Our June cover story is on Vichy, located in the Auvergne region region of central France. With a population of 80,000, Vichy is the second largest city in Auvergne. With stunning architecture, and an emphasis on it’s healing thermal waters, this gem of a town is worth the 3 hour train ride from Paris.
From our latest issue:
“An American reporter had the nerve to ask me if Vichy was a bastion of the Far Right last week!” confided a spokesperson at the Vichy Tourist Office indignantly. “Honestly, Vichy deserves war reparations for the damage done to our reputation.”
He’s got a point. It wasn’t Vichy’s fault that Maréchal Pétain decided to pitch camp here in 1940. He opted for this high-rent resort because it had thousands of available hotel rooms that his weak-kneed government could easily appropriate. And as this resort’s peace-time fauna included crown princes, captains of industry, international bankers and opera impresarios, Vichy possessed a state-of-the-art 1940s phone system.
Pétain’s legacy still stings in the 21st century. As usual during the recent presidential election, the most insulting epithet hurled at any French politician was “Vichy” and those insults streamed equally from Right and Left. Perhaps, it’s time to relegate this facet of Vichy’s past to “water under the bridge” status. After all, water is what kept centuries of enthusiasts returning to Vichy.
After a hard day of conquering Gaul, Julius Caesar’s armies liked nothing better than a spa treatment. The location they baptized Vicus Aquis Calidis in the Auvergne region had an abundance of naturally gushing springs. Today, the lawn in front of Vichy’s “Grand Etablissement Thermal,” built in 1903, displays several of the stone bath-tubs left over from the Gallo-Roman era.
The medicinal – rather than recreational – qualities of these naturally-carbonated waters from the area’s volcanic subsoil began to be appreciated in the Middle Ages. When Henri IV put his seal of approval on the site in 1605, the waters were credited with near miraculous healing powers. A strong concentration of bicarbonate of soda (and lithium) makes these waters helpful for digestive problems, for calming nerves, and for reducing kidney stones.
Photo: Vichy Hôtel de Ville