Thursday, August 21, 2014

San Pietro: The invisible hotel on the Amalfi Coast

Spectacular Amalfi Coast with Hotel San Caterina sitting within the rock  (Photo: San Pietro
POSITANO, ITALY, August 22, 2014 – Think of a deluxe, five-star hotel and you conjure breathtaking scenery, superb cuisine, elegant accommodations, first-rate service and romantic ambience all combined in a singular atmosphere of luxury.  But Hotel San Pietro, on the outskirts of Positano, Italy, takes the concept one step further, into a whole new dimension.  How?  Because, simply put, this magnificent family run hotel is…well…it’s invisible!
Balcony at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Whether you approach San Pietro from the road or the sea, you have to look for the hotel to find it.  REALLY look.  But when you find it, that’s just the beginning.
Situated about two kilometers east of Positano, the tiny Chapel of San Pietro (St. Peter) perches at the edge of what is little more than a wide spot in the road that bends along the serpentine rock face of the coast. Use the chapel as a landmark.  Otherwise you’ll miss the hotel. 

Walk to the left of the church and go behind it.  Then take the steps through a stunning array of fragrances emanating from bougainvillea, hibiscus and grape arbors that line the stairway to an elevator.  Better yet, stroll leisurely among the terraces of flowers that lead to the lobby, known as the Hall.

The Hall at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
In moments you are surrounded by Italian marble, cool tile floors, cantilevered terraces, sloping gardens and sweeping views of the Bay of Positano that point a perpetual face to the sun.  You have entered a world where luxury and simplicity blend harmoniously to create an atmosphere of casual charm and elegant perfection.
It all began in 1962 when Carlo Cinque decided to build a private villa and bought some land at the peak of a rocky cliff face where only the tiny, ancient Chapel of San Pietro existed.  At the time, Positano was just a sleepy fishing village that had gradually started to attract the attention of tourists in the previous decade.          
John Steinbeck visited Positano in 1953 describing it as “a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.” 

Soon after, the community became a haven for writers and artists.  The hidden treasure had been discovered.  It was no longer a secret. Positano would never be the same.
The Grand Terrace at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Shortly after Carlo purchased the land, he went to work on his dream, literally carving his imaginative ideas into the rock.  Overcoming overwhelming obstacles created by the sheer logistical difficulties of elevation and excavation, Cinque eventually completed a small apartment and garden.
Gradually, he added more rooms and more gardens. 

Room at San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
Little by little, the idea of transforming his craggy precipice into the most perfect hotel on the crest of a cliff was born.  With determination and imagination he burrowed his masterpiece into the rock without disturbing the natural beauty of the surroundings.

After 8 years of incredibly difficult work, 33 rooms facing the bay were opened along with a large lobby and a spectacular terrace.  Today, the hotel is a myriad of 62 rooms cleverly tucked into the cliffs in a series of nearly a dozen ledges.  Each room is completely private with its own balcony and stunning view. 

Dining under the stars (Photo: San Pietro)
Carlo wanted his “small Eden” to have minimal separation from the exquisite plants and flowers outside, so those same exotic garden plants and fragrant flowers appear inside as well, spilling in abundance from planters.  Vines trail along the interior ceiling, while bougainvillea cascades from balconies and other varieties of vegetation span shaded terraces.

Hotel San Pietro is an architectural wonder.  Rooms are seductively appointed with antiques, hand-painted furniture, ceramic tiles and terra-cotta floors.  Some rooms have no curtains in either the bedroom or the bathroom.  The concept allows guests to see out, while no one else can see in; creating an ambience of being totally alone within nature.

Simple elegance  (Photo: San Pietro)
"Special” rooms all have features that set them apart, be it the largest windows, the most sumptuous decor, or the most expansive bathroom.  Experience a bed so large that it had to be constructed inside the room.  Or enjoy the luxury of a sunken marble bathtub next to a giant picture window.  The tub is big enough to accommodate you and three of your most intimate friends.   There’s even a bedroom featuring a full-sized marble sculpture of a male figure with water streaming from a strategic and rather indiscreet location.
Perhaps the most amazing construction project was the delicate blasting that took place to install the elevator that travels from the main lobby to the private beach below.  From the Hall, the lift descends 290-feet through solid rock before opening into a huge grotto on the beach.  From the cave, a 25-yard stroll leads to a walkway that goes to a sunbathing platform and bar on the rocks which are surrounded by flower-filled terraces.  There is also a nearby tennis court and rose garden.

