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Oskar goes to... Bad Ragaz

A trip to a thermal spa with a water-loving Labrador – what could go wrong?

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Some dog trainers swear by spray bottles as a way of deterring bad behaviour. A spritz of cold water in the face is apparently enough to stop your pup from jumping up at you or stealing food from your plate. But this training method has the opposite effect on my dog Oskar. The second he sees me pick up the spray bottle, he starts wagging his tail. Before I know it, he’s assumed the position and is ready for a refreshing spray of water. He turns his head like a model in a shampoo advert and catches those thirst-quenching droplets on his tongue. The look in his eye says, ‘Yes baby, give it to me!’ Oskar sure does love the water – it’s in his nature as a Labrador.

How could something so good ever be a punishment? He jumps straight into the shower with me and stands under the water for a rinse. At least once a day, I find him happily climbing into our garden pond to doggy paddle for a few laps and shake up the goldfish a bit in the process. His favourite walking routes involve a river or lake. This strong swimmer is in the water like a shot – all year round and whatever the weather. Did you know that Labradors have webbed feet? They were bred as retrievers for waterfowl hunting and were historically used to help fishermen retrieve nets from the water. So it’s no secret that Labrador Retrievers love water and need to live in an environment where they have plenty of opportunities to swim.

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Morocco, Chad and Eritrea would not be dream destinations for Labradors, who would much rather head for Canada, Norway or Switzerland. Let’s imagine we did ask a load of Labradors to complete a survey on their top holiday spots… What’s the bet that they’d be looking for somewhere with rivers, lakes, pools, ponds, fountains, wells, delicious food, parks for walkies and nice big trees to lift their leg up against? Hold on a minute… That sounds a bit like Bad Ragaz! The Tamina River flows through the spa town, where it meets the Rhine. And you should see the humongous trees in the gardens in front of the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz. What an irresistible invitation for our four-legged friends to mark their territory! As you approach the hotel entrance, steam comes off the thermal water bubbling up and flowing down a stylish black stone water feature. If Oskar could have his way, he’d be rolling around in all that watery goodness. But that’s just not an option. We can’t very well check into a fancy hotel like this with a soaking wet dog in tow – even if the place does revolve around all things water. A whole world of thermal water awaits at the Grand Resort.

“If Oskar could sit at a dinner table and eat a civilised meal with cutlery in hand, he would make a fine restaurant critic!”

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At a constant temperature of 36.5 degrees Celsius, this healing water is said to work wonders – for the human guests among us at least. It flows out of all the drinking fountains, is used to fill every swimming pool in the hotel complex and is even served in carafes on the tables for dinner. At a rate of 7000 litres per minute, it bubbles up at a source in the Tamina Gorge close to the hotel. Research suggests that the water originates in the Tödi or Piz Sardona mountains. It is warmed in deep layers of rock until it makes its way to the surface through crevices in Pfäfers, near Bad Ragaz, after more than a decade, having been enriched with precious minerals and brought up to body temperature. The Tamina Therme public thermal baths were opened back in 1872 as Europe’s first indoor pool facility with thermal water. At the turn of the 20th century, Bad Ragaz was one of Europe’s most prominent spa resorts.

Famous authors like Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Thomas Mann and Victor Hugo spent many a relaxing week and month here, channelling the energy of the water into the flow of their writing. It didn’t take long for the place to become known for its fountain of youth effect. All kinds of powers have been attributed to the thermal water – it stimulates blood circulation, soothes the muscles and connective tissue, relieves inflammation and rheumatic conditions, boosts the metabolism and immune system, optimises mobility, cleanses the skin and busts stress. Now, a three-year-old dog like Oskar isn’t really bothered about any of that because he’s the picture of health.

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Just as well, really, because the spa isn’t open to furry, four-legged guests who don’t stop panting. Thank goodness! A water bowl and treats await in our spacious room. Oskar stares out at the park through the balcony window. Leaves rustle in the wind and water babbles in the distance. Oh so calm. Oskar falls asleep but keeps moving his paws with his eyes closed. No doubt dreaming of a full-on splashing session. Time for his owner to enjoy some of the perks of staying at this ultra-luxurious hotel. It’s made up of several buildings joined together. The oldest part dates back to 1774, but the main building is 150 years old and underwent a major renovation in 2019. Dogs are welcome here – just not in the listed rooms of the historic Quellenhof part of the hotel or in the swimming pools, saunas or swanky restaurants. But they have free reign of several hotel terraces, two less formal restaurants, the lobby and the bar. And that’s the way it should be. If Oskar could sit at a dinner table and eat a civilised meal with cutlery in hand, he would make a fine restaurant critic. You’d struggle to find someone with a better nose than him. Did you know that people have five million olfactory receptor cells, whilst Labradors have as many as 225 million? For starters, he could definitely have a good go at the tasting session run by sommelière Irina Taculina at the Grand Resort’s water bar. Oskar knows from experience that not all water tastes the same. He has no shame in drinking from puddles, buckets, streams, lakes and bowls, you see.

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Now, us humans struggle a bit more with differences in flavour when it comes to water. The sommelière hands out bog standard mineral water samples and thermal water from Bad Ragaz. And it turns out that the good stuff tastes mild and rounded compared to the mineral water we’re used to. Whilst his owner is off indulging in the spectacular culinary genius of chef Sven Wassmer at Memories, a restaurant with two Michelin stars, Oskar tucks into a delicious dinner in his room. The dish of salmon strips with rice has been freshly prepared just for him. You should know that fish is a firm favourite amongst water-loving dogs like Oskar. It may even almost trump meat. His compliments to the chef – he wolfs the whole lot down in about five seconds with a vigorous wag of his tail. When we set off for our late evening walk through the gardens, Oskar makes no secret of the fact that he’d very much like to jump straight into the thermal water.

And, to be honest, I don’t blame him. Suddenly, he stops still as a statue with all the hair on his back standing on end. The two huge statues on the grass in front of the hotel have spooked him. They don’t move as they appear to gaze peacefully at the mountains. A man and a woman made of ceramic, brick, cement and glass, ‘The Couple’ is a sculpture by German artist Klaus Schultze featured in the Bad RagARTz exhibition. Oskar growls at the pair of them. He may have a taste for water but his eye for art needs a bit of work. Perhaps this stone-dry pair just aren’t wet enough for him.

Words Titus Arnu
Photos Enno Kapitza

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