The Austrian Alps are identified for his or her visually dramatic strolling trails. However equally alluring are the splendid spa-hotels the place hikers can loosen up aching limbs in a maze of saunas and steam rooms, all scented with eucalyptus. And no spa is extra labyrinthine than the radioactive caves I discovered myself (bare) in in Dangerous Gastein.
This elegant spa city was constructed on a rocky perch beside a spectacular waterfall within the declining years of the Austro-Hungarian empire: within the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, belle époque lodges have been tapping the radon-rich thermal waters to supply healing stays to bourgeois guests.
As taking the waters fell out of vogue, many of those gems have been boarded up, regardless of Dangerous Gastein being a buzzing ski vacation spot in winter. The city may have copied many different ski resorts, significantly these in Switzerland, and allowed new buildings to be knocked up everywhere in the mountainside. As an alternative, in its post-lockdown redevelopment, it has made positive all “new” lodges are in conversions of present buildings. Even the Comodo, which advertises itself as a brand new design lodge, is a transformed sanatorium. And 1 September noticed the opening of the Grand Resort Straubinger, whose stable, spherical arches ooze Habsburg grandeur. Three extra lodges quickly adopted.
Dangerous Gastein is served by common direct trains from Salzburg and Vienna. Although near the city, the station is 100 metres above most of it, so the resort is constructing the Vertical Hyperlink, a tunnel with shifting walkways to permit pedestrians to keep away from climbing steep, slender streets.
On the finish of one other tunnel is essentially the most extraordinary “wellness” centre. The Gasteiner Heilstollen guarantees to rid guests of any niggling aches and pains by nuking them in its radon-rich caves. If that sounds alarming, there are lots of radon-rich elements of the UK, notably Wales and the West Nation. The administration says a go to is protected, because it entails a really low publicity to radon; a few tenth of the radiation of an X-ray. Much less well-evidenced are the claims of well being advantages, though many Austrian guests get a visit right here on their medical insurance. This nation of wellness followers takes spas very severely.
On arriving on the Gasteiner Heilstollen, my husband and I first had an appointment with a health care provider. I had needed to ask him whether or not the caves would possibly assist my eczema – pores and skin complaints and joint ache being among the many illnesses for which staff on this outdated silver mine observed sudden enhancements. Nonetheless, my husband, who works for the NHS, insisted on interrogating him in regards to the considerably shaky proof base, throwing our physician on the defensive, so we have been quickly out of time.
We have been nonetheless cleared for remedy, seemingly due to our OK blood stress readings, and sat in dressing robes within the ready room watching an academic video displaying a smiling practice driver in a bikini taking guests to completely different zones within the mountain.
Then the practice itself pulled up, not pushed by the bikini-clad girl. We stepped into one in every of its carriages and some folks on stretchers have been loaded on to one thing extra akin to a sleeping automotive. And so we began our journey in direction of the centre of the Earth.
The temperature within the ready room had been nice. Cool even. Because the practice headed deeper into the mountain, we felt first heat, then distinctly sizzling, and shortly – casting prudishness apart – we and our fellow company have been stripping right down to our swimsuits within the carriage.
Our vacation spot – about 1½ miles into the mountain – was a collection of tunnels off the practice tracks with beds on both facet the place we lay on our towels, took off our swimming costumes and, properly, soaked up the radiation. It was a reasonably nice expertise – somewhat completely different from absorbing photo voltaic rays – and at common intervals a health care provider with a towel round his waist got here to examine on us. He reassured us that the dose was too low to be harmful. I feel I should have nodded off, because the 60 minutes appeared to whiz by.
Then it was again on the practice and right into a 25-minute therapeutic massage and a drink within the leisure rooms, all included within the €84 introductory supply.