The story of the creation of the Hotel San Pietro is the tale of one man's realization of a dream -- a family saga with elements of adventure, fantasy and flair plus inexhaustible commitment and dedication.  Carlo Cinque was not an architect or a designer or a technical engineer.  He was a man with an idea and desire to demonstrate how tenacity and determination could unite a sense of beauty and intelligence into a living paradise.  That is the genius of Carlo Cinque and Hotel San Pietro.

One final element sets San Pietro apart, and that’s the undeniable hospitality that was a hallmark of Cinque’s personality; a characteristic that perpetuates his legacy today.  After Carlo's death in 1984, his nephew and niece, Salvatore and Virginia Attanasio, took over the property.  They have successfully carried on the tradition, maintaining the same affection, personable charm and ongoing friendships with their guests that was so distinctively typical of their beloved uncle.
Upstairs pools at Hotel San Pietro  (Photo: San Pietro)
San Pietro celebrates a symphony of life, where dawn doesn’t break. Rather, it eases gently up hillsides, caressing each little nook and kissing every tiny contour.  Here you can follow the celestial rhythms of the day as glittering paths of golden sunlight yield to sparkling moonbeams that dance like liquid stars on the surface of the sea.
Hotel San Pietro may indeed be invisible, but it is definitely a place where “seeing” is believing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Traveling to Antarctica: Just go with the floe

M/V USHUAIA cruises Antarctica  (Photo: Facunda Santana/Antarpply  Expeditions)
USHUAIA, ARGENTINA, August 15, 2014 – Avid travelers love to say they would go the ends of the earth to discover some place new. Today Antarctica is one of trendiest destinations to visit, and that is about as near to the end of the earth you can go.

One tour operator specializing in tours to Antarctica is Antarpply which sails out of the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.

 (Monika Schillat/Antarpply Expeditions)
Among the benefits of operating from Ushaia is that the city is located south of the Straits of Magellan, which for centuries was one of the most hazardous places in the world for seafarers to navigate. Today, thanks to the Panama Canal, ships save time, money and potentially hazardous conditions by not having to navigate around the tip of South America.

The Antarpply ship, which is appropriately named the M/V USHUAIA, has been refurbished to accommodate a maximum of 88 passengers in 44 cabins and suites. Obviously that means the USHUAIA is not one of those impersonal floating cities that takes a week in which to become oriented.

(Facunda Santana/Antarpply Expedtions)
In fact, USHUAIA was originally built for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an ice-strengthened polar vessel. With well appointed staterooms, ample deck space and an open bridge policy, there is an intimacy among passengers combined with the natural wonder of Antarctica that is rare in other forms of sea cruising.

Antarpply offers four different itineraries. Regardless of the tour, they all include the Drake Passage made famous by renowned explorer Sir Francis Drake who sailed the region in 1578.

Sailing aboard the M/V USHUAIA in Antarctica  (Photo: Vergara/Antarpply Expeditions)
Drake Passage marks the Antarctic Convergence, where cold polar water sinks beneath warmer northern waters to create a massive surge of nutrients that sustain the biodiversity of the area.
In addition, the Drake Passage is also the northern border for many Antarctic seabirds.

(Filip Kulisev/Antarpply Expeditions)
Icebergs and snow-capped mountains begin to appear as the vessel reaches the Shetland Islands which were first sighted in 1819 by Captain William Smith. The Shetlands are a cluster of 20 islands and islets which provide the first shore excursion (conditions permitting) where travelers enjoy one of many encounters with penguins and seals.

Drake Passage is also a popular spot for whale watching.

The South Shetland Islands are a famous haven for wildlife. King George Island is especially abundant with huge colonies of nesting Adélie and Chinstrap Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Blue-eyed Cormorants, Antarctic Terns and Southern Giant Petrels as well as being home to scientific bases from many different countries.

(Pablo Petracci/Antarpply Expeditions)
Not only does the USHUAIA offer passengers up-close-and-personal access to wildlife, it also journeys past unique ice formations which have been personally handcrafted by Mother Nature herself. Three waterways in particular, the Gerlache Strait, the Neumayer Channel and the Lemaire Channel feature towering rock faces and spectacular glaciers that loom so close you feel  you can literally reach out and touch them.

As one might expect on an adventure tour such as this, flexibility is a must depending upon weather conditions and accessibility.

Whale of a tale (Photo: Antarpply Expeditions)
USHUAIA carries its own fleet of Zodiacs which are driven by skilled boatmen. Zodiaks accommodate up to 12 guests and easy to board and disembark. Designed for polar explorations, Zodiaks make it possible to go ashore to experience first-hand the vegetation and wildlife of Antarctica.

