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Taking the Waters – Where Holidays Spell Health

Czechoslavakia has 37 spas visited by about 300,000 people a year, of whom more than 10 per cent come from outside the country. CEDOK (the Czechoslovakian tourist organization) at 17/18 Old Bond Street, London W1X 4RB – 01-629 6058 for independent travelers and general inquiries, 01-491 2666 for package bookings – has detailed information on individual spas.

Marianske Lazne, the country’s second largest spa after karlovy Vary, specializes in the treatment of ‘painful vertebral syndrome, obesity, gout, diseases of the respiratory tract, urinary tract and kidneys’ using carbonic, alkaline, saline and ferrous waters, and mineral gas. Allow about Pounds 40 a night for full board and treatments, Pounds 135 for a return APEX flight with British Airways (01-897 4000) or Czechoslovak Airlines. Taxi transfers from Prague to the spa are expensive at Pounds 74.50 each way but there are buses. Cedok’s tour operating arm offers packaged holidays at three spas, Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad), Jachymov, andd Plestany. Prices for 14 days (the minimum), inclusive of flights, accommodation in a ‘first class sanatorium’, full board, medical examination and all treatments and medicines prescribed, is from Pounds 789. The price drops by Pounds 100 for escorts not taking the waters, and rises Pounds 109 for single room supplements.

The Austrians are less coy than their neighbors in describing therapies – ‘bog baths and local treatment with curative bog’ says one entry for numerous resorts will tell tale names like Alpenmoorbad, and Moorbad St. Felix. Their English language brochure Nature the Healer pictures patient/holidaymakers of a certain age and girth, too regular teeth and lots of laugh lines.

The Austrian National Tourist Office, 30 St. George Street, London W1R 9FA. (01-692 0461) offers information. In Austria treatment, sports facilities and accommodation are separately priced. Rooms in private houses and treatments booked separately in the big spa hotels offer opportunities for cutting costs.

The list of French spas reads like a tasting for bottled waters – Vichy, Vittel, Evian, and their literature is peopled with the youthful models the mineral water people use to advertise their wares – lissom girls who are plainly too perfect to need the mudpacks. French spas, of which there are more than 100 scattered all over the country, include Brides-les-Bains (echoes of those notorious murders which scandalized Victorian England). They are less brazen in their theraputic claims than those of other European countries.

The French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1 (01-491 7622) has a variety of useful literature including a pamphlet France Pays de la Sante which lists the treatments offered by all the spas. Beauty and stress treatments are popular and some of the resorts will sell forfaits for treatments on the ski-pass and sports package principle.

As an example, a two star hotel in Vichy charges from Pounds 880 for a 10 day stay on half board with three individual treatments a day, resort transport, and access to sports facilities.

Italian spas outnumber the French by at least two to one, and include another name of mineral water fame, San Pellegrino. Their powers and attractions are generously covered in Atlante delle Terme Italiane from the Italian State Tourist Office, 1 Princes Street, London W1R 8AY (01-408 1254). Treatments are sold separately and also on season tickets and are in addition to accommodation.

Germany has a whole alphabet of spas from Bad Abbach to Bad Zwischenahn, and the German National Tourist office, 61 Conduit Street, London W1. (01-734 2600) has information of many of them. Treatments are individually priced and not generally packaged with accommodation. Typical treatment prices at Bad Reichenhall start with inhalations from Pounds 1.50, rising to Pounds 10 per day.

Waltzing around Matilda Bay

There are 39 steps up to the cup. It was 10 minutes to knocking-off time for Harry Harris, one of the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s three part-time America’s Cup attendants, and his day had been an average one.

He had guided a routine 300 visitors upstairs to the committee room where the cup – as lavish a silver overstatement as a Victorian ball-gown – stands behind plate glass against a background of red suedette. Harry Harris’s feet had counted those stairs and if I did not mind going up there without him he would stay in his chair by the door.

In color on the wall. Alan Bond, the man whose triumph over the New York Yacht Club and with it the rest of the world was celebrated by the whole of Australia, beams with victorious triumph. The teeth, the smile, the tan, all badges of a 1980s winner. Flanking the ebullient Bond, formal in fading black and white, elegant hulls with flannelled crews clip through the waves of long forgotten summers.

