Mineral Spa
Going to the source

Two mineral spa and leisure developments are making waves in Portugal – all thanks to investment from the country’s largest brewer. Julie Cramer finds out more

By Julie Cramer | Published in Spa Business 2015 issue 1


As one of Portugal’s biggest beverage companies, known for its Super Bock beer, Unicer might seem an unlikely business to be operating two leisure, spa and nature parks in the country’s lesser developed northern region. Yet its opulently-restored Vidago Palace hotel, spa and park and eco-centred Pedras Salgadas nature park and thermal spa have been putting this corner of Portugal firmly on the tourist map since opening in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

Despite this, the two sites – designed by several acclaimed Portuguese architects – are still, according to Unicer, just a niche part of its €500m (US$622m, £396m) a year global drinks business (see p48).

So just how did the investments come about and why did the company feel it would be a good move?

Social responsibility
The development story of the parks, located 13km apart around two spa towns of the same name (Vidago and Pedras Salgadas), began when Unicer expanded into the bottled mineral water sector.

In 2001 it purchased drinks company Vidago Melgaço e Pedras Salgadas (VMPS) and automatically inherited 20 hectares (49 acres) containing two nature parks, which were the original source of the naturally carbonated mineral water.

Paula Marques, Unicer representative and GM of Vidago, says: “With the acquisition of VMPS, Unicer achieved one of its strategic goals – to become the main Portuguese beverage company, with its core business as a brewery and in bottled water – and to extend its activity to tourism.”

“We felt a great sense of social responsibility when we acquired the land, and so we undertook a huge project in order to rebuild these two 100-year-old parks. Unicer is well known as a company which cares about the preservation of national patrimony and identity.”

Renovation works
The Vidago Palace Hotel, first built for royalty in 1910, reopened during its centenary anniversary year in 2010, with a rich and stylish new look created by interior architects José Pedro Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã. In contrast to the ornate, marbled and very colourful interiors of the 70-bed hotel, the 2,500sq m (26,910sq ft) spa has been designed with the signature minimalist look of Pritzker prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira (right).

The nearby Pedras Salgadas Spa and Nature Park opened a few years later, in 2013, with a focus on the environment. Lisbon-based architect Luis Rebelo de Andrade built 13 deluxe eco houses and two striking tree houses that suspend guests in the verdant pine forest. Siza Vieira was again commissioned to work on the spa by restoring the park’s art nouveau thermal baths. Marques says: “We’ve combined the preservation of the natural environment and renewal of the thermal park concept in Portugal with modernism and innovation.”

Unicer says total investment amounted to €70m (US$87m, £55m) – €50m (US$62m, £40m) for Vidago and €20m (US$25m, £16m) for Pedras Salgadas. “One of our main goals was to renew the thermal tourism concept,” says Marques. “[But] as the two projects were so geographically close, it didn’t make sense to have the same offer. So we decided to create two unique projects, allowing us to attract different kinds of tourists to our region.”

It seems the tactic is paying off. Pedras Salgadas has captured the imagination of Iberian tourists, with 84 per cent of its guests being Portuguese, and 10 per cent coming from Spain. The Pedras Salgadas brand is the most famous mineral water drink in Portugal, which has no doubt helped attract locals. Vidago, on the other hand, appeals to a wider spread of nationalities: 65 per cent of customers are Portuguese; 12 per cent Spanish; and 11 per cent from Europe.

Drawn to the waters
Of course, the USP that ties both sites together is the healthy mineral water, known for its particularly high iron content and for aiding the digestive system, liver detoxification and overall cleansing. Spa manager for both sites, Vera Gonçalves, says: “The Vidago waters are believed to be therapeutic and curative, with only 0.5 per cent of waters in the world sharing the same mineral properties. These waters are collected directly from deep underground granite rock springs and are now used in several of our exclusive signature treatments.”

