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The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David                      



      You can't miss "Les thermes" at Lamalou-les-Bains; fronted by palm trees and a miniature formal garden, the facade is covered in paintings of Cleopatra and her bathing maidens.  Inside, the atmosphere is a cross between an Agatha Christie tea dance and a 1950s municipal swimming pool: gloss paint and palm trees, steam and carbolic.

      We had booked in for a long morning's "remise en forme", and were soon issued with hangers-standing-in shoe-boxes and plastic bags containing uniform towels and dressing gowns.  Wearing rubber wrist bands to identify our belongings, we went off into the clanking gloom to change into our swimmies and latte-coloured towelling robes and, having returned our clothes to the cloakroom, were led off down a labyrinth of steamy corridors to lie on a pair of tables gazing up at the peeling paint and the rusting pipes while a girl in a rubber apron sprayed us down with hot water.

      Next up, after another wander through the maze, was a swimming pool filled with warm water made milky with clay.  We all had to wait while the previous group finished their treatment and once they had filed out, we filed down the steps and into the water where we gravitated uneasily to the edges of the pool.  A large notice on the wall warned us that the treatment would work better in total silence, and everyone was taking that instruction seriously.  In fact, it was exactly like the London Underground: we were all in the same bath but no-one acknowledged anyone else's presence by so much as the flicker of an eyelid.

      "I've been coming here for 5 years," murmured the woman beside me suddenly.  "For my MS.  It doesn't do any good, but it's all the doctor can offer me so I come for three weeks every year..."

      "Shhhh!" hissed the attendant, pointing to the notice.

      Our feet floated to the surface, chalky and dead-looking and a woman in full make-up and pearl ear-rings caught my eye and winked.

      In the next treatment room the water was brown and as we trod down the steps into the pool I couldn't help thinking that we were the carrots and potatoes in the soup.  The edge of the pool was lined with railings defining each person's place and once we were all installed and holding onto our bars, they turned the jets on: blimey, it was fantastic!  A hot water massage all up and down your neck, back, bottom and legs.  We all squirmed in delight for our allotted fifteen minutes and left our bouillon bath with regret.

      The last pool was the same brown water, just hotter and more relaxing.  Then it was time to dry up and get dressed, but the best was still to come.  A back massage; scrubby, smooth, soft, hot, cold, oily, steamy... the sensations flow one after another and all you have to do is lie there and relax.  Utter bliss.

      And finally a black rubber water bed. You climb on to it, lie down, the beautician switches it on and jets of water shoot up from the floor and massage you through the rubber.  Dead kinky, and extraordinarily relaxing.

      Maybe it was the early start to get there on time - you have to arrive by 9.30am - or all that jumping in and out of swimming pools, but I could have dozed off and slept for hours.  Sadly, the timer ran out and I had to lever myself to my feet.

      Tottering out of the building I felt completely light-headed and fuzzy, almost as if I couldn't walk.  My hair felt like wire wool but looked thick and full, my skin was smooth and silky and okay, I didn't miraculously have Cleopatra's figure, but I could imagine myself getting there with a few more sessions on that water bed.

      All in all, I'd say it was 85 euros really well spent.  As a bonus, Lamalou itself is worth seeing.  Peeling pink and green paint, dusty palm trees, nostalgic postcards, adverts for tea dances, a casino, a cinema, and a whole bevy of fading hotels, bars and restaurants give the place a surreal air of having, sometime before WW1, mistaken itself for Cannes.

        We'll definitely be back. 

      For more information or to make a reservation see or phone 


Next column will be uploaded around 1st May.



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