Gaius Plinius Secundus, aka Pliny the Elder, who lived in the first century, made the first reference to Spa when he mentioned the Sparsa Fontana in his 37-volume Natural History, a work that aimed to “set forth in detail all the contents of the entire world”.
However, it was not until Henry VIII championed the curative powers of Spa’s waters in the first half of the 16th century that the town really became famous as a health resort. Royalty (among them Charles II and Peter the Great of Russia), statesmen and aristocrats from all over Europe flocked to the town in search of an elixir and, as a result, all the “spas” that have sprung up in its wake have been named after this picturesque town in the heart of the Ardennes.
By the end of the 18th century, many of the visitors to Spa were spending more time gambling (either in the casino established in 1763 or at the first modern horse track in Continental Europe, which opened in 1773), than taking the waters. In the 19th century, so many of these visitors were British that some of the streets were given very British-sounding names, such as Avenue du Lawn Tennis and Route du Balmoral.
Today, of course, Spa is famous as the home of the Belgian F1 Grand Prix, but people still visit its traditional spa facilities, housed in a rather grand 19th-century building. They come to drink the water, too, which is rich in iron and bicarbonate of soda, making it ideal for those with heart and respiratory problems, as well as rheumatism.