In stark contrast to the main building, with its belle époque style, the spa at Vidago Palace Hotel is designed as a modern, Zen-inspired space that Gonçalves says “exudes tranquility and promotes an immediate sensation of wellbeing”.

Spa facilities at Vidago include 17 treatment rooms (including five for water therapies and two suites); a doctor’s room; a beauty room; two relaxation areas; a hydro pool, plus an indoor and outdoor pool; and a gym with Matrix equipment. Products are supplied by Clarins, with Aromatherapy Associates used for more holistic treatments, says Gonçalves.

While the emphasis at Vidago is on relaxation and pampering, the focus at Pedras Salgadas is very much on being outdoors in nature. There are many cycling, walking and nature trails and the thermal waters are there to revive guests as a complement to the physical activity.

The renovated thermal baths are much starker and pared down. Architectural details such as the art nouveau doors and original signage remain intact, while modern light wells added by Siza Vieira ensure healthy amounts of light are projected down into the spa spaces.

The spa has 14 treatment rooms (including five for hydrotherapy). Other facilities include a heated indoor pool, an outdoor pool, sauna, hammam and two relaxation areas. Spa products at the thermal baths are supplied by La Phyto.

Water wellness
Gonçalves says that extensive wellbeing programmes (with themes such as Purifying, In Balance and Keep Moving) are offered at both spas, with seven- or 14-day packages both being popular. Programme prices start from around €2,600 (US$3,240, £2,060).

A typical package would include medical and nutritional consultations, a biometric evaluation, personalised spa cuisine, facials and massages, water treatments and traditional therapies like shiatsu, as well as fitness activities such as PT sessions, tai chi, yoga and walking.

Gonçalves adds: “Our guests also like to experience our waters even when they have shorter stays with us and the most popular is the Vichy scrub [treatment] and the personalised relaxing massage made with the best olive oil of the region.”

Currently both spas average the same amount of treatments per month, with 82 treatments being delivered at each site as of October 2014. At Vidago, 20 per cent of hotel guests have spa treatments, but the capture rate at Pedras Salgadas is slightly higher at 25 per cent.

Combined overall revenue for the Vidago and Pedras Salgadas spas was €250,000 (US$311,060, £197,860) in 2013, with expectations for 2014 around €325,000 (US$404,370, £257,220).

The two parks may have started out as an incidental business for Unicer, but in a world where wellness tourism is growing year on year, they’re holding their own. The mix of history, luxury, nature, therapeutic waters and eco-consciousness has created a twin centre that’s sure to attract an increasingly international and affluent group of health tourists.

As Gonçalves concludes: “We want to present to the world the quality and effects of our waters. Our goal is to help the maximum number of people achieve a healthy lifestyle without using medication – for them to see an immediate improvement in their health with the help of nature… and our reputation is growing.”

ÁLVARO SIZA VIEIRA

Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira is known for his minimalist style and his projects range from swimming pools to mass housing developments, offices, restaurants, art galleries and retail.

Some of his best known works are located in his home town of Porto including the Boa Nova Tea House (1963), the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Porto (1993) and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (1997).

He’s won numerous awards over his 60-year career, including the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1992.

The jury citation for the position of Pritzker laureate said his work was “a joy to the senses and uplifts the spirit. Each line and curve is placed with skill and sureness… Like the early modernists, his shapes, moulded by light, have a deceptive simplicity about them; they are honest… To paraphrase Siza’s own words, his is a response to a problem, a situation in transformation, in which he participates.”