Out on the late afternoon sparkle of Matilda Bay, boats tugged at their weekday moorings, metal shrouds and halyards shrilling in the breeze. A truant few puffed up their spinnakers and raced for a distant marker. There are always sails to be seen here on the protected waters of the Swan River.

This is the view from the office towers of Perth’s business district, a litter-free city idyll of high-rise new and low-rise old, reprieved and restored and partially pedestrianized. The girls toss curls that might have been cut in Rome, wear frocks that would be fine in Bond Street, and order designer salads for lunch. The men look, well, Australian and drink good beer. No one stops to listen to the haunting, throaty pipe of a didgeridoo played by a skinny aboriginal boy.

Innovative is the knee jerk word in cooking circles. The verb to ensuite refers to bathroom alterations, the de facto relationships of social statistics refer to shack-ups, and lifestyle refers to everything from kitchens to aspirations.

People pursue their dreams more energetically, or perhaps more openly in Western Australia than in other places. They change their houses often, creating a property market that is large for the state’s one and a half million population – two thirds of it in Perth. They change partners often too. Of every five children in primary schools, three are said to go home to a single parent. Another often repeated assertion is that Perth’s rape rate is the highest in Australia, quite in contradiction to the feel of the place, which is safe, not to say dull.

As often as not Western Australians turn out to be Jerseymen or South Africans, Londoners, or from Yorkshire or Weybridge. And whether they had arrived two or 20 years or more ago, the idea of moving on is a cherished possibility. They are slow to trade in their nationality.

Despite all the affordable dream homes with pools and entertaining areas, jarra wood luxury kitchens, turbo spas, games rooms, and gardens plumbed to water themselves, despite high employment levels and one of the most agreeable climates in the world, there is a grudging case of mind which casts long shadows over human relationships and any but the most universal of material dreams.

Success is acceptable as long as the successful ones do not overstem an invisible boundary of ordinariness. Making money is very OK. Moving on socially, culturally or intellectually is suspect. They call it cutting down the tall poppies.

Between Perth and its port Fremantle at the mouth of the Swan, the river is flanked all the way by bungalowed suburbs. On the north shore are Claremont which has the best out-of-town shopping. Subiaco, a place to buy books or antiques. Cottesloe, a good address. The south shore road runs through Applecross, Alfred Cove, Bicton and Palmyra.

Fremantle is where the sailing action is. The America’s Cup races begin in October with the Australian 12-metre yachts racing each other for the honor of defending the cup. Simultaneously, the rest of the world will be competing to put up a challenger. The final races between a single Australian defender and the best of the rest will be held from February 5 to 27, 1987.

When Alan Bond brought the cup back to an incredulous West Australia three years ago, Fremantle was dozing in the sun. In the docks the sheep ships which look like skeleton multi-story car parks were doing regular business in live meat for the Middle East. Freo Markets, held every weekend in a turn-of-the-century market building behind terraced cottages for pensioner warders from the prison, were already offering salt-free sausages, hand-painted T-shirts, bric-a-brac and fancy boomerangs.

Across the street the Sail and Anchor was keeping up with demand for its famous beers: Dogbolter, Brass Monkey stout and Matilda Bay lager.

Since the win, money has poured into the town. Six-figure sums are the only ones – rock lobsters from up the coast, dhufish, gummy shark anyone notices. The town has changed and of course not everybody thinks for the better. If there is a single Victorian building that is not being given a face-lift I did not spot it. There is so much fresh paint about you can hardly smell the sea.

The weekend crowd on the waterfront has come to spot yachts and sample the seafood and chips. Across the harbor from the terrace of Lombardo’, a multi-million dollar restaurant complex, the hull of the Yacht Club Italiano’s boat is laced secretively into scarlet covers. The prow of South Australia, the boat next door, peeps over blue canvas screens.

Out on the water these wind- powered racing machines hold pacing trials round offshore markets – sleek fast yachts followed everywhere by their tenders, minder boats that carry extra sails, lunch boxes and provide the power to get safely in and out of harbor.

Turning the boats, training their crews and learning to make the most of local conditions takes months of solid work. It cannot all be fun but hearing Harold Cudmore, skipper of England’s Crusader Challenger, propose a particular run to his pacing partner with the words ‘it might make good sport’ brought the point of the exercise back into focus.

While cement mixers churn out the developments that the money men hope will put Western Australia on the international map, the yachtsmen are laboring to ensure that they will still be in town for the final races next year.