Vichy - France

Introduction

Vichy had been known for its thermal water cures ever since the Romans discovered that the hot mineral waters were effective for health, as well as bathing. Throughout its history, famous people (royals, great artists) contributed to building a legend around its quasi-miraculous springs.
One of this long line of Vichy’s famous guests, Madame de Sévigné reported to the court of Louis XIV that the Vichy waters had had a beneficial effect on her complexion and hands, thus starting a trend for beauty treatments that continues to today. The richness of the mineral composition of the waters mean that they have a revitalising and tonic effect, and their anti-inflammatory qualities are also prized for the Laboratoires Vichy dermocosmetic line that is based in the town and part of the world-famous l’Oréal brand .

Victoire and Adélaïde, daughters of King Louis XV came for a cure in Vichy in 1785, followed in 1799 by Laetitia Bonaparte, the mother of Napoléon Ist. However, it was the Emperor Napoléon III who decided to turn what was then a large village into France’s greatest spa town, developing elegant villas, hotels and spa from the 1860s onwards.

Throughout the centuries, and even more recently in the 1990s, Vichy has always developed, diversified and modernised. Today the town and the Compagnie de Vichy (formed in 1853 to look after the economic interests of the springs resorts), are recognised for cosmetics, laboratories, bottled water – exported to more than 40 countries, octagonal soda pastilles, and the opulent thermal spa built in 1993, as well as for the healing qualities of the waters and a rich architectural heritage. The Vichy Thermal Spa offers traditional hydrotherapy and drinking cures for digestive, metabolic, rheumatic diseases and allergies, while the new Vichy Spa Hotel and Resort Les Célestins offers guests the latest skincare and beauty techniques, as well as hydrotherapy treatments using the Vichy spring water, in a modern complex overlooking the Napoléon III Park.
Each spring, Vichy celebrates the visits and legacy of the Emperor Napoléon III and the Empress Eugenie, during an historic feast which includes costumed dances in front of his Grand Casino, now an emblem of the city.

