Prehistoric findings prove that an important alpine transport route led to the south in Ticino from Ilanz over Mount Valserberg and the Berhardino Pass in the Bronze and Ice Ages. However, permanent settlement only happened at the bottom of the Vals' Valley in the 11th and 12th century. These were the Romansch people from the top of the Lugnez.
The German-speaking Walser people settled in the valley around 1300: it is not by chance that the Rhaetian territorial lords were interested in developing a new economic region. The "Walser" people soon made up the majority.
Until the new road to Ilanz was built in 1879/ 80 all goods headed south were transported to the Hinterrhein over the Valserberg. The legendary mountain haulers mainly carried their heavy loads over the Valserberg during the winter months. The people of Vals also took livestock over the mountain to Bellenz (Bellinzona) and Lauis (Lugano) to be sold at southern markets.
Forces of nature
Rockfalls, landslides and floods have afflicted Vals time and time again. The history of avalanches dates back to 1598. The floods of 1868, which swamped the entire valley floor and destroyed parts of the settlement, were also horrific. After this catastrophe, the whole of the village considered emigrating to America. Vals was affected by its worst catastrophe on 20th January 1951. The masses of snow on the left-hand side of the valley buried 34 people, 19 of whom, including 14 children were killed in the snow and debris. The municipality of Vals has made huge efforts to avert the danger of avalanches with help from the government and Canton. A total of CHF 21.5 m has been spent on reforestation and structures.
The hot mineral springs were tapped in 1891 and the "Therme spa hotel" with 60 beds and a bath house was opened in the summer of 1893.
Vals experienced a modest economic boost. The roughly 60-year old history of the "old thermal baths" was shaped by the economic ups and downs before the First World War, the period between the World Wars with the global economic crisis and the Second World War era. A German expert in mineral water, Kurt Vorlop, purchased the spa hotel property plus springs in 1960. First of all he built a small filling station and distributed the water in litre bottles. Vorlop started to build the new spa centre in 1962. The resort consisted of a building complex with the "Mineral thermal halls and outdoor wave pool" and the spa treatments area, hotel infrastructure and 345 spa apartments sold to private individuals. The centre was opened in May 1970.
Kraftwerk Zervreila power plant
The actual turning point was the construction of the dam at the exit of the Zervreila valley floor in the middle of the 20th century. Major earning opportunities resulted from the construction of the power plant (1951-58). Thanks to a flow of concession fees, water rates and new taxes the municipality was able to tackle long overdue tasks. Nevertheless, Vals also remained a farming village in the fifties, 50% of the working population still worked in agriculture.
The Vals-Dachberg skiing area was opened in 1975. The municipality invested considerably in this. The winter tourism that then took off gave the municipality another boost. With the expansion that opened in 1996, the Dachberg became one of the three highest situated skiing areas in Grisons. With a panorama to match: from the eastern Alps over the Bernina Range to the four thousand metre peaks in Valais.
The new Therme Vals
Out of concern for the future of the spa business, the municipality purchased the spa hotel from the former Swiss bank. And with the mission of creating well-being in a wild, rugged mountain valley, the architect Peter Zumthor finally planned a new thermal bath on behalf of the municipality for roughly CHF 25 million. It was opened on 14th December 1996. Visitor numbers have exceeded all expectations.