Spas of the Bernese Oberland (+ Some Thoughts on Occasional Luxury)

Nov 06, 2014    /    travel how-tos

Photo: the ESPA entrance at the Victoria-Jungfrau hotel.

If you know me, you know I’m not usually a luxury traveler. I grew up in a frugal household and learned very early that saving money was a powerful thing that could take me, quite literally, around the world.

And so I’ve been a scrimper and a saver all my life. Gladly skipping small splurges in favor of traveling to Australia for a month at the age of 14, paying off my college debt within just a year or two of graduation, backpacking through Europe for six weeks in my early 20s, or quitting my job to start a business.

All of those things brought me a deep sense of joy and security.

But what I don’t think I realized until I was a little older is that all that frugality also taught me the value of the occasional splurge.

There’s something about occasionally treating myself to something decadent and spectacular that makes me feel not only pampered and relaxed, but also loved and recognized.

I think it’s that same principle C.S. Lewis talks about when he tells us that learning to love our enemies is simpler than we think. Because the way our hearts and mind work, if we behave as though we love someone, we eventually come to love them.

C.S. Lewis talks about this in the context of loving our enemies, but it’s equally true when it comes to loving ourselves. If you want to feel affection for yourself, treat yourself with love (whether you feel it at first or not). Because the truth is that our hearts follow our actions.

As Americans (and particularly as American women), I think this is hard for us. We like to talk about hard work and earning our keep. One of the worst things you can be in American culture is lazy.

On one hand, there’s a value in that; it’s just that we often take it too far, demonizing the idea of joy for joy’s sake, pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We turn pleasure and joy and love into things we need to “earn” instead of things there for us to enjoy, to draw energy from, to keep us balanced.

And so this is how I feel about the occasional splurge—like the time I took a train to Italy just to eat in the country’s top-ranked restaurant. Or the time I treated a wonderful friend to a seven-course meal in a gastronomic Paris restaurant. Or when, after a long travel day or an exhausting trip, I book an expensive, fancy hotel room where I can stretch out on 800-thread-count egyptian cotton sheets.

By pouring money and time and luxury into myself every once in a while, I emerge not only more relaxed, but also feeling more grounded, more confident, and more loved.

Which is why this summer and fall I reached out to three spas in the Bernese Oberland and asked if I could come by for a treatment and a day at their facilities. Because 2014 has been a year of very high highs and extremely low lows. And I needed some little splurges along the way to remind me that I matter and to remind me why I’m working so hard.

So, this is the part where I encourage you to splurge. Do something nice for yourself. Do something that brings you a whole heck of a lot of pleasure for no reason other than you’re worth it.

And if you’re curious about my spa splurges? Read on.

Victoria-Jungfrau ESPA Spa in Interlaken, Switzerland

Victoria Jungfrau ESPA lunch area

The most perfect of my three spa days was at the majestic Victoria-Jungfrau in Interlaken. The hotel actually offers two spas and I spent my day at the ESPA spa. I had a relaxing massage (complete with some of the wonderful scents of their signature spa products) and then a light lunch (salmon wrap, champagne, and tiramisu – some of the best food I’ve had in Interlaken) and then spent an hour or two with my book in the hot tub and the small saltwater pool.

I also spent some time laying in the sunshine on the patio, letting all my commitments and obligations and worries go for the moment, and watching paragliders swoop overhead in the distance.

Afterward, I believe I went home and napped, which, for me, is the measure of a very successful spa day.

50-minute massage: 165 CHF / Day use of the facilities: Starting at 150 CHF and including a treatment

Murren Sports Center

The spa at the Murren Sportszentrum

The second of my lovely spa days was at the Murren Sports Center in the Swiss ski town of Murren (which is my favorite Swiss ski town). The massage I had here was one of the best I’ve had in years. I nearly fell asleep on the table, I was so relaxed. The other magical thing about this spa is the view from the hot tub, which is a panorama of some of the region’s highest peaks. I didn’t even try to read my book while I was in the hot tub; I just stared out the giant glass windows, soaking it all in.

30-minute massage: 60 CHF / Day use of the facilities: Starting at 30 CHF

Hotel Victoria Lauberhorn Spa in Wengen

victoria lauberhorn

The spa at the Victoria Lauberhorn in Wengen (the larger and more bustling ski town near Lauterbrunnen) was the simplest and had the least frills of the three. The decor wasn’t as fancy and the facilities were a little smaller than the others. It was still lovely to sneak away for a massage in a quiet, relaxed setting, but I didn’t get to use the rest of the spa facilities (I didn’t realize I had booked my massage right before they closed for the afternoon) and all things being equal, I would rather take the train to Interlaken for a real splurge or ride the cable car up to Murren for some quiet, thoughtful time in the hot tub overlooking the mountains.

25-minute massage: 55 CHF / Day use of the facilities: Free for hotel guests; starting at 75 CHF for others


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A special thanks to all three spas, who gave me complimentary or discounted opportunities to test-run their facilities.

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