Discover the healing power of France’s oldest spa town at the Evian Resort

Evian is well known for its natural mineral-rich water, but at the Evian Resort in France, there is more to H2O than just quenching thirst

Evian Resort FranceWe all know Evian for its natural mineral-rich water and the majority of us will have picked up multiple bottles of it over the years. The source was found back in 1789 by a local French nobleman, the Marquis de Lessert, in the town of Évian-les-Bains, which has attracted Hollywood stars and royalty; poets, artists and politicians to hydrate and rejuvenate. 

In the modern world the biggest decision most of us face when it comes to water is when a waiter asks: “still or sparkling?” at the beginning of a meal. But when I visited Évian-les-Bains, France’s oldest spa town, I discovered the H2O options are vast and indulgent, quenching every need from healing and relaxation to the ongoing quest for eternal youth.  

In 1806 the first thermal spa opened in the town, but I headed straight to The Evian Resort, which includes the five-star Palace-rated Hotel Royal, and sits on the edge of Lake Geneva between Switzerland and France. The hotel offers enchanting views of the glassy lake and the French Alps while absorbing qualities from both nations. Evian ResortMy first impressions of the Royal are gifted via its grandiose lobby: stepping inside I feel tiny under a huge glittering chandelier and take in the neo-baroque style frescoes. The detail is incredible from the intricately painted ceilings down to the stunning floor mosaics and furnishings by Paris-based interior designer François Champsaur. 

It came as no surprise to learn the hotel was originally built for King Edward VII. He passed away before it was completed, but the hotel is certainly fit for royalty with 150 rooms and seven palatial suites across six floors. The Edward (or “Edouard”) VII suite was named in the King’s honour with marble bathrooms, luxury furnishings and a stunning panoramic 20m balcony – the perfect spot for lunch overlooking the lake if you’re staying there. 

From the lobby I can see Les Fresques, the light and airy restaurant that won a Michelin-star in 2018 and holds three macarons from Ecotable. Guests dine next to a real tree positioned indoors with leaves grazing ceilings painted by French artist Gustave Jaulmes. The menu is curated by chef Patrice Vander who’s freshwater fish and crayfish are caught in Lake Geneva. With an emphasis on local ingredients and eco-friendly practices the meat comes from the Chablais region and fruit and vegetables are harvested on-site by the hotel’s gardeners. La Véranda is a more relaxed sun-filled restaurant also overseen by Vander.  

This pocket of France is probably best known as a winter destination with the Evian Resort the perfect base for skiing. That’s because the Royal is within 30 minutes from the family resorts of Thollon-les-Mémises and Bernex and the Portes du Soleil ski area (including Chamonix and Avoriaz). The hotel will arrange your equipment hire, lift passes, lessons and transfers. 

Yet, visit in spring and you’ll see the area flourish. Yellow primroses bloom as the last snow melts in May and the warmer weather opens up myriad possibilities for guests like me: languid afternoons crossing the lake in vintage paddle steamer; life-defining hikes up grassy slopes sprayed with wildflowers or a scenic helicopter rides spotting bell-wearing cows below. HOTEL ROYAL EVIAN RESORTThe Royal’s sports and culture team are on hand to help organise any activities that take your fancy. I was instantly drawn to tennis (four courts on site), e-biking and yoga, but the more adventurous can try paragliding too. There’s also an 18-hole award-winning golf course, home to the prestigious women’s major, the Amundi Evian Championship, held in July. Plus, 47 acres of private wooded grounds and natural beauty to immerse yourself in. I took the opportunity to walk among the kitchen garden spotting spinach and pea shoots to asparagus.

It only takes a brisk 15-minute walk to get to Évian-les-Bains itself (or a short car journey). Another bonus of visiting during spring-summer months is that between May and September you can board a funicular railway that runs between the Cachat spring and the Royal hotel and has done since 1907. The town has a port, station, shops and restaurants, but the biggest draw is the chance to drink directly from Evian’s most famous source. Formerly known as the Saint Catherine Fountain, it’s now called The Cachat spring, after Gabriel Cachat, the owner of the garden into which it flowed at the end of the 18th century. The spring, built in 1903, runs year round at a constant temperature of 11.6C. We see a local man pull up to fill lots of empty bottles and containers with the water to presumably take home, while French visitors visit the town to seek the restorative powers of its thermal baths. 

Back at the hotel the new evian®SPA offers an impressive menu of rejuvenating treatments. I made this the place to end a day spent outdoors. The spa has its own discrete private lift from all six hotel floors so you don’t have to walk through the lobby and pass people sipping early evening martinis in your fluffy robe and slippers, a nice touch. Evian SpaThe spa itself is an immersive 1,700m² space with the design and layout inspired by the life cycle of Evian mineral water and geared for ultimate relaxation and clarity of mind. There’s an indoor and outdoor pool (both heated) and sauna, steam room, outdoor hot tub, cold tub, snow room, gym and treatment rooms. I zipped between as many as possible going from feeling flushed to freezing before floating out of there after a deep-tissue massage.

I spent my last evening enjoying a post-dinner gin and tonic in the chic and timeless Le Bar, a place that is emblematic of the Belle Epoque with a circular marble bar and soaring ceilings. It’s the perfect moment of reflection on Evian’s boundless aquatic-power. I leave the next day feeling healed, relaxed and lighter, maybe even a bit younger too. 

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