The walking pathways in the Austrian Alps are renowned for their aesthetic allure. However, equally enticing are the opulent spa-hotels where trekkers can soothe aching limbs in a labyrinth of eucalyptus-scented steam rooms and saunas. Furthermore, there is no spa more enigmatic than the radioactive caverns in Bad Gastein where I found myself unexpectedly.
Historical Elegance and Luxurious Accommodations
During the waning years of the Austro-Hungarian empire, this sophisticated spa town was constructed atop a rocky outcrop adjacent to a magnificent cascade. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, upscale hotels capitalized on the radon-rich thermal waters to provide luxurious accommodations for affluent guests seeking therapeutic treatments.
A Unique Approach to Redevelopment
Although Bad Gastein is a bustling winter ski destination, many of these gems were boarded up as water sports fell out of favor. The municipality could have emulated numerous other ski resorts, especially those situated in Switzerland, by permitting the construction of new buildings throughout the mountainous region. Instead, the post-lockdown redevelopment has ensured that every “new” hotel is an existing structure converted into a hotel.
A converted sanatorium even the Comodo, which markets itself as a hotel featuring contemporary design. In addition, the Grand Hotel Straubinger, whose imposing, circular arches exude Habsburg magnificence, commenced operations on September 1. Soon after, three more hotels appeared.
Convenient Travel and Vertical Link
Vienna and Salzburg are both served by frequent direct trains that stop in Bad Gastein. The station is situated 100 meters above the majority of the town despite its proximity; therefore, the resort is constructing the Vertical Link, a conduit with moving walkways that will prevent pedestrians from having to ascend narrow, steep streets.
A Journey into Radon-Rich Caverns
An additional tunnel leads to the most remarkable “wellness” center. The Gasteiner Heilstollen guarantees that by submerging guests in its radon-rich caverns, any nagging aches and pains will be eradicated. Radon is abundant in Wales and the West Country, among other UK places. A visit is deemed secure by management due to the extremely low radon exposure—approximately one-tenth the radiation of an X-ray—involved. The claims regarding health benefits are less substantiated, despite the fact that a significant number of Austrian tourists cover their travel expenses through health insurance. This nation of wellness enthusiasts is extremely serious about resorts.
Exploring the Beauty and Adventure of the Gastein Valley
Before proceeding to the Gasteiner Heilstollen, my spouse and I scheduled an appointment with a physician. I was inclined to inquire whether the caves might provide relief for my eczema, as laborers in this antiquated silver mine reported unexpected improvements in joint pain and skin complaints. However, my NHS-employed husband insisted on questioning him about the somewhat shaky evidence basis, which put our physician on the defensive and quickly ran out of time.
Despite this, we were permitted to proceed with our treatments, presumably on account of our normal blood pressure readings. In the waiting room, we donned dressing gowns and watched an instructional video that featured a train driver in a bikini beaming as he led passengers to various mountainous regions.
The train then arrived without the bikini-clad woman operating it.
Several stretchered people were loaded onto a sleeper van in one of its carriages. Thus began our ascent towards the epicenter of the planet.
Previously, the waiting room had maintained a comfortable temperature. Cool, if not. As the train descended further into the mountain, our bodies began to feel warm, then unbearably hot, and before we knew it, our fellow passengers and I were disrobing into our costumes in the carriage.
We descended 1.2 miles into the mountain and found beds on both sides of caves secluded from the train tracks. And we unclothed ourselves, removed our swimming attire, and, well, simply absorbed the rays. We enjoyed having a towel-wrapped doctor check on us instead than absorbing solar rays. He assured us that the dosage was insufficient to be hazardous. I believe I fell asleep during that sixty-minute segment, as it seemed to pass quickly.
For €84, the inaugural deal included a 25-minute massage and relaxation chamber drink on the way back to the train.
Nature’s Therapy and Alpaca Encounters
Caverns are one of several unique and wonderful therapies in Gastein, including forest bathing. We attempted an alpaca tour, which is reportedly ideal for troubled adolescents because these obstinate animals will halt or lie down whenever anyone becomes too anxious in their presence. I knew I was since I barely got my inside 100 metres before the beast refused to persuade and caress.
Alpine Hiking and Unique Paths
We primarily delighted in hiking beneath snow-capped peaks, donning pine needle-coated paths each morning with the lace of our boots. We ascended rungs of church bells in the valley upon which we set forth, traversing open pastures via stairways constructed from tree roots or granite slabs. Paths then led us into the shade of the woodlands and a succession of quaint cafes, many of which were merely verandas of farmhouses, where we savored coffee with crisp, homemade apple strudel and custard.
The routes are color-coded to correspond with the difficulty of the ski pistes. The Gastein valley is part of Ski Amadé, however it is rarely seen in summer and autumn. Austria’s rocky, natural pistes sometimes include snow-covered trails and meadows, unlike France’s groomed runs in large resorts.
Certain ski lifts are operational during the summer months, allowing for reduced ascent. The difficult part for me is the descent, not the ascent itself; my knees dislike it. Therefore, in areas devoid of elevators, walking poles were constructed using fallen branches.
I was constantly observing the impact that the caverns had on my nagging ailments. Both my eczema and my overall well-being improved. However, just how much of that was attributable to radon exposure and how much to the holiday spirit? It may not seem to be a significant matter.