In this German town, a prolonged affair with the thermal springs seems like the thing to do.
The church in Baden-Baden is perhaps the only one in the world to have been financed by a casino. The powers-that-be ran out of money to complete the towers and so the 19th century casino stepped in. This kind of summarises the spirit of this posh resort-city located on the edge of the Black Forest in a wooded valley of River Oos.
The South West German town, an hour’s drive from Stuttgart, is known as much for its thermal springs as for its gorgeous wannabe Palace of Versailles casino. In Baden-Baden, swish style meets naughty blandishments of the worldly kind, making a holiday here a heady brew.
Endowed with come-hither good looks, Baden-Baden learnt the art of pampering way back in Roman times and it has since been as much a wellness centre as a good-time girl. Studded with star-rated restaurants and fringed with cheerful taverns and sun-drenched vineyards in the Rebland area, in Baden-Baden you can sip award-winning Riesling wines in its cellars and savour the robust and tasty regional fare in its quaint eateries.
At the international horse races held thrice a year, glamorous ladies sport outlandish hats, and crowds roar as agile jockeys gallop away. Early morning breakfast at the race course followed by champagne parties; fancy dress balls at the Kurhaus and opera at the Festival Theatre... Baden-Baden is far from boring. Fountains splash in neo-classical villas, parklands seem to stretch to distant farmlands, and in town, brand name boutiques glitter seductively with expensive merchandise.
In the 19th century, Baden-Baden became the summer getaway of European royalty. The gushing hot springs (2,11,000 gallons of piping hot water a day) prompted European monarchs to head to this German city to de-stress; Queen Victoria made an annual pilgrimage as did Tsar Alexander I, who came here with huge entourages. Musicians like Brahms, Liszt and Schumann played on the riverside, in the wooded environs of the Lichtentaler Allee Park. The Russian writer Dostoevsky, a regular visitor, was a compulsive gambler whose love affair with the city ended when he had “nothing left to bet” after he had pawned his 19-year-old second wife's wedding jewellery! Inexplicably, Mark Twain did not care for Baden-Baden, famously proclaiming: “I left my rheumatism in Baden-Baden; good riddance to Baden-Baden.”
Luckily, Baden-Baden escaped devastation in World War II (even though nearby Stuttgart was bombed); some say because it had no industry while others speculate that it was too beautiful to be bombed.
Even today, the 52,000 townspeople know the art of self-indulgence and are happy to share the secret with visitors. There’s hiking, hot air ballooning, wining and dining and riding up the city’s funicular to Merkur Mountain, which offers a misty breathtaking view of the dense vastness of the Black Forest.
And then, of course, there are the baths — bubbling with curative mineral-rich waters that cure cardiovascular and respiratory problems. The thermal spas provide self-indulgence of the purest kind. At the palatial Friedrichsbad, the Roman-Irish Baths, pampering took on a whole new meaning as we drifted through a succession of marble halls and tiled rooms. Hot showers, warm air baths, soap-and-brush rub down by a professional, thermal steam baths and finally the climax — slipping into common pools in a columned amphitheatre, making it all resemble a three-hour pagan rite of passage.
The 32,000-sq ft bright and modern Caracalla Spa has multiple indoor and outdoor pools ranging from the cold to the piping hot while at an upper level is a sauna-scape that is reminiscent of a pagan temple to wellness with Finnish saunas, outdoor log cabin saunas, salt water inhalation room, aroma steam bath and opportunities to sunbathe as one gazes at the gardens of the town’s castle.
Feeling like years of dust and grime had been peeled away like the layers of an onion, we left Baden-Baden and carried on to the next stage of our journey.
While there are no direct flights to Stuttgart from India, a number of airlines fly to Stuttgart via their hubs in Europe, Middle East and Turkey. Baden-Baden is an hour’s drive from Stuttgart.
Baden-Baden has a number of hotels to suit all budgets.
For more information, contact Southwest Germany Tourism www.tourism-bw.com