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If you’re travelling through Europe, Leukerbad, Switzerland, is a beautiful mountain destination. Less touristy than Zermatt, this high altitude spa, hiking and ski resort has hot springs, incredible alpine walks and – of course – the all important fondu.
Somehow I never imagined that Leukerbad in Switzerland would be so high up. I know this small Swiss town, population 1500, bills itself as the highest Alpine spa in Switzerland. And yes, I know Switzerland is a country of snowy mountain peaks.
But when I planned a trip to Leukerbad I couldn’t have imagined how dramatic it would look. The bus ride alone that climbs up the side of the mountain from the train station is jaw-dropping, and the snow-covered crags that stare down at you as you soak in the outdoor hot springs are enough to make you shake your head in amazement.
Why visit Leukerbad?
You may have never heard of the spa town of Leukerbad. I hadn’t either until I was casting around for a Swiss spa town to go to after our trip to Baden-Baden, Germany. And even though my soon-to-be husband, Mark and I, had never heard of Leukerbad, we soon learned it’s not just highest spa in the Alps, it’s the largest Alpine spa in Europe. Who knew? (Besides all those savvy Swiss.)
A hiking, skiing and spa destination in Switzerland
Leukerbad is an ideal destination for three wonderful things: skiing, hiking and wellness, particularly if you like hot springs and thermal baths.
It’s mainly a tourist destination and has hotels for all budgets, but without the ‘exclusive’ atmosphere some of the more expensive ski resorts in Switzerland such as St. Moritz or Gstaad have. It’s also not a party town.
If I had to sum Leukerbad up in one sentence I’d say it’s family friendly and sporty, with a huge wellness component and a casual atmosphere.
At our hotel Les Sources des Alpes
Leukerbad Thermal Spa – Where to soak in the hot springs
If you visit Leukerbad, the thermal springs are one of the main draws. And don’t worry, you can soak all you want. The water won’t run out, because a mind-blowing 3.9 million litres pour into the various Leukerbad thermal baths each and every day, at a steaming hot temperature of 51°C (124F).
Even the Romans made use of the thermal springs here, and they were as picky about their spa towns as I am.
There are three or four public thermal baths (depending on if you include clinics), and a number of hotels have their own thermal spa pools such as our hotel, the lovely Les Sources des Alpes.
Leukerbad thermal water
The 65 hot springs of Leukerbad take a 40-year journey to get to Leukerbad. Rain falls onto the Majinghorn and Torrenthorn mountains, seeps down some 3000 metres, heats up, then pops out in Leukerbad.
The water is rich in calcium sulphate and is supposed to particularly good for rheumatoid and neurological complaints. It’s definitely good for relaxation, and blissful for soaking out those aches after a good day of hiking or skiing.
The Thermal Hot Springs at Wallister Alphentherme
The bathing complex called the Wallister Alpentherme was our favourite spa and soak destination because of the view of the Alps from the outdoor pools, its attractive indoor pool area, and because of its attached Sauna Village, which is the most extensive sauna complex I’ve ever seen.
The Sauna Village at Wallister Therme
The Sauna Village really is like a little village, only each “house” is a different type of sauna. One of them was a coffee steam bath. I’d never heard of a ‘coffee steam bath’ before. It smelled good but I didn’t stay inside because it was evening and I thought all that caffeine surging through my pores might keep me up.
In another sauna cabin in the Sauna Village (the hottest one), a man dressed in nothing but a towel came in, sprinkled rose oil on the hot stones and started whirling hot rose-scented air at everyone.
Special ‘sauna’ activities like this take place all day long, and even though I had to slink out before he was finished (I swear, it was liked being microwaved in a botanical garden), I was keen to check out the rest of ‘activity menu’ because there is no telling what these imaginative Swiss spa people in Leukerbad will come up with next.
The Thermal Hot Springs at Leukerbad Therme (also called Burgerbad)
Leukerbad Therme, the Burgerbad, is another option for soaking in the hot springs in Leukerbad. This large family-friendly hot springs complex seemed more crowded than the Wallister Alpentherme, and is definitely a popular choice.
With 10 different thermal baths, ranging from 28°C to 43°C, you can soak, swim and bathe to your heart’s content.
For an extra fee you can get a spa treatment or check out the Sauna Area, which has a variety of facilities including saunas, steam baths, a brine bath, a Vitarium, herbal sauna, Finnish sauna and relaxation room.
What is a Vitarium, you ask? Yes, I had that question, too. Apparently it’s a combination of warmth, colored light, relaxing scent and sound effects.
Hiking in Leukerbad
You can’t soak all day long (actually, I probably could), and the only way I could convince my husband that we should visit yet another spa town on our trip was to explain that in Europe, exercise is key part of any traditional spa cure, and that we’d be hiking in the Alps every day.
There are 200 km of hiking trails in the region, so if you’re in Leukerbad in spring, summer or fall, you’ll have plenty to places to trek. There are themed routes like the 5-hour Chapel Trail, The Albinen Ladders Walk, and the Roman Path, but mostly we just wandered around rootlessly, enjoying the spectacular scenery.
The most famous hike in Leukerbad is unquestionable the Gemmi Pass, and it has a history dating back thousands of years. There are two parts to the trail, and many variations once you’re up at the top of the mountain.
The actual Gemmi Pass hike is the steep trek up the mountain on a well-marked trail that should take about 2 hours, and a lot of famous hikers before you have done it, including Mark Twain, Lenin and Picasso.
