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Bottled Water: Straight to the Source

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waterDuring the sweltering days of summer, sometimes the only thing that will quench your thirst is an ice-cold glass of water. For many of us, make that an ice-cold glass of mineral water.

So why not go straight to the source?

The bottled water industry has exploded in recent years, and as a result, many people are paying more attention to where their water is actually coming from…whether it’s a cold-water spring or an icy glacier. This is great news, since many of these famous waters come from regions that you can easily include on your next vacation.

Is Bottled Really Better?
Many would agree that over the past few years, they have been converted them from regular tap drinkers into veritable water connoisseurs. Why else would you pay $2 for something you can otherwise get for free?

In fact, bottled water is now the second largest beverage sold in the United States, next to carbonated soft drinks. According to the Beverages Marketing Corporation, Sales of rose 8.6 percent in 2004 and another 9 percent in 2005. Beverage Digest found that in 2006, Americans drank 21 gallons of water, almost double from 1996.

Evian was one of the first companies to introduce the small bottle to the U.S., touting the portability factor. Branding campaigns also played a major role in selling water: Green and blue labels representing purity and freshness are mixed with images of mountain springs and Alaskan glaciers, along with buzzwords like “pure,” “crystal,” and “natural.”

Fountain from BudapestCombine that with concerns (some valid, some not) over the quality of municipal tap water, and you’ve got a ready-made market.

In reality, a lot of the hype over bottled water being safer than tap water is just that…hype.

Several tests have been conducted over the years, including by the Natural Resources Defense Council, comparing tap water to bottled water; in most cases, bottled water is no cleaner or more healthful, or even very different tasting, than regular .

Municipal tap water has to adhere to very strict guidelines established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the EPA has no jurisdiction over bottled water, though it can make recommendations.

Because bottled water is considered a packaged food, The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for its safety, overseeing the process in which the water is bottled, the water itself and its packaging… but only if the water is sold across state lines. If the water is packaged and sold within state lines, then the state is responsible for inspecting, sampling, analyzing and approving the water sources. In most cases, the FDA and individual states follow guidelines that are as strict as the EPA sets for tap water.

Curiously (and surprisingly) enough, it’s estimated that one-fourth of bottle water actually comes straight from municipal sources…i.e.- tap water! Therefore, how can you be sure that a bottler is being honest about its sources? Well, the FDA has rules about the marketing terms they use.

Bottled water that comes from municipal sources, rather than a spring or a well, must be labeled as such (as in, “from a community water system”). But if that same tap water undergoes processes like reverse osmosis, ozonation or filtration, it can be marketed as “purified” water — both Coca Cola’s Dasani and Pepsi’s fall into this category.

BottledWaterAs announced today, Aquafina will include the words “Public Water Source” on its labels–in fact, one of the sources for Aquafina is…the Detroit River.

And while the definition of a spring is that the water must come to the surface naturally, manufacturers are allowed to pump it through wells and still label it as “spring water.”

So while a trip to the fresh mountain springs of Aquafina isn’t possible, there are many natural water sources that do welcome visitors. Here we’ve tracked down several places where you can sit back and relax with a cool glass of water, straight from the source.

POLAND SPRING

In the foothills of Maine, the original is still around, but the Nestle-owned company no longer collects its water from this source. Instead, their water comes from other nearby springs. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Poland Spring and other spring towns welcomed wealthy visitors to escape from the city and “take the waters.”

Guests would socialize and entertain in the elegant springhouse, where icy water was served into silver chalices. Nowadays, the springhouse has been converted to a museum, where guests can envision days gone by and taste the water. There are also tours that showcase the process and history of Poland Spring’s production — including the original bottles and wooden crates that allowed old time guests to bring the water home with them.

Preservation Park is made up of the museum, the bottling plant and other historical buildings in the area. In addition, the resort offers outdoorsy Maine activities like golfing, hiking and biking. The Poland Spring Inn consists of three inns and ten cottages, with rates starting at $30 a day including breakfast and dinner. 207-998-4351, http://www.polandspringps.org

SAN PELLEGRINO

This naturally carbonated water is produced and bottled in the mountain town of Terme, near Verona. One of the earliest fans was Leonardo da Vinci, and today celebrities and chefs swear by its quality and mineral content. Also owned by Nestle, the water comes from three springs that emerge from an aquifer, where underground minerals and trace elements saturate the water.

Visitors travel to San Pellegrino Terme year round for its small mountain town charm and excellent Alpine skiing. Travelers can visit the Fonte Termale, the elegant, marbled drinking hall that harkens back to the old days of taking the waters. There are also tours of the bottling plant available, where they explain the local geology, environmental issues and the process of how the water goes from the ground and into stores. http://www.comune.sanpellegrinoterme.bg.it (in Italian)

PERRIER

Located in Vergèze, in southern France, the Perrier spring welcomes about 70,000 visitors a year. Tours are available throughout the 185-acre area, including a visit to the mineral spring where the water comes from, and the glass factory where the bottles are made. The tour concludes at the museum, which is the home of Sir St. John Harmsworth, the creator of the Perrier product. The British aristocrat invested in the property in 1903, and named the spring after Dr. Perrier, who first brought the water to his attention. Here you can learn about the branding history and, of course, get a free tasting of the water. 33-46-87-61-01, http://www.perrier.com.

EVIAN

Nestled between the Alps and the south bank of Lake Geneva, the French Evian-les-Bains is a small region that is now a major resort town. The main source of the water is Source Cachat, where the water emerges from a tunnel in the mountain at a cool 52 degrees Fahrenheit. This town is all about luxury, with thermal baths and other hydrotherapy spa treatments, golf clubs and casinos, as well as high-end hotels like the Evian Royal Resort, which is included in the Leading Hotels of the World. http://www.royalparcevian.com

VICHY

On the Allier River of the volcanic region of central France, Vichy is the home of several hot mineral springs that draw in thousands of visitors each year. The company is not just limited to its naturally sparkling bottled water, though — it also markets fashion, cosmetics, and even pharmaceuticals. The town offers several water-themed packages, including a two-night stay with a spa bath, aquatic gymnastics, a high-pressure underwater shower and a “Douche de Vichy” four-handed underwater massage. http://www.ville-vichy.com

For more information on traveling to the source of a product, check out Spotlight On: Watch It Made in the USA.

Get more information on food & drink experiences in our Culinary Travels section.

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