Basking in Bad Blumau

An hour outside the city, this hot spring spa is a welcome and unexpected retreat to nature from the Viennese city winter

Water trumps oil: Hundertwasser masterpieces merge guests with nature | Photo: Rogner Bad Blumau

It was a warm day in early October, when a friend and I decided it was time to get out of town for the weekend. We pulled out the guidebooks and browsed; we wanted a complete change of scene without spending the weekend in the car. We picked Bad Blumau, a famed mineral spa in the Steiermark (Styria), just over an hour (130 km) south of Vienna. Bad Blumau is unusual as spas go. It was only discovered in the 1990s and then transformed into a playful fantasy retreat by the Viennese artist, designer and conservationist Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

So slathered with sun cream and shaded by a big hat, I opened the roof of our convertible, and cruised off southwards down the scenic A2, through the rolling meadows dotted with picturesque villages at the foot-hills of the Alps.

Whatever you know of Hundertwasser ahead of time, the cartoon-like ceramic colours of Bad Blumau are startling in real life. In fact it’s hard to keep a straight face.

“What a madman!” Jan laughed, pointing out the periwinkle blue tower perched over a curving patchwork façade of mosaics and windows outlined in black au Georges Bracque. Hundertwasser believed that buildings should blend with nature, so along with the wall tiles and “dancing windows,” his designs seem to be cut from raw stones emerging into leafy terraces; roofs tend to rise up ramp-like out of the ground, and are often landscaped with grass, trees and flowers.

As we drove past the security gate and down the stately entryway, we couldn’t help smiling at the teal and coral pillars, flowing colonnades and golden domes – no corners or edges, no straight lines. Instead Hundertwasser embraced organic forms on a human scale, vivid colours and joyfulness – a break from restraint, a bold rethinking of form and function. We had landed in Oz.  Even the parking garage was playful: curved cave-like walls, pillars sheathed in graphite silver, reflecting a wink of bright sunlight.

Inside a waitress handed us a welcome drink and introduced the luscious array of spa comforts and beauty treatments, restaurants and bars. She then gave us the entry badges to a cash-free weekend.

We strolled around, reading the wall panels relating the history of this remarkable place.

Rogner Bad Blumau was what you might call an inspired mistake: No one expected to find a spring here when OMV began drilling in this mineral-rich area of Austria in the 1990s. They were looking for oil. What they found instead was very hot water: the Vulkania spring.  An inland sea at a depth of 3,000 meters provides water that reaches the surface at 110 °C. Rich in minerals and containing natural brine, the water has been channelled into a lake with a bathing temperature of 37 °C. When Robert Rogner realized he wasn’t going to find oil, he decided to make the best of it. He contacted the eccentric architect/designer and gave him carte blanche.

Life in harmony with nature – this was the vision of Hundertwasser, who died in 2000 at the age of 72. Rogner Bad Blumau became one of the show places for his vision. Trained as a painter, Hundertwasser became a committed ecologist and building designer, collecting ideas, experiences and insights on his travels and applying these to design.

We stayed in the main house and from our window we saw the other buildings, with gardens on the rooftop, floral islands, tree circles, secret gardens and quiet oases. We quickly unpacked, and, donning bathrobe and slippers, we headed for the spa area.

Here, in a vast looping indoor and outdoor expanse were pool after steaming pool of thermal water, fresh water waves and a gently landscaped lake. In the relaxation area, there were deeper retreats: hidden-away spaces and silent rooms, where guests, draped on king-size couches, hardly noticed us pass by, as they unwound to meditative music and the soothing aroma of incense.

Professional sauna masters and beauticians were on hand to give high-skilled (and high-priced) treatments with natural products. If we had wanted to, we could have got a delicate manicure, an Ayurveda massage or just some healing black stones all along our spines. We opted for the thermal pools, with hot water jets and built-in jacuzzis.

After 20 minutes, we felt totally relaxed, our skin as smooth as silk. This spa would be even more special in wintertime, when the colourful houses, with their 2,400 different windows. would be covered in snow, and the hot thermal water a respite from the freezing temperatures outside.

The hot water also supplies the hotel and spa area with environmentally friendly electricity and heating. We were sceptical, but facts are facts: They heat the well-insulated buildings with water pumped up from the hot springs. Towels and sheets carry a “bio” (organic) label, and the food they serve is mostly locally grown.

This also applied to the food at the buffet-restaurant. The delicious dishes, such as gebackener Kurbis and steirisches Rind, were prepared with predominantly organic products from farms in the region. Aside from the many starters and the extended salad buffet, I fancied the fried Styrian Hühnerfilet with creamy Schwammerl (mushrooms) while my friend enjoyed the Styrian beef with pepper cream sauce. At breakfast we indulged in an array of tasty breads, fruits and yoghurt.

It’s easy to get used to Bad Blumau, and hard to leave, even for the “civilized” world of Vienna. But perhaps it’s really the other way around.


Spa Therme Blumau
A-8283 Bad Blumau 100
(03383) 5100 – 0

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