Vichy water is a mineral water that is naturally sparkling. It is sold in screw-top bottles.
Minerals in the water include sodium bicarbonate, and other alkaline salts, which give the water a faint saline taste.
It is drawn from springs on the Allier River at Vichy, France.
There are over ten springs in the town of Vichy, and these are the ones that are usually noted, with names such as Antoine, Boussange, Célestins, Chomel, Dubois, Etoiles, Généreuse, Grande Grille, Hôpital, Larbaud, Lardy, Lucas, Parc and Prunelle. 
But in the entire Vichy basin (“Bassin de Vichy”), there are over 250 springs with names such as Adam, Dômes, Lys, Henry IV, Radium, Regina, etc. Dômes and Lys are in the village of Abrest, 1 3/4 miles (three kilometres) from Vichy. Boussange is in the village of Bellerive.
Some of the springs are thermal, with water coming out at temperatures ranging from 93 to 167 F (34 to 75 C.) Among the thermal springs are Antoine (167 F / 75 C), Boussange, Chomel (110 F / 43.5 C), Dômes (150 F / 66 C), Grande Grille (102 F / 39 C), Hôpital (93 F / 34 C), and Lys (140 F / 60 C.)
Among the cold springs are Célestins (71 F / 22 C), Parc (75 F / 24 C), Lucas (80 F / 27 C.)
The Chomel and Grande Grille springs have been sheltered in buildings since 1902 in the “Hall des Sources”, a Beaux-Art glass temple to water. Paying access to the building was instituted in 1971.
Six of the springs in Vichy itself provide carbonated water that can be drunk: Célestins, Chomel, Grande Grille, Hôpital, Lucas, and Parc (other springs in the basin also provide potable water.)
In Vichy, all the springs have belonged to the State for several hundred years now; and since 1853 the state has leased its rights to a monopoly called “Compagnie Fermière.” Outside Vichy, many springs in the basin are still privately owned.
Some of the springs in the Vichy basin, even though the water was potable, were never bottled for mass sale: the taste of the water from them was so bad that their water is only drunk by people whose doctors force it on them as medicine while in Vichy to “take the cure.”
Most water sold comes from the Célestins source; it is also the least mineralized. It is, in fact, the only spring whose water is still (as of 2007) actually bottled for mass sale. The “Mesdames” spring in Cusset (a few kilometres to the east), used to be famous and used to be bottled as well. It was drilled in 1844. Water from the Regina spring in Cusset was bottled up until the end of the 1980s.
Only two brands are still sold today: “Vichy-Célestins” (bottled by the Compagnie Fermière de l’Etablissement Thermal de Vichy SA, which registered its trademark blue circle with the words “VICHY ETAT in 1893) and “Vichy Saint-Yorre”, which because it’s not actually in Vichy (it’s a few kilometres to the south of Vichy), is considered more “eau du Bassin de Vichy” (water from the Vichy basin.)
“Vichy-Célestins” was sold for years in a glass bottle; it now comes in a blue-tinted plastic bottle. The label has now completely changed as well; it has dropped the French flag and the (in light of the Second World War) unfortunate wording “VICHY ETAT”, and lost all its look of officialdom; and replaced it with a light and lively label that incorporates into the logo a representation of the Beaux Art “Hall des Sources.”
The Compagnie Fermière has also introduced three flavoured versions of the Célestins water: lemon, almond-cherry, and guava-pineapple. Vichy water fans from days of yore have no words for these abominations.
There are two American imitators who have traded on the name Vichy.
New Almaden Vichy Water
The company was started in 1867 by François A.L. Pioche (1818 – 1872), an entrepreneur from France.
He went to California in 1850, saw the opportunities there at the time, and went back to France to drum up investment capital. He returned to California to invest in things such as the Market Street and San Jose Railroads, San Miguel and Bernal Ranches. He had a personal 2 acre site property near the New Almaden mercury mine, that he leased for $175 a year for 10 years.
He found mineral water on the site, next to the Las Alamitos Creek (a historical marker is there today.) He built a bottling plant — a wooden-frame building — and sold the water, advertising that it would cure a multitude of ills. 12 bottles were $4.00; 24 half bottles for $5.00. The minerals in the water included bicarbonate of soda and lime, carbonic acid, iron oxide, sulphate of magnesia and sodium chloride.
The spring flowed until 1882 when a shaft of the nearby mine, the Buena Vista shaft, was dug deeper. This deeper shaft tapped into the source of the gas that carbonated the water. Part of the new shaft had to be sealed off, because the gas was overcoming the miners, but it caused the spring water to lose its carbonation.