As a rule USHUAIA’s bridge is open to passengers who want to experience the navigational operations of the ship and ask the crew questions. On occasion, if weather becomes a factor, the bridge may be closed to visitors.

Size matters (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Dining aboard a compact vessel such as the USHUAIA is single seating with no pre-assigned tables.
Dress aboard ship is informal. Travelers from the United States are always happy to know that they can use American dollars for payments and electrical current is 110 V/60 Hz which is the same as it is in the U.S.

Cabins are also fitted with sockets to accommodate a variety of international plugs but it is suggested that travelers bring any necessary converters and adaptors even though there are a limited number of convertors aboard which can be borrowed.

All cabins on Upper Deck G are equipped with hairdryers, but the hotel manager has a supply that can be borrowed if needed.
Sunset at the bottom of the world  (Photo: Weisheng Lin/Antarpply Expeditions)
Antarpply has an expert team of lecturers who accompany the tours and provide nightly briefings and information before, during and after shore excursions.

Believe it or not, Antarctica is an up-and-coming travel destination. For information, The Magellan TravelClub in Charlotte is offering a tour in November of 2015 through the services of Beltram Travel which specializes in South America.

In addition to the Antarctica cruise there is an optional trip to Buenos Aires to visit the famed Iguazu Falls.

And don’t forget, when you return home, you will have stories and memories that will serve as the ideal “ice breaker” at your next social gathering.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Traveling light: Tourism’s best kept secret

Monet's beloved lily pond at Giverny, France
CHARLOTTE, August 8, 2014 – Never underestimate the importance of light when you travel.
While traveling in Italy years ago, a local journalist asked me, “What do you like best about Florence?”

My answer was simple.  “The light,” I said without hesitation.

From the expression on her face, I could tell the reporter was stunned by the answer.  It was neither what she expected nor one she had ever heard before.  More often than not the response would be Michelangelo’s David or the Ponte Vecchio or the Ufizzi Gallery.

One of the most overlooked aspects of travel is how we perceive a destination and, in many places, the light can make all the difference in the world.  Quite often, the light can have a significant impact on the way you remember a place and the experiences you had there.
Florence, Italy at sunset from Piazzale Michelangelo 
In Florence, Italy make your way to the Piazzale Michelangelo overlooking the Arno River and the city.  Go just before sunset.  There are places to relax and enjoy a drink at day’s end while you savor the misty earth-tones that envelope the city.  Egg-shell whites, toasted yellows and rust-colored ambers permeate the surroundings.  The noted author and adventurer, Paul Theroux, once described it as “a watercolor of itself.”

Much of what makes Italy a favorite destination is the uninhibited way light plays with your emotions.  There’s a reason why Frances Mayes titled her book Under the Tuscan Sun.  The soft scrim of Tuscan light is infectious as it is absorbed through the pores to penetrate your soul; a delightful contagious disease for which there is no cure.  
All light is not the same, however.  The dappled sunshine and shadows of Northern France are distinctly different than the soft pastels of Tuscany

Monet's Japanese Bridge at Giverny
It’s easy to see why the Impressionist art movement was born in Normandy.  Artists can barely apply paint to the canvas before the light changes.  It’s a place where puffy white clouds often yield to layers of deep billowing mushroom gray thunderheads that constantly play with silhouettes and shapes.

The tiny harbor village of Honfleur and the port of Le Havre were favorite locations for the Impressionists, as they are for artists today.  When an art critic termed Impression, Sunrise, a painting by Claude Monet in 1872, as “Impressionism,” it was intended to be derogatory.  The rebellious Impressionists liked the name however, and soon Impressionism was all the rage.

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet  (18720
Most Impressionist paintings were made en plein air, or outdoors, where reflections and shadows provided an airy freshness never before captured on canvas.  The fleeting nature of Normandy’s light with its swiftly alternating play of color from object to object was central to the Impressionist movement.  

Further north, Scandinavian light is completely different.  In Norway and Sweden colors are brilliant and bold featuring chiseled high definition palettes of reality revealed in their purest primary richness. 

Tuscan light seems almost out of focus when compared to the sharply delineated aspects of its Scandinavian counterpart.  Rapeseed, a summer crop grown as feed for livestock, has a yellow blossom that is so brilliant that you almost need sunglasses to look at it.

