On the last day of my tour in Belgium, my cousin planned a visit with a relative who lives in Spa. Until this trip, I thought of a spa as a high-society healing center, refined and removed from nature. Now i understand it is a town of mineral springs, acid fountains, in the Ardennes forest known to Druids, Romans, and Peter the Great.
The highest elevations of Belgium are the Faignes, boggy mountains deep in the Ardennes in the east of the country. The water drips out from here, acidic yet fresh, bringing mineral springs out of the ground on the west into towns like Spa. The main spring, known as the Pouhon, was written about in the 1500s by a principal doctor, and the small village increased into a market town, the fountain into a bath house visited by royalty like Tsar Peter the Great in 1717. With other springs around the town, mineral baths, wellness resorts, and a casino opened here, and Spa became a general name for baths and healing centers across Europe. The water here is all cold, so unfortunately there are no natural thermal baths. But the Pouhon has an ornate fountain with mineral heavy drinking water, in the sunlit atrium featuring an old coppper tub and statues of frolicking ondines.
Spa is also a popular brand of bottled water around Belgium, available at stores and restaurants we visited in other cities. There is a monument with stylized water bottle at one traffic circle.
It’s a little bit surreal for me, having been in the René Magritte museum in Brussels a few days before and seeing his “ce n’est pas un pipe” manifest…
The Ardennes countryside is charming and reminds me some of Appalachia back in the states. My cousin mentions druids at one point, as there are megaliths deep in the woods that we would not have time to visit.
We did, however, spend time in the city of Liège, where my Belgian ancestors are from, and where the famous Lucifer sculpture stays, inside St Paul’s cathedral. It’s fun to go into a church and say (in French) that I’m looking for Lucifer.
Soundtrack music by relative, Jean François Maljean of nearby Verviers, Belgium “Vue Sur Mer” https://youtu.be/1XXnInHlDoA
Arianna, 4 April 2017