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Bad Blumau: Austria's Most Whimsical Spa

If you make the 90-minute trip south from Vienna to Blumau, or the slightly shorter trip from Graz, through the green rolling hills and blond fields of Styria, you'll come to a dip in the road, a little town, and one of the most marvelous sights you have ever seen: Bad Blumau.

Imagine this: trees bubbling out of rooftops, mad yellow and white towers topped with onion domes, a lake-size pool with hidden fountains spraying thermal waters at random, hallway floors canted like coffee mugs turned on their sides. It's the world's largest inhabitable artwork, a 271-room spa with the sort of architecture you might expect if you hired a creative child. In this case, the "child" just turned 70. Friedensreich Hundertwasser he has littered Austria with his creations, among them the gaily colored Hundertwasserhaus at the edge of the Ring in Vienna.

Although it's a work of art, Bad Blumau is also a functioning spa. The rooms are comfortable, with minibars and safes; bathrooms are well maintained with tub/shower combos. The suites have just about the only level floors in the place.

The therapies here tend to drift toward the new age. Although you can happily glut yourself on shiatsu and Swedish massage, try having an attendant dip you in mare's milk, whey, or the essence of evening primrose, and then suspend you in a heat box for a good half-hour. The 3-hour "resurrection therapy" session involves gongs, a box of pebbles, hypnotism, and more than a few euros.

The saunas are co-ed and naked -- don't be ashamed, no one else is -- and are the best part of the complex. You can choose from Roman and Finnish saunas, Turkish baths, the Aromasauna, and the Bio-sanarium, which involves gassy peppermint and blinking lights. Likewise, in the health areas, you're apt to receive treatments from an attendant who is young, of the opposite sex, and utterly professional. The pool has lockers for day-trippers and overnight guests alike.

You'll eat well, if not entirely healthfully: The buffet is full of meat and cheese, all delicious, but doubtless engineered to fatten all the happy Germans who fill the place. The a la carte menu advertises itself as "international," but let's just say it never made it to California.

The spa also offers child care, shopping, a hairdresser, laundry service, and parking. Conference and fitness rooms are also available. Blumau and the baths, A-8283 Blumau 100, are about 130km (81 miles) south of Vienna and 50km (37 miles) east of Graz (tel. 03383/51000; fax 03383/5100805; www.blumau.com). Rates are 250€ to 288€ ($400-$461) for a double and 380€ to 404€ ($608-$646) for a suite; half-board is 25€ ($40) extra. Rates include half-board and free use of all thermal bath and sauna facilities, service charge, and tax. Spa treatments and visitor tax are not included.

To get from Graz to Bad Blumau, take the Autobahn (A2) east and follow the signs to the spa (it's well marked).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.