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Summer in Switzerland and it must be Bad RagARTz

A sense of mysterious unreality begins the moment we step off the train in Bad Ragaz. A slim and hurried ten-foot high commuter, stylishly dressed in aluminum with matching suitcases appears to be waiting on the opposite platform for the next train.

The strangeness continues. Walking along we see the proverbial fat lady sitting on a bench in a rose garden. Well, yes, I know it`s not p.c. But there she is in all her glory—bright yellow mini-dress with matching hat, bag and shoes in a daring shade of tangerine red. Oh, and she appears to be ten feet tall, too.
Bad Ragaz Arts Festival
Now, you won`t believe what we see next. Flying through the air in the centre of town against a majestic mountain backdrop was a blue jaguar! And what`s more, it seemed all of thirty feet long, tip to tail.

We meet another tourist and he appears to be quite wooden, from his blue beanie down to his Birkenstocks. The man and woman engaged in avid conversation over glasses of red wine on an outdoor hotel verandah are also surreal. I notice she has kicked off her shoes and has huge painted toenails.

OK, we`re not fooled. Our past experience has prepared us, for these are mostly permanent sculptures remaining from the 2012 Triennial of Sculpture in Bad Ragaz. My husband, Tom and I have returned for a second time to this spectacular Swiss spa town. Christened Bad RagARTz every three years, it hosts an international out-door festival with hundreds of sculptures and installations placed within the charming village centre or on the extensive grounds of park and lakeside. Many are whimsical, all are engaging. This year, 2015, there will be more than 400 open-air exhibits from May to November.
Bad Ragaz Art Festival
Following a sumptuous breakfast buffet the next morning at our hotel, the Sorrel Tamina, complete with local mountain cheeses, champagne and schnapps, we stroll across the bridge that crosses the river cascading down from the Tamina Gorge heading to the famous spa. The word Bad in fact means spa town, or bathing place, or just spa.

Our Swiss friends Margit and Andres introduced us to Bad Ragaz and the festival two years ago. Wandering through extensive landscaped gardens and park, we had stopped at each sculpture to admire or laugh, to touch, feel, or even climb these larger than life works of art. Three mirrored cubes reflected our faces and the sky and trees above us. A phalanx of bronze warriors stories high strode toward the distant horizon. Light entwined with children within a silver circular maze. And all in a cinerama of spectacular mountain landscape.

Most people come to Bad Ragaz to bathe in the thermal waters, either in the private Grand Hotel Resort and Spa, a wellness resort of the first order, or in the stunning public spa. A European spa town is traditionally centred on thermal baths built around natural mineral hot springs which are thought to possess therapeutic qualities. They have been popular in Europe for centuries, among the well-to-do. Victor Hugo, Thomas Mann, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Neitzsche, all apparently stayed at Bad Ragaz. Taking a “cure” or “the baths” is still a popular pastime, whether for healing purposes or just to relax in a tranquil, luxury setting.

Housed in an architecturally stunning white building, you enter the public Tamina Thermal Spa down a long high-ceilinged corridor with tall oval windows streaming in sunshine from top to bottom. A fitting entry to a temple of health. A sign prominently displayed reads 36.5°, the temperature of the hot spring that rushes out of the mountain through the deep Tamina Gorge and provides the water for the spas. It is also close to the body’s normal temperature.
Bad Ragaz Art Festival
Once robed, we enter a spacious gallery where six pools await us. They are of different sizes and contrasting temperatures from 39° in the Warm water grotto, the perfect 36.5° in the whirlpool to a frigid 17° in the Cold water grotto. The Outdoor pool is very popular for its vibrating jets and place in the sunshine surrounded by a Swiss mountain world. After a round of slipping between pools and super hot tubbing we dare each other to enter the ice pool. I hold my breath and plunge in. Fantastic! Tom soon follows. An attendant provides a heated bath sheet to wrap ourselves in.

Tamina Therme also has a sauna and steam bath area. Massages and various wellness treatments are available as well as beauty treatments. The Grand Resort complex has its own pool and spa area and also a renowned medical health centre.

Margit and Andres drive up from the south. They want to show us the famous Tamina Gorge, just 4.5km out of town. We look down 70 metres upon wild water rushing between towering cliffs. Benedictine monks discovered the thermal spring in the 13th century. Pilgrims travelled to the Abbey of Pfäfers near Bad Ragaz to bathe in the nearby healing thermal waters. They had to be lowered down by ropes and wicker baskets, sometimes being left, with food supplies, for two weeks at a time. Centuries later a bathhouse was built at the mouth of the gorge and this Baroque structure has been restored as a museum. Eventually, the waters were piped down to Bad Ragaz.

We travel a little farther up, to the village of St. Margrethenberg, where we park the car. Walking ever higher we find ourselves in alpine meadows with spring flowers blooming—vermillion and white, golden orange and blue—Margit points out a rare one. Cattle with bells sounding graze near ancient stone huts on the hills. We have moved deeper into Heidiland—the original home of the storied heroine. An elderly cowherd we meet calls out a greeting in the unique German dialect of the alpine highlanders. He is a Walser, like our friend, Andres. They quickly establish their home villages and talk of family friends.
Bad Ragaz Art Festival
Our leisurely climb ends at The Restaurant Buura-Beizli, 1300m above sea level. We are looking forward to some of their homemade Swiss delicacies. Tom and I share a chestnut cake, as well as sampling other nut tortes, with our coffee. The room has gingham covered tables, and folk art chairs painted in alpine flowers, or with a Swiss cross, a belled goat, or a red ladybug. Homemade jars of jams, mountain cheeses, sausages, breads and local beers are all on display. “One must not run empty home,” we are told. So we happily take some venison sausages with us. Andres buys some cheese, “the product of what the cows did on their summer vacation” when they are moved to even higher pastures for grazing.

Hans and Suzi Blochlinger-Wyss are the owners of this organic working farm. They raise sheep, pigs, rabbits, and chickens. Before we leave, they happily show off the rustic wooden tourist chalet which they offer to tourists at very affordable rates for Switzerland. We climb up the outside stairs of the high-peaked structure. On interior walls hang wood carvings depicting Swiss life. In a corner are a row of traditional cow bells of different sizes, each with its belt of tooled leather in red and black. The spartan but brightly colourful rooms look out on spectacular alpine views. As we stroll homeward in the softening light, a quiet descends that matches our awe at this same beauty.

Back in Bad Ragaz, we imagine how the town will look in the upcoming months as it transforms itself once again into Bad RagARTz. Who knows what new artistic treasures will be there to discover? We can hardly wait!
Bad Ragaz Art Festival
Annie Palovcik is a Canadian photojournalist whose work has appeared in the U.S and Canada, Australia, the U.K. and Germany in The Dallas Morning News, the Columbus Dispatch, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Globe and Mail and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung among others.


For general information on the region see Heidiland Tourism. For info on the 2015 Triennial of Sculpture. For info on the Tamina Thermal Spa. For info on the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. For info on the Hotel Sorrel Tamina. For info on the Restaurant Buura-Beizli.

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