Midsummer in Sweden
Traditional red houses with white trim appear to be sculpted within the forest green settings of their Nordic woodlands.  Colors are almost primeval in their intensity.  Scandinavian light is illuminating in a way that is impossible to be ignored.

Swedish countryside
When summer sunsets slowly scrape the horizon with the glow of Scandinavia’s long days journeys into night, the rays of eternal sunshine can even make sleeping a challenge.

Even parts of the Middle East have a special aura about them.  When viewed from the top of the Mount of Olives, just above the Garden of Gethsemane, Old Jerusalem conjures a sense of traveling back to biblical times. 

Though the light resembles the earth-tones of Tuscany, Old Jerusalem retains a unique serenity that is magnified by its history.  Here sand-colored desert buildings sprawl behind ancient walls where the roof of the Dome of the Rock glistens in the sun.
The Dome of the Rock, Old Jerusalem

In nearby Jordan, the ridge of Mount Nebo is where Moses is said to have viewed the Promised Land for the first time.  From the summit, another phenomenon frequently alters the light that streams into the valley below.

When clouds overtake the vast expanse of the valley, pinholes open in the atmosphere allowing the sun to splay its rays onto the desert floor.  

The multiple beams of misty light spray from the dusky canopy like majestic spotlights showering the earth.  It is difficult not to be affected by the  omnipotent sensations of those heavenly rays, leaving little doubt as to how they might have had a dramatic impact on Moses.
The River Jordan in Israel
To paraphrase the title of Milan Kundera’s novel, travelers should immerse themselves in the “bearable being of lightness.”  If you do you will be richly rewarded with an aspect of travel that goes largely unnoticed.

All you need to do is emerge from the dark ages to savor the joys of traveling light.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Thailand's floating markets are a riot of color and confusion

Colors abound at Thailand's floating market  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
DAMNOEN SADUAK, THAILANDAugust 1, 2014 – Simply put, Thailand is exotic.

Nowhere is that more evident than its floating markets where fruits, vegetables, flowers and anything in between are sold from a traffic jam of boats that makes the congestion of New York and Los Angeles look like the wide open spaces.

Such attractions are common in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but no matter when or where you enjoy your first floating market experience, it will be impossible to prepare for the organized chaos an awesome array of sights, sounds, smells and colors.

Selling produce  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
Arguably the most famous, and probably the best known, floating market is Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi, Thailand. Approximately two hours by car from Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak is slightly more than 70 miles south of Thailand’s capital, and there are a variety of tours available.

Though the floating markets were once the traditional way of selling produce, they have more recently become popular tourist attractions. Don’t let that keep you away, however. These are not run-of-the-mill tourism sites. Marketing fruits and vegetables from boats is serious business and has been for nearly 150-years.

Historically, Damnoen Saduak is the name of the canal built by King Rama IV’s army between 1866 and 1868 as a source of income for local farmers. After the main Damnoen Saduak canal opened, more than 200 feeders were dug by local peasants as links to get produce to neighboring provinces and Bangkok.

Bangkok is a city filled with a maze of canals, or klongs, as they are called in Thailand. When fuel is available, modern-day motorized longboats have become the preferred mode of transportation rather than slower more traditional canoes. Movie-goers may recall the high speed longboat chase through the klongs of Bangkok in the 1974 James Bond adventure The Man with Golden Gun.

Not only were the canals a source of access to the marketplace, they also provided irrigation for crops, thus making agriculture a year-round proposition.

Making the sale (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
The floating markets are a photographer’s paradise. As you might imagine, Damnoen Saduak has become a popular backdrop for fashion magazine layouts. If you can’t get a picture at Damnoen Saduak, put your camera away because you will never have a greater opportunity for success.

The setting is awash in a sea of straw hats and a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables. This is an equal opportunity society in its purest sense. Women compete against men. Young and old alike maneuver for an opening in the endless crunch of canoes to make a sale. Gnarled, weather-beaten faces reflect a lifetime of vending their wares along the canal.
Thai woman paddles through the congestion  (Photo: Thailand Tourism) 
The air is thick with humidity. Chaos prevails amidst a cacophony of clatter and chatter surrounded by ever-changing smells…some pleasant, others not so much.

To the untrained eye the watery marketplace is a blur of undefined, disorganized formlessness. But it is also unmistakably intoxicating. If nothing else the riotous gamut of colors will immediately beckon your involvement and, once you surrender, you will be instantly mesmerized by the hypnotic anachronism of aquatic commerce.