 



Álvaro Siza Vieira

Unicer
- Unicer is one of Portugal’s largest beverage companies, with multiple brands and 13 production centres around the country. Focused mainly on brewing and bottled water, the business also comprises soft drinks, wine, malt production and sales, and latterly, tourism assets

- Fifty-six per cent of Unicer is owned by Portuguese shareholders – Viacer Group (BPI, Arsopi and Violas) – and 44 per cent is owned by the Carlsberg Group

- The company has a strong international presence, with brands now in 50 countries


SPA CONSULTANT’S PERSPECTIVE

 

Helen Merchant
 

Helen Merchant, a spa consultant based in the UK, oversaw the final phase of development and pre-opening of the Vidago spa. Although she’s been involved in a number of international projects, the Portuguese spa – and working with Siza Vieira – is a highlight. She says: “Vidago Palace is a truly unique property. Its modern, minimalist spa sits in complete contrast to the historic palace yet blends in beautifully… In homage to the location’s natural springs, the spa’s therapeutic water treatments are a signature offer.”



FACTS & FIGURES
Vidago Palace Hotel
Room rate: €200 for two people (B&B)
Annual occupancy: 40 per cent
Type of guest: 70 per cent leisure, 30 per cent MICE

Pedras Salgadas Spa and Nature Park
Room rate: €200 for four guests (B&B)
Annual occupancy: 50 per cent
Type of guest: 98 per cent leisure, 2 per cent MICE



Julie Cramer is a health, hospitality and travel journalist and a former online news editor for the BBC

Email: [email protected]

The opulent Vidago Palace hotel reopened in 2010
The Pedras Salgadas eco park launched in 2013
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
The contemporary spa stands out against the restored belle époque-style hotel
The USP that ties both sites together is the therapeutic water. At the eco park, many guests relax in the warm pool after a day of outdoor activities
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details and modern design
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details and modern design
Spa capture rates are 20 and 25 per cent says spa manager Gonçalves. She’s confident these will increase as the reputation of the resorts grows
Spa capture rates are 20 and 25 per cent says spa manager Gonçalves. She’s confident these will increase as the reputation of the resorts grows
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Spa Business
2015 issue 1

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Leisure Management - Going to the source

Mineral Spa

Going to the source


Two mineral spa and leisure developments are making waves in Portugal – all thanks to investment from the country’s largest brewer. Julie Cramer finds out more

Julie Cramer
Paula Marques, Unicer representative and GM of Vidago
The opulent Vidago Palace hotel reopened in 2010
The Pedras Salgadas eco park launched in 2013
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
Minimalist architect Siza Vieira designed both spas, but the one at Vidago Palace has more of a soft, pampering feel
The contemporary spa stands out against the restored belle époque-style hotel
The USP that ties both sites together is the therapeutic water. At the eco park, many guests relax in the warm pool after a day of outdoor activities
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details and modern design
The renovated thermal baths offer a mix of original art nouveau details and modern design
Spa capture rates are 20 and 25 per cent says spa manager Gonçalves. She’s confident these will increase as the reputation of the resorts grows
Spa capture rates are 20 and 25 per cent says spa manager Gonçalves. She’s confident these will increase as the reputation of the resorts grows

As one of Portugal’s biggest beverage companies, known for its Super Bock beer, Unicer might seem an unlikely business to be operating two leisure, spa and nature parks in the country’s lesser developed northern region. Yet its opulently-restored Vidago Palace hotel, spa and park and eco-centred Pedras Salgadas nature park and thermal spa have been putting this corner of Portugal firmly on the tourist map since opening in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

Despite this, the two sites – designed by several acclaimed Portuguese architects – are still, according to Unicer, just a niche part of its €500m (US$622m, £396m) a year global drinks business (see p48).

So just how did the investments come about and why did the company feel it would be a good move?

Social responsibility
The development story of the parks, located 13km apart around two spa towns of the same name (Vidago and Pedras Salgadas), began when Unicer expanded into the bottled mineral water sector.

In 2001 it purchased drinks company Vidago Melgaço e Pedras Salgadas (VMPS) and automatically inherited 20 hectares (49 acres) containing two nature parks, which were the original source of the naturally carbonated mineral water.

Paula Marques, Unicer representative and GM of Vidago, says: “With the acquisition of VMPS, Unicer achieved one of its strategic goals – to become the main Portuguese beverage company, with its core business as a brewery and in bottled water – and to extend its activity to tourism.”

