Belgium’s Great Spa Town of Europe Spa

After visiting the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Oriol and I decided to have dinner in the spa town of Spa. Yes, the word spa comes from Spa in Belgium, just as the duffle coat is named after the Belgian town of Duffel

I had never been to Spa and it was on my to-do list. Spa is famous for its drinking water brand, its bath and spa resort obviously but also for being the headquarters for the German Empire in 1918. 


Spa is located in the province of Liège in Wallonia, whose name became an eponym for mineral baths with supposed curative properties.

The town of Spa is situated in a valley in the Ardennes mountains 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of the city of Liège and 45 kilometres (28 miles) southwest of Aachen. In 2006, Spa had a population of 10,543 and an area of 39.85 square kilometres (15.39 square miles), giving a population density of 265 inhabitants per km² (685/sq mi).

Spa is one of Belgium’s most popular tourist destinations, being renowned for its natural mineral springs and production of Spa mineral water, which is exported worldwide.

The world’s first beauty pageant, the Concours de Beauté, was held in Spa on 19 September 1888.

In 2021, the town became part of the transnational UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name Great Spa Towns of Europe, inscribed for its famous mineral springs and its architectural testimony to the rise of European bathing culture in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 2021, we visited another town in this network: Františkovy Lázně (Franzenbad) in Czechia.

Many of the famous mineral springs in Spa are located on a hillside south of the town. In total, there are more than 300 cold mineral springs in Spa and its surroundings, classified into two types: light mineral waters and natural sparkling waters (called ‘pouhons‘ locally). Pouhon is also the name of a Francorchamps circuit corner.

The light mineral waters come from recent rainfall on the Malchamps Moor, roughly 4 km south-west of the town and are filtered through layers of peat, quartz, and phyllite.

In contrast, the pouhon waters come from rainfall that may be decades old, having percolated through calcareous rocks hundreds of meters underground.


As the site of cold springs with alleged healing properties, Spa has been frequented as a watering-place since the 14th century. 

The Spa town grew at that time, in the oldest iron and steel centre of Liège Province. Prior to the exploitation of mineral water, the steel industry developed communication lines, which made it possible to develop the spa town.

Pliny the Elder (died 79 CE) noted, “In Tongrie, country of Gaul, there is a famous source, whose water, while sparkling bubbles, a ferruginous taste that is, however, feel that when we finished drinking. This water purges the body, cures fevers and dispels calculous affections.” (C lib. XXXI VIII)

In 1559 Gilbert Lymborh wrote of “acid fountains of the Ardennes forest and primarily those located in Spa”. It was translated into Latin, Italian and Spanish.

As early as 1547, Agustino, physician to Henry VIII, King of England, stayed at Spa and helped give knowledge to the world of the value of the Spa water. In July 1565 the gentry of the provinces met in Spa under the pretext of taking the waters. At the hotel Aux Armes of England, those present agreed to oppose the edicts of Philip II of Spain as austere and intolerant; this led to the historic 1566 Compromise of Nobles.

In 1654 the future Charles II of England stayed at Spa, which made the place even more famous.

Since the 18th century casinos have been located in the town.

Twentieth century

In 1918 the German Army established its principal headquarters in Spa, and from there the delegates set out for the French lines to meet marshal Ferdinand Foch and to sue for peace in the consultations leading up to the Armistice which ended World War I.

In 1914–1918 Spa operated as an important German convalescent hospital town between 1914 and 1917. The general headquarters of Kaiser Wilhelm II was, in 1918, the last place where he resided before his abdication due to the German surrender. 

In July 1920 the town hosted the Spa Conference, a meeting of the Supreme Council. German delegates were invited to this to discuss war reparations.

World War II saw Spa reoccupied by the Germans, but the town escaped the Battle of the Bulge in 1945 that stopped, luckily for Spa, just at its gates.

The Marshall Plan helped Belgium to recover quickly. In the 1950s and 1960s mass tourism gradually developed, diminishing Spa’s reliance on the elite as customers. 

These were decades of social tourism as well, with an attendance of more and more numerous Flemish and Dutch customers, while the Walloons went en masse to the Belgian coast in Flanders. Relaxation tourism replaced the thermal aspect of Spa.

Nowadays Spa passed its peak as tourism has again changed. Danny did visit Spa in 2020, when COVID-19 gave domestic tourism a new impulse. 

A visit

Oriol and I arrived in Spa on 9 November 2022 just past 5PM. Too early to find something to eat, so we walked around, making photos of the Luxury Spa Hotel and Brasserie des Bobelines, the funicular, the Casino de Spa, the Pouhon Pierre Le Grand, the Pouhon Prince de Condé and the Église décanale Notre Dame et Saint Remacle de Spa.

We also spotted a few Pierrot sculptures. Pierrot, is the symbol of Spa drinking water. In 1923, a competition was launched to create a new logo for the brand. The French artist Jean d’Ylen won with this design.

Just before 6 PM we went for dinner at Le Palmarès, a motorsports themed restaurant and bar, with race suits and photos on the wall, mini helmets of Ayrton Senna and half Belgian Lando Norris and the waiters wear race suit type outfits. Not the best food ever, but decent. 


Danny wasn’t impressed by Spa and I must say Im’m glad I’ve seen it, but there’s no real incentive for me to return for a more thorough visit. 

5 Comments Add yours

  1. elvira797mx says:

    That sounds great! A very relaxing time.
    Thank’s for share Timothy.
    Nice day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Timothy says:

      It was!

      Have a beautiful day, Elvira.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. elvira797mx says:

        Thank’s Timithy.
        You as well.

        Liked by 1 person

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