleasant to relax in the heat of the sauna while observing the magnificent panorama through the glass wall. Sadly, there was no snow outside of the sauna so I could not jump into it to cool down afterwards. Walking around, I found two other saunas on the first floor of the complex, but there were several persons waiting in line to get in. The rule of maximum 2 persons per sauna was respected, but created waiting lines.
The Spa of the hotel Les Bains d'Ovronnaz was overall very impressive. There were plenty of facilities that are not always found even in a 5-Star luxury hotel Spa. I tried them all and felt like a new born afterwards. Feeling totally satisfied and relaxed, I returned to the changing room. Inside of my locker everything was upside down. Someone had obviously been in it, but nothing was missing. I didn’t complaint about this incident, but decided to be more careful with my valuables the next time in public places.
Arriving back to the Hôtel de l'Ardève, the restaurant had already opened for dinner. I didn’t feel like changing into dressy clothes for dinner, and just entered in my ski clothes; however, I wasn’t aware that it was a gastronomic restaurant with exceptionally good quality food. Tables were set with an authentic Swiss touch providing a comfortable environment. My sportive appearance didn’t appear to offend anyone and I felt absolutely welcome and relaxed there. The menu was not inexpensive, but I enjoyed a wonderful vegetarian meal and then moved back to my cozy room on the top floor of the hotel.
The moon that evening was almost full, and reflected its bright light on the white mountains tops. It was one of the best nights of sleep I ever had, and during the next few nights at home I still slept longer than usual and had uplifted spirits.