For the past 50 years, Austria has successfully marketed itself as big on dirndls and tradition, lakes, mountains and sugar-sprinkled charm. But one section of the tourist industry has gone elaborately rogue. For some reason, this corner of Europe has developed a series of gloriously incongruous spas. Having a copious supply of thermal water helps.
Hundertwasser Architekturprojekt (22)
Rogner Bad Blumau was designed with no straight lines and where every window is a different shape
From a distance, the Aqua Dome in the Otztal mountains looks like a Bond villain’s lair. At its centre is a giant crystal, which surrounds a series of three pools shaped like giant saucers which pulsate with lights and music. The water, kept at 34 and 36 degrees, contributes a plume of steam. Inside the crystal are further pools, surrounding a Spa 3.000 which has a full range of wellness therapies.
The Aqua Dome in Langenfeld in Austria
Calling on the services of Austria’s most eccentric architect also helps. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is best known for the apartment block in Vienna that bears his name and brings legions of design students to a building that has no straight lines and where floors are deliberately uneven.
Thermal water spa at Rogner Bad Blumau
Hundertwasser brought the same principles to Rogner Bad Blumau in 1997. This spa in Styria uses a source of thermal water discovered in the 1970s. There are now eleven indoor and outdoor pools, overseen by a giant volcano. It may look playful but underwritten by a serious spa that offers ayurvedic-based massages, a hamman and salt grotto.
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Thermal waters aren’t the only excuse, however. Turrachersee is in Carinthia, near Slovenia. Approach this village and all seems typically Austrian until you’re faced with a five storey building, created in traditionally Chinese style. It is part of the Hotel Hochschober which has been run over several generations by the Leeb family.
Arrive in winter and while most of the lake is covered in ice, steam rises over one corner where and you’ll find guests enthusiastically diving in. Underwater heating keeps the water to a pleasing 30 degrees – and there are a series of thoughtful touches, including a heated cupboard at the water’s edge to keep your dressing gown warm and dry while you swim. The Chinese tower, built by Peter Leeb, the second generation to own the Hotel Hochschober, and inspired by a trip he and his wife made to the Far East, is used for tea ceremonies and yoga classes.
‘Locals were initially very worried when he proposed building it, but actually they all agreed that it looked appropriate,’ said his daughter Karin, who now runs the hotel with her husband. And it does; the pitched roof echoing the Alpine-style chalets that surround it.
A room at the Hotel Hochschober
There’s a wraparound charm to Hochschober; all meals are included in the price – and there’s an extensive vegan and gluten-free menu, as well as a hamman and treatments designed by Haki, a long-standing massage therapist at the resort. Rooms are more traditional, mixing modern design with folk influences; Austrian but also otherworldly.