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The origins of Leukerbad

Published on Mars 17th of 2015

Leukerbad - icon of self-rejuvenation and personal well-being - is now Switzerland's largest spa resort and a paradise for skiers, snowboarders and hikers. Everyone loves plunging into its naturally hot thermal springs after their exertions, to experience a unique regenerating sensation.

From Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1779) to Guy de Maupassant (1877), Mark Twain (1878) and then (much later) Charlie Chaplin and Pablo Picasso, many great names have been charmed by Leukerbad and the invigorating effect of its springs.

But Leukerbad is not a recent discovery ... the therapeutic virtues of the waters at this site, nestling at the heart of the Valais Alps, were already known to the Romans (who were reputedly very fond of thermal baths). The area now known as Leukerbad or Loèche-les-Bains was then called Balnea Leucensia.

In the fifth century, the village was exposed to the Burgundian migrations. Then, in the ninth century, it was the turn of the Alemanni to invade the region. These successive waves of invasions may explain the bilingualism of the Canton of Valais, where both French and German are spoken.

It was only in the 14th century - 1315 to be precise - that Leukerbad became an autonomous municipality. 100 years later, in 1449, a trail was created to link Leuk and Leukerbad. A few years later, the first inns opened their doors, after the Bishop of Sion and local noble families acquired the rights to the springs.

The village took a real step along the road to tourism in 1501, when Bishop Matthieu Schiner acquired the rights over the baths and promoted them during his many travels in Europe. In 1682, the municipality acquired full possession of the springs and, in 1741, completed the construction of what is now the Gemmi Pass. The first road was built in 1850, together with a substantial amount of infrastructure, which encouraged the opening of several hotels. 

Electricity arrived in Leukerbad in 1889, followed by the Leuk-Leukerbad railway line in 1915. The first ski-lift was erected in the early 1960s, but the first tourist boom resulted from three events: the construction of Gemmi's first cableway and that of Torrent, the opening of the first spas and the establishment of a rheumatology clinic.

Continuous development, substantial investment, expansion and meticulous upkeep have made Leukerbad an extremely popular resort, with the largest, most modern spa facilities in the Alps!