Germany Holidays: Glamorous Baden Baden

At the northern edge of the Black Forest, Baden Baden lays claim to being one of the most glamorous towns in Germany. Taking its name from the German word to bathe, and being in the former Duchy of Baden (thus the distinctive double-barrelled name), the town is home to some internationally renowned spas.

The Romans first discovered the twelve healing thermal springs that lie below Baden Baden, but the town shot to international prominence in the mid 19th century when it became a favourite destination for various European royals, including Napoleon III and Queen Victoria. In their wake, it grew hugely popular with many of the continent’s wealthy and famous, who travelled in numbers to take in the warm climate and soothing waters. The town’s population would more than double during the summer season.

Hitting its peak during the Belle Époque period around the start of the 20th century, and largely undamaged during WWII, Baden Baden has never lost its reputation for glamour and sophistication. During the 2006 World Cup it was the base for the England football team and the high-profile wives and families that came with them.

Naked – or not

To take advantage of the hottest and most mineral-rich waters in Germany, visitors have two options: the Friedrichsbad and the Caracalla Spa. Which you pick will depend on your budget, your taste and your modesty!

The Friedrichsbad is located in grandiose 19th century buildings and requires visitors to enjoy the fairly rigorous 17 step sequence of treatments, designed to leave you feeling better in mind and body, and be entirely naked. The Caracalla is a much more modern affair, featuring indoor and outdoor pools, a rock grotto, a salt inhalation room and other facilities in a glass fronted building and perhaps importantly, bathing attire can be worn.

Playing host to the continent’s great and good necessitated giving them an opportunity to relax in luxurious surroundings after a hard day’s spa treatments. Hence Baden Baden also boasts the most opulent casino in Europe, located in the Kurhaus. Designed to outdo the palace at Versailles, this oldest casino in Germany features crystal chandeliers, detailed portraits and other luxurious decorations. Marlene Dietrich once called it ‘the most beautiful casino in the world’. It is also the reputed setting for Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler.

The casino offers blackjack, poker and roulette, as well as slot machines. Not surprisingly, given the nature of the surroundings, men are only allowed to enter if they are wearing a jacket.

In a joint bid with a number of other spa towns in Europe, including Bath and Vichy, Baden Baden is aiming to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status. Without doubt it offers a slice of glamour and a glimpse of how Europe’s elite lived a century and a half ago. – Mark Arrol



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