Life on a klong (Photo: Thailand Tourim)
For once you must yield your traveler’s sensibilities to tourism. This is no ordinary phenomenon. These are not the canals of Venice with vegetables or the Eiffel Tower from a tour bus window. The floating market of Damnoen Saduak is sensual. It must be absorbed through the pores. It gets under your skin. So rich is its ambience that you will actually create home videos that people will watch.

Become part of it and you will be profoundly rewarded. There is no escaping. The sensations are contagious, and there is no cure.

Making room  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
The daily show begins around 8 a.m. and ends about 11. It’s a morning performance so arrive early, snap all of your pictures and then stand back and watch the pageant. Try to ignore the crowds. There is no way to avoid them anyway and besides they add to atmosphere.

The floating markets of Thailand are a kaleidoscope of colors in high definition.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Fete de Geneve (Geneva Festival): The greatest fireworks show on Earth

Spectacular Fireworks at the Fete de Geneve
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND, July 25, 2014 – When it comes to fireworks, there are none better than the pyrotechnic show at the annual Fete de Geneve (Geneva Festival) in July and August in Switzerland.
The event traces its history to 1923 when flower decorated cars drove through the city. Though the floral parade never developed to the level of the Tournament of Roses in Pasadena, it had an evolution of its own with a massive fireworks display that has become the signature event of the festival.

After World War II, the Fete de Geneve expanded to four days, but it did not capture the hearts of the people of Geneva until the 1990s.  This year, the official festival runs from August 1st through August 10th with a schedule of pre-festival activities beginning July 17th, making summer on the shores of Lake Geneva nearly a month-long celebration.

Geneva's English Garden
Pre-festival activities take place in the city’s English Garden where the Miss Geneva contest highlights the jamboree of food, carnival rides, dancing and international music. The festival kicks off with one of the newest and most popular events, the Beach Rugby Tournament. There are also parades with wacky costumes and a Waitresses/Waiters Race as well as concerts throughout the three-plus weeks of rejoicing.

Celebrations last into the wee hours of the morning, but by sunrise the city is once again clean as a whistle. In typical Swiss fashion, it’s as though a team of nocturnal elves descended upon Geneva in the middle of the night to scrub and polish the city back to its original pristine setting.

Shooting for the stars at the Fete de Geneve
For all the festivities however, the closing fireworks are what capture the imagination, and well they should.

One reason for the success of the spectacular hour-long sky-show is Geneva’s setting.

Geneva's flower clock
As home of the International Red Cross (the Red Cross flag is the reverse of the Swiss flag), Geneva is a global city situated at the western end of the Lake of Geneva which spills into the River Rhone.

The city wraps around both shores of the lake in the French-speaking region of Switzerland.  During the day, the landmark fountain known as the Jet d’Eau sprays water some 300 feet into the air.

The Fete de Geneve offers a new dimension in fireworks technology; a symphony for the heavens that seems to outdo itself each year. The viewing area for the spectacle is tucked along the shore of the French side of the lake.  Seats are available for 50, 60 or 70 Swiss francs, which is between 50 and 70 dollars. Loudspeakers surround the seating area for visitors to witness the fireworks and hear the music that are synchronized within 1/10th of a second by the computers that operate show.

Starbursts over Lake Geneva
Nearly 600,000 awed spectators will be dazzled by pyrotechnics from some 40 firing stations lining the shores of the lake that cover nearly 300,000 square feet. Swiss fireworks experts from Pyrostars and Sugyp, have designed a program called Man and Time that ranges from astronomical observations of antiquity, the sun dial, the hour glass and the clepsydra, to church tower clocks and grandfather clocks, wall clocks and watches, chronometers and the atomic clock.

People without seats can see the show from the street and listen to the music on a local FM radio station.

The Swiss side of the lake provides the backdrop for the display. All lights along the shoreline are turned off, creating a jet-black curtain for the spewing fiery stars that illuminate the night sky. Don’t be late because you can set your watch by the ten o’clock start of the display that is guaranteed take your breath away.     

(Video of Geneva's fireworks by copying and pasting)

In the event your vacation plans do not allow you to be in Geneva on the 10th there is a 30 minutes pre-festival fireworks show on Saturday, August 2nd at precisely 10:30 pm which still promises to rival anything you have ever seen anywhere else. This year’s theme is the 200th anniversary of Geneva’s accession to Swiss Confederation. Make no mistake however, spectacular as it is, there is nothing to compare with the finale.

Tickets can be reserved at Fnac, an international ticket service, either in person or online at their website. Tickets are also available at the Geneva Tourist Office, Rue du Mont-Blanc 18 in Geneva or they can be purchased in the English Garden during the festival.