“We felt a great sense of social responsibility when we acquired the land, and so we undertook a huge project in order to rebuild these two 100-year-old parks. Unicer is well known as a company which cares about the preservation of national patrimony and identity.”

Renovation works
The Vidago Palace Hotel, first built for royalty in 1910, reopened during its centenary anniversary year in 2010, with a rich and stylish new look created by interior architects José Pedro Vieira and Diogo Rosa Lã. In contrast to the ornate, marbled and very colourful interiors of the 70-bed hotel, the 2,500sq m (26,910sq ft) spa has been designed with the signature minimalist look of Pritzker prize-winning architect Álvaro Siza Vieira (right).

The nearby Pedras Salgadas Spa and Nature Park opened a few years later, in 2013, with a focus on the environment. Lisbon-based architect Luis Rebelo de Andrade built 13 deluxe eco houses and two striking tree houses that suspend guests in the verdant pine forest. Siza Vieira was again commissioned to work on the spa by restoring the park’s art nouveau thermal baths. Marques says: “We’ve combined the preservation of the natural environment and renewal of the thermal park concept in Portugal with modernism and innovation.”

Unicer says total investment amounted to €70m (US$87m, £55m) – €50m (US$62m, £40m) for Vidago and €20m (US$25m, £16m) for Pedras Salgadas. “One of our main goals was to renew the thermal tourism concept,” says Marques. “[But] as the two projects were so geographically close, it didn’t make sense to have the same offer. So we decided to create two unique projects, allowing us to attract different kinds of tourists to our region.”

It seems the tactic is paying off. Pedras Salgadas has captured the imagination of Iberian tourists, with 84 per cent of its guests being Portuguese, and 10 per cent coming from Spain. The Pedras Salgadas brand is the most famous mineral water drink in Portugal, which has no doubt helped attract locals. Vidago, on the other hand, appeals to a wider spread of nationalities: 65 per cent of customers are Portuguese; 12 per cent Spanish; and 11 per cent from Europe.

Drawn to the waters
Of course, the USP that ties both sites together is the healthy mineral water, known for its particularly high iron content and for aiding the digestive system, liver detoxification and overall cleansing. Spa manager for both sites, Vera Gonçalves, says: “The Vidago waters are believed to be therapeutic and curative, with only 0.5 per cent of waters in the world sharing the same mineral properties. These waters are collected directly from deep underground granite rock springs and are now used in several of our exclusive signature treatments.”

In stark contrast to the main building, with its belle époque style, the spa at Vidago Palace Hotel is designed as a modern, Zen-inspired space that Gonçalves says “exudes tranquility and promotes an immediate sensation of wellbeing”.

Spa facilities at Vidago include 17 treatment rooms (including five for water therapies and two suites); a doctor’s room; a beauty room; two relaxation areas; a hydro pool, plus an indoor and outdoor pool; and a gym with Matrix equipment. Products are supplied by Clarins, with Aromatherapy Associates used for more holistic treatments, says Gonçalves.

While the emphasis at Vidago is on relaxation and pampering, the focus at Pedras Salgadas is very much on being outdoors in nature. There are many cycling, walking and nature trails and the thermal waters are there to revive guests as a complement to the physical activity.

The renovated thermal baths are much starker and pared down. Architectural details such as the art nouveau doors and original signage remain intact, while modern light wells added by Siza Vieira ensure healthy amounts of light are projected down into the spa spaces.

The spa has 14 treatment rooms (including five for hydrotherapy). Other facilities include a heated indoor pool, an outdoor pool, sauna, hammam and two relaxation areas. Spa products at the thermal baths are supplied by La Phyto.

Water wellness
Gonçalves says that extensive wellbeing programmes (with themes such as Purifying, In Balance and Keep Moving) are offered at both spas, with seven- or 14-day packages both being popular. Programme prices start from around €2,600 (US$3,240, £2,060).

A typical package would include medical and nutritional consultations, a biometric evaluation, personalised spa cuisine, facials and massages, water treatments and traditional therapies like shiatsu, as well as fitness activities such as PT sessions, tai chi, yoga and walking.

Gonçalves adds: “Our guests also like to experience our waters even when they have shorter stays with us and the most popular is the Vichy scrub [treatment] and the personalised relaxing massage made with the best olive oil of the region.”

Currently both spas average the same amount of treatments per month, with 82 treatments being delivered at each site as of October 2014. At Vidago, 20 per cent of hotel guests have spa treatments, but the capture rate at Pedras Salgadas is slightly higher at 25 per cent.

Combined overall revenue for the Vidago and Pedras Salgadas spas was €250,000 (US$311,060, £197,860) in 2013, with expectations for 2014 around €325,000 (US$404,370, £257,220).

The two parks may have started out as an incidental business for Unicer, but in a world where wellness tourism is growing year on year, they’re holding their own. The mix of history, luxury, nature, therapeutic waters and eco-consciousness has created a twin centre that’s sure to attract an increasingly international and affluent group of health tourists.

As Gonçalves concludes: “We want to present to the world the quality and effects of our waters. Our goal is to help the maximum number of people achieve a healthy lifestyle without using medication – for them to see an immediate improvement in their health with the help of nature… and our reputation is growing.”

ÁLVARO SIZA VIEIRA

Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza Vieira is known for his minimalist style and his projects range from swimming pools to mass housing developments, offices, restaurants, art galleries and retail.

Some of his best known works are located in his home town of Porto including the Boa Nova Tea House (1963), the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Porto (1993) and the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art (1997).

He’s won numerous awards over his 60-year career, including the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1992.

The jury citation for the position of Pritzker laureate said his work was “a joy to the senses and uplifts the spirit. Each line and curve is placed with skill and sureness… Like the early modernists, his shapes, moulded by light, have a deceptive simplicity about them; they are honest… To paraphrase Siza’s own words, his is a response to a problem, a situation in transformation, in which he participates.”

 



Álvaro Siza Vieira

Unicer
- Unicer is one of Portugal’s largest beverage companies, with multiple brands and 13 production centres around the country. Focused mainly on brewing and bottled water, the business also comprises soft drinks, wine, malt production and sales, and latterly, tourism assets

- Fifty-six per cent of Unicer is owned by Portuguese shareholders – Viacer Group (BPI, Arsopi and Violas) – and 44 per cent is owned by the Carlsberg Group

- The company has a strong international presence, with brands now in 50 countries


SPA CONSULTANT’S PERSPECTIVE

 

Helen Merchant
 

Helen Merchant, a spa consultant based in the UK, oversaw the final phase of development and pre-opening of the Vidago spa. Although she’s been involved in a number of international projects, the Portuguese spa – and working with Siza Vieira – is a highlight. She says: “Vidago Palace is a truly unique property. Its modern, minimalist spa sits in complete contrast to the historic palace yet blends in beautifully… In homage to the location’s natural springs, the spa’s therapeutic water treatments are a signature offer.”



FACTS & FIGURES
Vidago Palace Hotel
Room rate: €200 for two people (B&B)
Annual occupancy: 40 per cent
Type of guest: 70 per cent leisure, 30 per cent MICE

Pedras Salgadas Spa and Nature Park
Room rate: €200 for four guests (B&B)
Annual occupancy: 50 per cent
Type of guest: 98 per cent leisure, 2 per cent MICE



Julie Cramer is a health, hospitality and travel journalist and a former online news editor for the BBC

Email: [email protected]


Originally published in Spa Business 2015 issue 1

Published by The Leisure Media Company Ltd Portmill House, Portmill Lane, Hitchin, Herts SG5 1DJ. Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd