Dreaming of Italian Thermal Baths

Rooted in the folds of the Valtellina Valley in the Italian Alps, you can find a romantic escape from reality. Ever since Roman times, the natural hot springs flowing through the area attract visitors to Bormio, a small town in the northeastern tip of the Lombardy Region. And it was precisely those warm waters that drew the Domecks and the Reintgens to this dreamy slice of Italy for a Valentine’s Weekend Adventure last year.

We set off from Zurich by car, and at first, we were all smiles. Giddy in anticipation for our luxurious retreat and hopped up on the morning’s caffeine kick, we merrily scooted along the Swiss highway and soaked in the mountain vistas. Google Maps indicated that we’d reach our thermal destination in 4.5 hours – max. Like I said, all smiles.

After zipping through a few cantons, our smiles and good humor turned into looks of astonishment and disbelief when we reached the Vereina Tunnel in Canton Graubünden…

The Vereina Tunnel, which opened in 1999, grants travelers safe passage through the Rhaetian Alps at all times of the year. At 19,058 meters (62,526 feet) long, this stroke of Swiss engineering is exceptional, but it is not without one major drawback: the wait times to pass through the tunnel can be ghastly.

Surrounded by cars from all over Europe, we waited for more than two hours before our own four-wheels could load onto the train. Yep, that’s right – we put our car on a train! The Vareina Tunnel is a railway tunnel, where vehicles file onto a “car shuttle train” for the journey through the mountains. Needless to say, we were thrilled when our turn to finally came, as evidenced by this video. [TIP: If you are seeking passage through this tunnel, take a look at the traffic report ahead of time.]

Passing through the tunnel was quite an obstacle, but more road remained between us and the alluring baths of Bormio. Shortly after we crossed the Swiss-Italian border at Lake Livigno, we stopped for a pizza break at the resort town of the same name. Refueled and ready for our long-awaited aqua therapy, we took the winding road above Livigno to summit the Foscagno Pass (2,291 meters), which was absolutely beautiful.

As the sun slipped ever closer towards the mountaintops, we descended upon Bormio some seven hours after setting off from Zurich. We pulled up to a pale pink building that looked more like Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel than a thermal spa. But there it was – the QC Terme Bagni Nuovi di Bormio – our reward for a long day’s journey.

We shimmied into our swimsuits, donned our issued white bathrobes, flip-flopped outside and jumped into the first unoccupied hot tub we spotted! With a number of swirling pools, rejuvenating water treatments, and quiet spaces reserved for contemplative relaxation, we reveled in the diversity of this wellness center and celebrated our road trip victory.

If you are dreaming of your own spa experience in the mountains, a road trip to Bormio – where the water is warm, the views are mesmerizing, and the hustle and bustle of city life seem to fade away – is worth considering. Obviously, I’m still dreaming about it.


Ciao amici! Would you drive 6+ hours for a weekend escape? Do you have some favorite thermal baths that I should know about? How do you feel about cars on trains?

Don’t remember who the Reintgens are? Katie and Scott were our co-adventurers while they lived in Zurich; we went sledding in Bergün, made our own cheese fondue, and enjoyed expat life together. For Scott’s version of this particular adventure, you can get his perspective on our road trip to Bormio on his blog here. Plus, trust me when I say you should read Scott’s debut novel, Nyxia, when it comes out in the fall of 2017. Just go ahead and pre-order the first book in the Nyxia Triad; you can thank me later.

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