The Swiss Art of Alpine Luxury

Jonathan Ducrest’s photo essay portrays the luxury hotel 7132 in Vals, Switzerland, with its iconic thermal baths designed by Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. The moment we pulled up to the 7132 Hotel (named after the village’s postal code) in one of their chauffeured Mercedes, I thought I was in the latest Bond movie. The sleek redesigned entrance, dark lighting, and thick blue carpeting have this feeling of 1970s heydays, where James would meet one of his assets. The main building contrasts the square, monochrome design of the hotel’s famous thermal baths.

7132 Hotel in Vals, Switzerland / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

Zumthor’s thermal baths

Nestled at the end of a small valley in the Swiss Canton of the Grisons, the village of Vals became a must-see destination in the late 90s, when the thermal baths designed by Peter Zumthor opened.

Peter Zumthor's minimalist thermal baths of Vals / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

Built using only locally quarried slabs of quartzite, the minimalist spa evokes a cave and gives the impression to pre-date the hotel, which was originally built in the 60s.

7131 Hotel and thermal baths / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

After walking through a dark, tunnel-like hallway and tapping the bracelet I was given at check-in onto the brass turnstile, I reached a larger concrete hall. On one side, thick leather tapestries curtain off the changing rooms with their glossy red lockers. On the other side, rusty pipes coming out of the wall are dripping water from the thermal spring.

Thermal baths of Vals / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

I stepped out on the other side of the changing room to find myself on the upper level, overlooking the main indoor pool in the center of the structure.

Smaller pools with different water temperatures, including one with floating flower petals, pushed me to explore every corner. An outdoor pool is accessible from the inside. Lounge chairs facing gigantic windows invited me to disconnect from my digital life and stare at the pine trees and the mountain across.

Thermal baths of Vals / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

The hotel

Since the village of Vals sold the hotel and spa to a private investor in 2012, many of the rooms have been redesigned, including a dramatic penthouse suite at the top of the main building. One of the luxury hotel’s five structures is called the House of Architects and features rooms designed by Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, Thom Mayne and, naturally, the master of Swiss minimalism himself, Peter Zumthor. The room I stayed in was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Its large Swiss oak panels enveloped me like a cocoon.

Room at 7132 Hotel / Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

The lobby bar, where you can sip on an Aperol spritz, and the terrace, where you can take your afternoon tea cuddled under a thick sheepskin blanket, act as the hotel’s living room, where it’s easy to socialize with fellow guests.

I devoured the regional cheeses and cured meats from the breakfast buffet after my swim in the outside pool under the stars at dawn.

Outdoor pool at Vals thermal baths /Photo by Jonathan Ducrest

The village is a quick stroll from the hotel. I had the opportunity to visit Vals both in winter and in summer. It’s a completely different experience. Do both, if you can. △