Historical background

Thermal History of Vichy
Antiquity: Aquis Calidis, Gallo-Roman city was founded around a passage point upon the River Allier. The discovery of many remains and old documents tend to prove the presence of several baths establishments.
Medieval era: The city was composed of several small villages grouped together around a fortified castle and a monastery: a feudal city on the Allier banks and, at the North-West of the castle, an open defenceless town. Between these two centres, a thermal establishment around the springs, close to the monastery was founded in the 8th or 9th century.
From Renaissance to the 18th century: In the 16th century, the springs came under State ownership. On the occasion of the rediscovery of the beneficial effects of thermal waters (at the beginning of the 17th century), King Henri IV ordered the construction of the Maison du Roy, a first modern baths establishment. The building is heightened by one storey in 1729, and two pavilions with columns are constructed to shelter the springs. Seeing the bad state of building during their course of treatment, the daughters of King Louis XV decided to transform the thermal spa: repairing of an access road, laying-out of an esplanade and construction of a thermal establishment which will quickly proved to be too little.
Urban developments (beginning of 19th century): At the beginning of this century, the thermal city became twice as important as the old fortified town. In 1812, Emperor Napoléon 1st ordered by decree the building of fountains’ surroundings and creation of a walk connecting the springs, and thermal baths to the hospital. This construction was accompanied by the development of the springs’ quarter to the detriment of the “old Vichy”, Napoléon 1st having authorized the demolition of medieval houses which disrupted the expansion of this new quarter. On the request of the daughter of King Louis XVI, the building considered too modest was enlarged, being the subject some years later to an important transformation, with among others the installation of rooms intended for entertainments on the first floor. In 1845, the government architect buit a rotunda connected to the establishment by a gallery which houses concert hall and ballroom.
The big building sites of Napoléon III: Spurred on by the Emperor Napoléon III, Vichy was set to become the “Queen of the Water Cities”. A 2nd class baths establishment was constructed close to the thermal baths. In 1856, Napoléon III agreed a great plan of development and improvement to the town: boring of 11 access ways; construction of Emperor’s cottages, a city hall, a church, a railway station; laying-out of the Allier Park which follows the river course; erection of a temporary bridge; fresh water conveyance. In 1862, the contractor’s manager of Vichy mineral waters developed the bottling and industrializes the manufacture of pastilles and salts. Dreading the nuisances induced by the works, the bathers waited for the building sites ending to flow to the thermal city, whereas the permanent population increased very quickly because of the workers’ arrival.
The modernizations (end of 19th century - beginning of 20th century): At the end of the 1880s, the water city had changed into a park-town, where esplanades grew in number. In the Third Republic, the thermal spa was enriched with many buildings intended for leisure, and the city was modernized for bringing comfort: electric lighting, compressed air tramway. New techniques of treatments were proposed by private people, such as natural medicine and spray hammam. The Farmer Company ordered a vast programme for modernizing the thermal quarter: construction of a 1st class thermal establishment, extension of the casino, transformation of the Célestins Spring and the old theatre into gaming rooms and banqueting halls, installation of a metal constructions’ set (Trink-Hall, bandstand and a covered wrought-iron gallery). New facilities were built at the beginning of 20th century, in particular the Callou Baths (1933) and Lardy Baths (1937).
Vichy, after the 2nd World War: After the Liberation, Vichy must face up to the advent of social thermalism and decolonization which led to the desertion of its society customers. In years 1960, the municipality responded by focusing the city’s development on the sport. Allier Lake was created thanks to the construction of a barrage-bridge (1963). Its area allowed the organisation of national and international competitive water sports. A sports centre was established in 1967. This programme was completed by the modernization of facilities: new air terminal and extension of airport. But, the boost spurred by this visionary mayor will come to nothing... until 1987, when partners joined forces and launched a thermal recovery plan. Its acknowledgement led to the signing of a Plan Contract between the different players “for a renewed thermalism in Vichy”. The investments programme realized at the beginning of the 1990s comprised a certain number of architectural renovations (springs hall, Horseshoe’s galleries, bandstand, etc.) and realizations, in particular this one of Célestins balneotherapy centre with its four-star hotel. In the framework of this plan, the municipality commited itself to restoring frontages and roofs of Great Casino, Art Nouveau theatre. In partnership with Region Auvergne, the city also set  up an aid policy for the restoring to favour traditional hotel business and purchases three disused great hotels which are in danger of demolition. These actions were followed by the improvement and modernization of the shopping and tourist sector (1989-1995) and gradual reconversion of wastelands (1995-2001). A university centre was installed into the Lardy Baths. Since 2007, Allier Lake has been the subject of a global improvement project led by the municipality and Vichy-Val d’Allier urban community. The development of banks groups many actions together, in particular improvement of an esplanade, beaches on the right bank and also creation of the House of Allier River planed close to the present migratory fishes observation post and this one of a great natural urban park on the left bank.

Water sources

Properties of Vichy waters: The mineral springs of Vichy belong to the family of sodic bicarbonated - carbo-gaseous waters, and are rich in trace elements. Six springs are used for the drink course of treatment. They divide into two groups:
The cold springs: “Célestins” Spring which emerges at 22°; “Lucas” Spring which emerges at 27°.
The hot springs: “Hôpital” Spring which emerges at 34°; “Chomel” Spring which emerges at 43.5°; “Grande Grille” Spring which emerges at 39°.

Spa and treatments

Action on biliary tracts: Studies showed that the action of Vichy waters is regulating of the biliary flow, by reducing it when it is excessive, by increasing it when it is insufficient.
Effects on the colon: Sodic bicarbonate waters of Vichy have an antispasmodic effect with regard to the intestine, by slowing down the frequency and reinforcing the intensity of tensing of the smooth intestinal musculature.
Effects on the symptoms of allergy: Vichy thermal water appears as though very beneficial in most cases of food allergies.

