Lost English Ancestors on the French Riviera
Celebratory Customs Could Reveal Your Roots

More Lost English - In French Spas


Marseille-Alexandrie 2

Further to our previous post on where in France those English in bad health chose to seek a cure, we give here the spas visited by those who could not afford the recuperative pleasures of the French Riviera. These would be those voyagers who would say they were going to the "south of France" -- meaning anything south of Paris -- hoping to give the impression to others that they were going to the Riviera. As with the stations of the Riviera, each spa had certain characteristics which  might, if you know just enough about your ancestor, help you to find him or her in the local civil registrations.

Those who were suspected of hypochondria were considered highly strung and nervous; at no time should they be sent to the Riviera, for its thrills would over-excite them. They were sent to the southwestern coast, to towns that did not become exciting until the twentieth century:

  • Arcachon - valued for its pine forests which gave extra ozone to the air, considered very good for the lungs and its ability to destroy injurious gases. It was considered, along with Davos in Switzerland, to ensure a cure for tuberculosis, bronchitis and laryngitis.
  • Biarritz - being similar to Arcachon, was good for the same diseases, but not tuberculosis. It was windy and so, "more bracing". This made it good for cases of nervous exhaustion.
  • St. Jean de Luz - had less wind and so was thought better for those with lung trouble. This was for those who were really with empty pockets, for its hotels were considered shabby and the town dull.
  • Pau - being very sunny can also be stifling. This was thought to be excellent for curing asthma.
  • Dax - had the same climate and benefits as Pau, with the addition of thermal springs, so it was good for those who needed a cure for their asthma as well as their rheumatism or arthritis.

Another more affordable area was the Auvergne, one less pleasant because its people were "a singularly uninteresting race" to the English.  However, if your ancestor boasted of having met Napoleon III, who favoured the two below, look here.

  • Vichy - was much valued for its waters (though termed "a simple soda spring"), still known in bottles today, which were much warmer than at many other spas. It was considered the poor invalid's Homburg for,though the waters were good, the surrounding countryside was tedious. If your family has tales of someone having been put into a cage of shower jets, the victim most probably went to Vichy.
  • Royat - If your ancestor died of suspected arsenic poisoning, this may have been where it happened, for the waters contain rather a lot of it.

The Pyrénées also had a number of stations

  • Bagnères-de-Luchon - not for the delicate, since it was known for its "loud, noisy gaiety" and its general atmosphere of hedonism. Also not for the keen walker -- as all excursions required horses or carriages -- or for the poor -- as the guides for those excursions were known to be extortionists. Here were some of the best sulphur baths in Europe. People came here for their rheumatism and for chronic diseases of the skin, especially eczema and, mysteriously, for cures for their gunshot wounds.
  • Bagnères-de-Bigorre - tepid waters with little by way of minerals or sulphur, the baths of this boring town were thought perfect for hysterics.
  • Canterets - close to Lourdes, unfashionable, it was for those who took a serious view of their ailment. It was a place where the doctors insisted that they could cure tuberculosis and other diseases of the lungs, as well as throat troubles.
  • Saint Sauveur - near to Luz, was for the nervous.
  • Barèges - also near to Luz, was "hideous", but excellent for the treatment of battle wounds, diseases of bones and joints, and paralysis.
  • Eaux Bonnes - Had good waters from the time of François I, when they were good for wounds, to the nineteenth century, when they were good for throat and respiratory troubles.

If, however, what was sought was sun, warmth and dryness, the invalid who could endure the long journey went to Egypt for the winter. They usually went through Italy, but also by way of France (indicated by the poster above), where they may have stopped.

As the shortest, darkest day of the year is upon us, one that may also be cold and wet, give a thought to your sickly ancestor and perhaps, by way of the affliction, you will find that poor soul in the civil registrations of one of the above towns.

©2013 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy