Baden-Baden (literally “Baths-Baths”) is both swanky and wholesome in a way that only German or Swiss wellness meccas can be. A century-and-a-half ago it reigned as a premier summer retreat of the European leisure class, who gathered for the health benefits of its mineral-rich thermal springs as well as the wellness activities and health practitioners that sprung up around them. The same holds true today (in fact, doctors in Germany can prescribe visits to spa towns, which are then covered by national health insurance). But you’ll also find those who come merely to enjoy a slower pace, the old-world elegance of its Belle Epoque buildings and parks, and the natural joie de vivre they inspire.
As I ambled down the Lichtentaler Allee park, with its drippy foliage and lacy bridges, I couldn’t help looking out for parasol-protected ladies strolling arm-in-arm with men in top hats. And while I stepped through the cobbled, twisting lanes of the city’s pedestrian area – whose ornate buildings now house boutiques selling Patek Phillipe watches and Longchamp purses – I knew I was walking in the footsteps of Mark Twain; the author credited his visit here with curing his rheumatism.*
I’ll admit I spent a fair share of my time here languishing in the world-famous Friedrichsbad “Roman-Irish” thermal baths, but the city would be well worth the visit even if they didn’t exist. Outdoor music and film performances, great shopping, a famous casino (wear your Sunday best), a cute “old town,” beautiful parks, art museums, and some of the country’s best spa hotels contribute to the city’s allure and help explain why it’s still such a popular destination, centuries after its golden years.
- The Friedrichsbad
- A stroll down the Lichtentaler Allee
- The cheese plate at the Dorint Maison Messmer hotel (request some green, unpasturized horseradish cheese)
- Museum Fieder Burda (expressionist art)
Baden-Baden is located in the southwestern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg at the start of the Black Forest, a short drive from the French city of Strasbourg (home of the European Parliament) and the German city of Karlsruhe (whose airport is served by RyanAir).
- Posts can wait. I’m off to (in)famous all-nude Friedrichsbad baths for their 2.5hr, 16-step cleansing. Modesty be gone!
- Tonight I tried unpasteurized horseradish cheese (it’s green!). Yum!
- Best to remove a star when considering European hotels. 4* = Holiday Inn, 5* = Hyatt
- Near the border of France in Germany’s Black Forest, the landscape here is so lush. Perfect for a town based on wellness and pampering
- We’re in Baden-Baden, where Belle Epoque luxury surrounds “healing” thermal waters enjoyed by Mark Twain and most of 19c. high society