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Aside from being the home to one of the greatest circuits on the Formula One calendar, Spa is recognised throughout the world for its water. The Romans were the first people to discover its natural springs deep in the Ardennes countryside, and people still visit the town today in search of hydrotherapy. The biggest industry in the town is the famous bottled water company, Spa.
The mention of water is never far from people’s lips at the circuit, which is eight kilometres from the town. One of the most fearsome corners on the lap is Pouhon, which translates into English as ‘water well’ and the Ardennes has a micro-climate all of its own, hence rain tyres are never far from the cars.
“The great thing about Spa-Francorchamps is that it hasn’t changed over the years,” says three-time world champion Niki Lauda. “The track is an old-style circuit and is still a great challenge to the drivers, and the surrounding area hasn’t been built all over and is still very beautiful. I enjoy coming here.”
The bright lights of Liege and Brussels are a 40-minute and two-hour drive respectively, so there is something for everyone at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Did you know?
Thanks to its springs, Spa is known as the ‘Cafe of Europe’.
There is an aerodrome on the outskirts of Spa, but the nearest international airport is Brussels. It has connections all over Europe, as well as many intercontinental flights, and is only a two-hour drive from the track.
Getting to the circuit is easiest by road. If you don't hire a car, catch a train to Liege and take one of the many buses laid on to the track.
At almost seven kilometres, Spa-Francorchamps is the longest track on the Formula One calendar. As a result, a general admission ticket may seem quite a daunting prospect because there is a lot of ground to cover - a lot of which is wooded and hilly. In reality, however, it is arguably the best way to see one of the greatest tracks on the calendar. For those who prefer a seat, there are grandstands at all the key corners - La Source, Eau Rouge, Pouhon etc - and ticket prices are divided into three groups: gold, silver and bronze.
You must sample the very tasty local speciality - french fries and mayonnaise. And don't forget a raincoat for the fickle Spa weather.
Where to go?
Spa itself is the obvious place to go out when at the Grand Prix. With its many outdoor cafes and restaurants, it is full of charm. It even has a Casino.
Liege is another possible destination and it has lots of bars and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. The coal mining town of Blegny is also worth a visit. The pits are now closed, allowing visitors to go underground to see what life was like for miners.
Where to stay?
“I stay in the Radisson Hotel in Spa,” says Lauda. “It’s a good hotel and Spa is a nice town.” There are plenty of other fine hotels in Spa, such as the Cardinal, the Dorint and the L’Etape Fagnarde, while lower-priced options are to be found in the surrounding villages.
In fact, there are 480 guest houses in the Ardennes region, plus plenty of small hotels. Camping is another option - just make sure your tent is waterproof.
If you want a quiet, relaxing time, stay in Spa for a few days and spoil yourself with some hydrotherapy. For a city break, why not head to Brussels? The Belgian capital is full of charm, with amazing baroque architecture, a spectacular Gothic town hall, and endless pavement cafes. Sights of note include the Grand Place and the Rue des Bouchers, famous for its seafood.
If you fancy a more active holiday, you could visit a couple of old Formula One tracks - the Nurburgring Nordschliefe is a short drive to the east and Reims (intermittent home of the French Grand Prix between 1950 and 1966) is to the south west.
There is a superb kart track in the centre of the circuit near Stavelot, but a real petrol head should take a drive around the old Spa circuit, which last hosted a Grand Prix in 1970. Its 14 kilometres consisted entirely of public roads, lined with trees, lampposts and houses. Average speeds exceeded 240 km/h.
Spa Grand Prix S.A.
Route du Circuit, 38
Main image © WBT - G. Batistini
Bottom image © WBT - Anibal Trejo