An Afternoon in Plombières les Bains

Plombières les Bains, well, is not a real place somehow. It’s something from a film perhaps, or a book, from a exquisitely dark story about when people dressed properly and entertained polite conversation while delighting in nightly stabbings and poisoned champagne. Belladonna. You know those long thin daggers that look like luxurious letter knives, hidden in the folds of wide velvet capes. A hint of smoke and violet perfume. Probably vampires and stuff like that too, at least it wouldn’t surprise me if the waiter accidentally let slip some indiscretion relating to events he happened to witness in 1857. Plombières les Bains is a mood. One should not visit Plombières in the sunshine but rather wait for grey, low hanging clouds and drizzle wetting the pavement, mirrors to walk on, that’s the perfect weather for this place. Learn one’s vocabulary and dress accordingly.

Plombières, back when those uncanny personages were quite human still, was incredibly fashionable, tout Paris including the Napoleons were curing whatever was ailing them by bathing in the famous thermal springs of the town, renowned already in Romans times. There’s not much left, by the way, of Roman workmanship except some hot spring basins carved into stone and a magnificent brass faucet, I suspect it still is functional. To think of it, it’s quite sensational to literally sit and enjoy the hot steam rising from the fountain, in the exact spot where, centuries ago, antique bottoms settled to enjoy the hot steam rising from said fountain. Alas, I just love the Thermes de Plombières for that alone. The baths have a wonderful and complete aura of decay, which, as you well might be aware of, is something I invariably fall for, bathing culture here somewhat came, after two millennia of industrious purification, to a full stop in the seventies with white tiled rooms and mighty matrons shooing one through a parcours of treatments meant to improve your wellbeing, incidentally you really do feel better after having successfully completed the cure safe and sound. Clearly, I love the Thermes de Plombières. They are renovating the baths right now, I suppose it’s going to be very chic, you may sense the pang of regret. Time, most often, is superior to men’s artistry. Some things get more beautiful when left alone. I hope they will not fancify the matrons off their competent brusqueness.

Anyhow, Beaumarchais was here and Berlioz, Alfred de Musset and the painter Delacroix. Very important people, such as kings and politicians. Their wives and, in particular, concubines. A perfect setting for whatever your heart desires. Some ingenuous patissier invented the glace plombières for the occasion, probably the best ice cream in the world, mind, it contains candied fruit macerated in kirsch. Kirsch is booze made from cherries and very good if done well. One still eats decently at the Orangerie, though it was better before, make sure to have a little room left to enjoy some glace plombières later at the small pub on the main square, unfortunately the bakery-and-tea-room who made the best one has forever closed its door but one should not be too fussy when it comes to candied fruit macerated in kirsch. The Orangerie was Napi’s ballroom back when he was human and his private apartments now are hotel rooms. I wonder whether he is still around. They lack any possible old-world charm, those rooms, except if you lift the carpets there’s splendid wooden flooring. Practicality eats romance. It is still one of my all times favourite hotels and the elevator is superb. There’s the Napoleon baths in the adjoining building, absolutely stunning and eternally in works, but do not, under threat of curse and punishment, approach, mind, and if you still do make sure nobody (including incorporeal bodies) sees you sneaking through the glass door.

Also, in case fate should ever drop you at Plombières les Bains, I’m certain she’d do it on a rainy day, be sure to pay a visit to the trunk maker in high street, his name is William, I’m sure he’ll graciously introduce you into the secrets of traveling in style, if only you ever wanted to eventually leave this place. Plombières les Bains, which is not a real place, somehow. 

Also I realised I took photographs of houses mostly, instead of what would probably be of much more interest to you, like ice cream or the waiter with the long memory. Or the brass faucet. I’ll do it next time, on a rainy day, promised. 

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