There’s something incredibly healthy about being able to drink pure mineral water straight from the source – and in the town of Evian-les-Bains, locals wouldn’t think of doing anything else, regularly visiting one of several fountains to fill bottles and containers.
The first thing I noticed was how cold the water was. Hardly surprising, though, given its origin on the Gavot Plateau, from where every drop begins its 15-year journey through a unique geological filter.
The “healing properties” of the waters were discovered in 1789, with increasing numbers of tourists keen to “take the waters” over the next few years and the first “Evian Baths” appearing in 1824.
Soon after, Genevan entrepreneur M Fauconnet launched the Evian mineral water company, purchasing the city’s two main springs. The rest is history, with the water now exported to more than 140 countries. Bottling takes place at just one plant outside the town – where tours are available – and is then transported away via Evian’s own railway.
Evian-les-Bains lies on the southern shore of Lake Geneva in eastern France, opposite Lausanne on the Swiss side of the lake, which is technically 30% French and 70% Swiss. “It’s always sunnier on that side,” noted a member of the team at the Hotel Royal – the most prestigious place to bed down in town.
But on a late September break, it was surprisingly sunny on our side too, and while the area overall has a mild climate, it’s also within easy reach of ski resorts such as Chatel, Les Gets and Avoriaz.
Other local attractions include the Palais Lumiere, one of the grandest “hydrotherapy institutes” in the world when it opened in 1902. Now, the public spa is housed in a modern facility and the palace has been transformed into a museum, gallery and conference centre.
At the Evian Thermal Spa in the centre of town, the thermal baths offer a range of toning, regenerating and relaxing treatments, and all drinking fountains pump fresh Evian water. On my visit, white-robe-clad locals of all ages were waiting their turn for water-based treatments, medical spa programmes and thalassotherapy.
Hotel Royal also has a spa of its own, and it sits within the wider Evian Resort portfolio, which includes possibly the most comprehensive kids’ club I’ve ever seen and a golf course that plays host to the women’s Evian Championship. The hotel also has a David Leadbetter Golf Academy and a new David Leadbetter Suite, as well as Evian One, a futuristic-looking catamaran that can whisk those super-luxury clients across the lake for a time-saving airport transfer, adding that final luxury flourish.