By then, though, Pioche was dead — he shot himself in the head in May 1872, when his financial situation started to fall apart.
A scheme to redevelop the spring in 1915 was turned down by the mining company, and now concerns about mercury contamination even in the fish would likely be an issue. Some bubbles from the spring can still be seen today rising up from the bottom of the Las Alamitos Creek under the one-lane wooden bridge on Bertram Road, near the La Foret Restaurant (as of 2006, the bridge is slated to be replaced to be replaced in 5 to 10 years, probably with a concrete one) and below the concrete bridge on Almaden Way.
Another American imitator is Vichy Springs in Ukiah, California (2 hours by car north of San Francisco), whose marketing starts off describing to the reader Roman times in Vichy, France, and then switches to describing Pomo tribe Indians using the springs there in California. It’s uncertain what the connection actually is, besides a borrowed name for a hot spring. Europeans discovered these hot springs in 1848. A resort has been in operation at the site since 1852.
 Many sources from the town of Vichy don’t agree amongst themselves on which springs should be included in the town limits. Some say there are 12 springs, some say 13, some say more. For instance, some include Antoine in the list, some do not. Some include Lardy, others do not.
3.5 mg of lithium and 6 mg of fluoride per litre in “Vichy-Célestins.”
Romans bathed at Vichy, using the springs we know now as Chomel, Lucas et Hôpital.
For most of the years after the Romans, the waters weren’t taken advantage of. In fact, Vichy’s main economic activity become pottery, shipped out on the river.
Interest in the waters didn’t start to pick up again until 1630, when Louis 13th built there the “Maison du Roy.” The building was quite small, and could only handle a few bathers at a time, but the exterior of the building had faucets for the water to be drunk.
In 1636, a Claude Mareschal published the first scientific work analysing Vichy water, “Physiologie des eaux de Vichy en Bourbonnais.”
By the mid-1600s, Vichy was famous with the European elite for its waters and spas.
Madame de Sévigné spent the winter of 1676 to 1677 there, hoping to cure the rheumatism in her hand. She didn’t like the taste of the water, describing it as being “d’un goût de salpêtre fort désagréable.”
In 1716, a regulation was passed that 1 sous for every bottle sent out of Vichy had to be donated to the hospital in Vichy. This was in effect until 1939.
In 1753, Louis XV had bottled Vichy water sent to him at Versailles.
After the French surrendered at the very start of World War Two, Vichy was made the capital of “unoccupied” France, though the government installed there headed by French Marshal Philippe Pétain existed at the pleasure of the Nazis. It came to represent collaboration and treason with the Germans. In the movie Casablanca, the policeman played by Claude Rains tosses a bottle of Vichy Water into the garbage, indicating his rejection of cooperation with the Germans.
Alfred Hitchcock also used a bottle of Vichy water in his 1944 war-time film, Aventure Malgache. In the movie, when a Vichy official in Madagascar learns that the British are landing, he puts a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall – and hides his bottle of Vichy water.
Literature & Lore
“Remember Vichy Celestins, that naturally alkaline carbonated water from France? It’s back on the grocery shelves, imported by Cresca… Vichy Celestine has long been known to the medical profession and has been prescribed by thousands of doctors in all parts of the world. It contains sodium bicarbonate and insignificant amounts of other chemical constituents commonly found in ground waters. Before the war more than forty million bottles of this water were sold annually.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. October 1946.
The Romans knew of the springs there; they called the town of Vichy “Vicus Calidus” (“vicus” meaning “village” and “calidus” meaning “warm”.) They also called it “Aquae calidae” (“warm waters”.)
Many think that the name “Vichy” came from that Roman word, “Vicus.”
There are at least three other theories as to where the name “Vichy” might have come from:
- the Celtic word “wich”, meaning “virtue”, plus “y” meaning “water”;
- another Latin name for the area, “Vipiacus”, changing to Vichiacus in the Middle Ages;
- the Latin word “vici” meaning “villages.”
Bienvenue à Vichy (Official site of Vichy). http://ville-vichy.fr/ Retrieved July 2007.
Les eaux de Vichy. Retrieved March 2007 from http://www.vichy-thermes.tm.fr/eaux/sources.htm
Sources de Vichy et des environs. Retrieved March 2007 from http://www.vichy-guide.com/thermal/sources.php?rub=thermalisme