Therapeutic indications:
Rheumatology (RH) - Digestive diseases (AD) - Obesity and metabolic diseases.
Thermal treatments:
Drink course of treatment of Vichy thermal water; carbo-gaseous bath; immersion shower in thermal water bath; general shower jet ; immersion shower in thermal pool; shower with continuous spray on back (for RH) or abdomen (for AD); specific Vichy mud application ; movements in the thermal pool; massage under thermal water; general or part exposure of the body to the thermal water steam; thermal water bath added with air; mixed shower (thermal water shower without pressure above the liver + general shower jet); thermal water intestinal instillation for draining intestines and gall-bladder.

Beauty and well-being treatments:
Massages and modellings.
Wraps using specific Vichy Peloid mud.
Showers: original Vichy shower, with 4-hand massage (or 2-hand massage); lipo-draining jet shower; shower bath.
Baths: Vichy thermal water bath with essential oils; whirlpool bath.
Slimming coaching and anti-ageing coaching with following advantages: Access to the Atrium: steam room, saunas, hot tub, fitness and cardio-training room, open herbal tea bar and complementary bottle of “Vichy Célestins” water.
And also:
Vichy Nutritional Centre: Programmes based on the principles of the National Nutrition and Health Programme for losing weight and giving ideas for a better diet : nutritional consultations, conferences, light cookery courses, relaxation therapy and behaviour therapy workshops and follow-up support for 6 months after the treatment.
L’Institut of Vichy Laboratories: unique place in the world (200m²), dedicated to skin health and beauty.
Vichy cosmetics...

Facts and figures

Arrival / Tourist attendance / Medium stay length:
Statistical data concerning only the classified hotels (0 to 4-star)
à Time: from May to September 2008

  • Total number of arrivals: 79 700 (Tourist clientele = 77 900 + Spa clientele*=     1 800)
  • Total number of nights: 198 000 (Tourist clientele= 166 500 + Spa clientele*= 31 500)
  • Medium stay length: 2,5 days

à Time: Year 2008 (from January to December)

  • Total number of arrivals: 151 900, of which 6,5 % for the Foreigners
  • Total number of nights : 342 700, of which 7 % for the Foreigners
  • Medium stay length: 2,2 days, and 2,4 days for the Foreigners

à Time: from May to September 2009

  • Total number of arrivals: 80 000 (Tourist clientele = 79 000 + Spa clientele*= 1 000)
  • Total number of nights: 186 000 (Tourist clientele = 163 000 + Spa clientele*= 23 000)
  • Medium stay length: 2,3 days (all clienteles) / 2 days (tourist clientele)

àTime: Year 2009 (from January to December): figures no passed on.
(* Spa clientele: persons taking the waters + accompanying people)
Source : INSEE / THERMAUVERGNE / SPOT Auvergne

Brief report on the tourist flow in the last five years:
For these data, the Tourist Office of Vichy bases on the following indicators it manages: face to face and phone contacts. After a slack year (2008), it notes the attendances’ result is comparable to this one of the year N-2 (2007).

Year

French

Foreigners

Total

Phone contacts

2007

57 613

4 283

61 896

27 150

2008

51 878

4 887

56 765

29 750

2009

55 862

4 210

60 072

32 059

Source: Tourist Office of Vichy

Other forms of complementary tourism:

  • Business tourism, sports tourism, cultural tourism and passing tourism.

Source: Tourist Office of Vichy

Arrivals and attendances of spa tourists:


Thermal Baths’ Attendance

Year 2007

Year 2008

Persons paying social security contributions (Dômes and Callou Thermal Baths)

5 905

5 946

Health stays and Wellbeing treatments (Dômes and Célestins Centres)

14 500

16 500

Source: INSEE / THERMAUVERGNE / SPOT Auvergne

Accommodation capacity: number of hotels, total number of beds and hotel classification (stars):


Category

Number of Hotels

Number of Rooms

Accommodation capacity

4-star

2

260

520

3-star

5

369

892

2-star

21

638

1 321

1-star

2

30

64

No-classified

2

141

409

Tourism residence

5

345

643

Total

 

1 783

3 849

Source: Tourist Office of Vichy (See details enclosed in annex

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