To access the easier part of the trail you can take the Gemmi Cable Car, the Gemmibahn, up from town. This lofty mountain pass goes through some stunning scenery in the Bernese Alps and links Leukerbad to the Sünnbuel Cable Car in Kandersteg, at a height of 2,270 metres above sea level.
To make it a shorter hike you can just go as far as Lake Daubensee, which is on the hiking path.
The Thermal Hike of Leukerbad
You can walk a themed thermal hike, which is really two hikes, the gentler Thermal Spring Trek and the Thermal Canyon Walk, which is really a bit daunting as it slices through a gorge, but I loved it.
Along the way there are illustrated panels that go into the background of the thermal springs, and touch on the history and geology of the hot springs.
The Thermal Canyon Walk takes you into the Dala Canyon. Highlights include a 35m waterfall, and a suspension bridge that crosses the gorge. It’s not gruelling at all, but if you don’t like heights, this probably isn’t the hike for you.
Leukerbad in Winter
Leukerbad isn’t the biggest ski resort in Switzerland, or the most famous, but with 55 km of alpine skiing and over 40 km of winter trails for walking and cross-country skiing, it’s a town designed for winter activities. The two main recreational areas are the Gemmi and the Torrent, and Leukerbad’s two cable cars run in the winter months as well as in the warmer months.
The Torrent winter sports area has ski slopes that range from 1411 meters to 2610 meters. While only 3.5 km are blue runs, there are 27 km of red slopes and 17 km of black. New to the ski area are 6 km of yellow slopes for free riding.
For beginners, there is a novice area next to the Sportsarena in Leukerbad called Erli Park. It’s not connected to the Torrent slopes but is located in town, and good for kids and people just starting out.
Leukerbad Ski School
Yes, you can learn to ski or improve your skills in Leukerbad. You can opt for a Learn to Ski or Snowboard in 3 Days program with the Leukerbad Swiss Ski School, enrol your children in the Leukerbad Kid’s Ski School,
You can also try a different type of winter sport with a Fatbike Adventure that goes down the Torrent, or a snowshoe tour – all through the ski school.
For more information on ski programs or other winter activities visit the Official Ski School Leukerbad website.
There are tons of hotels and chalets in town. To narrow it down I’m listing only properties with their own thermal pools, as soaking in one of the Leukerbad hot springs is such a pleasure.
Les Sources des Alpes
The finest Leukerbad hotel is Les Sources des Alpes. This boutique-sized 5-star hotel is located at the foot of the Gemmi near the Wallister Alpentherme. It’s a luxury hotel that dates back to 1824, and has its own wellness area, hot springs pool, and fine-dining restaurant. (This is where we stayed for a week.)
Thermal Hotels & Walliser Alpentherme Leukerbad
The Thermal Hotels probably would have been our second choice, as we were at the Walliser Alpentherme thermal baths almost everyday anyway. More of a midrange/upscale level property, it’s made up of 3 connected accommodation buildings, and is connected to the Alpentherme spa complex by an underground corridor.
De France is the Thermal Hotels most recently updated property, a 4-star with its own wellness center, and is next to the Walliser Alpentherme.
Another property with its own thermal springs and sauna area is the 4-star Le Bristol, a traditional Leukerbad hotel located 200 metres from the Torrentbahn Cable Car.
51 Degrees Leukerbad Hotel Physio & Spa
51 Degrees Leukerbad consists of the guesthouse Volksheilbad and the Therme 51 Bathhouse. Located near the bus station, it’s central and many rooms have balconies. More info here.
Check out other hotels below.
Where to eat
A restaurant that gets rave reviews is a 50-minute walk on the Römerweg path from Leukerbad to the village of Bodmen. In this light wood-lined restaurant, they focus on local produce from nearby alpine farms and their own garden herbs. There is also a terrace.
Closed in winter, so check the website for the schedule.
A 30-minute walk up a hill is Restaurant Weidstuebli, where you can take your pick between the sun terrace or rustic cabin. The contemporary menu serves light down-to-earth Swiss cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and local produce.
In town, the Restaurant Waldhaus serves specialities from the Valais, fondu, and a wide range of traditional vegetarian and meat dishes. It’s bright red, brick and timber interior is cozy and welcoming.
Day trips from Leukerbad
Zermatt: You might want to combine a trip to Leukerbad with a trip to Zermatt, though you need to take the train down from the mountains and then up into them again – it’s in the same general region.
Bern: We also did a day trip to Bern, the capital of Switzerland, and highly recommend visiting this walkable historic city.
Travel tips for Leukerbad, Switzerland
How to get to Leukerbad
To get there, take the train to Leuk and bus 471 or 116 from there. (The bus stop is right at the train station and times are coordinated with the trains, so it’s not so complicated.)
From Zurich to Leukerbad by train, it takes just over 3 hours with a transfer in Visp. At Leuk Bahnhof you transfer to the bus.
From Geneva to Leukerbad by train, it takes just under 2 hours with a transfer in Sierre/Siders. At Leuk Bahnhof you take the bus.
A private transfer to Leukerbad from the Geneva Airport will cost more than $500 but for groups it might be a good idea. Check out price and availability here.
While Leukerbad Therme is a great destination to spa, an even more luxurious spa in Switzerland is Bad Ragaz, an elegant spa towards St. Moritz on the eastern side of the country.