Add this event to your traveler’s bucket list and witness the skies over Lake Geneva burst into stunning arrays of man-made shooting stars. It is truly unforgettable.

(Author’s note:  If you watch the video that accompanies this story, the most spectacular portion of the fireworks happen approximately three minutes into the program.  Be aware that the music is difficult to hear because the microphones were not patched into the sound system.  No matter, the visuals speak for themselves.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Baden Baden, Germany: The spa who loved me

A ride through Lichtenthaler Allee in Baden Baden  (Photo: Baden Baden Tourism)

BADEN BADEN, GERMANYJuly 18, 2014 – Germany's spa town of Baden Baden is so unique they named it twice.

In the Middle Ages the village was simply called Baden, or “bath.” It wasn’t until 1931 that it officially became Baden Baden which is a shortened version of the term “Baden in Baden,” similar to the way Americans say New York, New York.

Caracalla Spa  (Photo: Caracalla Spa)
The mineral springs were known by the Romans long before the Middle Ages, however. The Roman emperor Caracalla even visited once, seeking relief from his arthritis. Apparently he made an impression since one of the two public baths in town is now named Caracalla Spa.

No matter how you approach the village, there’s a special ambience in Baden Baden. It is a tiny, peaceful, cultural hub situated along the western foothills of Germany’s Black Forest; a thriving artistic community filled with all the elements of refined living and elegant hospitality without being pretentious.

By the middle of the 19th century, after a visit by the Prussian queen, Baden Baden became a gathering spot for the rich and famous. The main attractions: hot springs, gambling, horse racing, luxurious hotels and the serenity of Lichtenthaler Allee, the municipal park on the west bank of the River Oos.

A ride Lichtenthaler Allee  (Photo: Baden Baden Tourism)
The two-mile strolling area is now lined with more than 300 native and imported plants and trees as it peacefully meanders between the river, several museums and the theater before opening to the classical architecture of the world famous casino. Follow the Lichtenthaler Allee into town and walk through the village to arrive at the spas. Here visitors enjoy the traditions and modernity of a wellness experience in either of the two public baths.

For contemporary luxury, Caracalla Therme (Spa) features a variety of pools with a range of temperatures to accommodate any recuperative need your body may require. There are five indoor saunas and two log cabin saunas offering ultimate relaxation before treating yourself to a massage or a variety of sensory treatments.

A two-hour visit, which includes entrance to the spa and the sauna area, is about $18 per person, plus a full menu of massages and wellness treatments is available throughout the baths.

Traditional spa lovers may find the Friedrichsbad more to their liking. At nearly 150 years old, the Friedrichsbad has been known as a “temple of wellbeing” since 1877. Guests follow a designated route through 17 stations that include showers, baths, massages and pure relaxation. Single admission for one person for three hours is about $30.

Bathers be warned, Friedrichsbad follows a “traditionally garment-free” experience where both sexes participate together, except Monday, Thursday and Saturday. It’s a human “buff-et” of sorts and the ideal place to simply hang out.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for a place where you can be publicly naked in the morning and dressed to the nines at night.

If ever you wanted to walk into a casino, place a chip on the roulette table, and say, “Bond, James Bond,” Baden Baden is the place. With chandeliers, exquisite wing doors and luxurious red and gold furnishings, Casino Baden Baden oozes with seductiveness and style.
The elegant Baden Baden casino  (Photo: Baden Baden Tourism)
Admission to the classical games of roulette, black jack and poker is $7. To enter patrons must be 21 or over and present a passport or national identity card. Gentlemen are also requested to wear a jacket and tie in order to participate in the classical games.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to order a vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred, of course.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky  (Photo: Wikimedia)
With an obsession for gambling, Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky became fascinated with Baden Baden though his losses at the casino frequently left him drowning in debt. His short novel The Gambler takes place there, although it is identified by another name in the book.

Not surprisingly, Baden Baden retains a strong Russian influence even today.

In 2009, Russian art collector Alexander Ivanov opened the small but elegant Faberge Museum in the city featuring nearly 700 objects. Among the treasures is the Rothschild Faberge egg which Ivanov purchased for over ten million dollars at auction at Christie’s in London in 2007.

Baden Baden in winter  (Photo: Baden Baden Tourism)
With a steady calendar of events, Baden Baden is a year-round destination.

Four museums, including the internationally acclaimed Frieder Burda Museum, beckon to be explored along the Lichtenthaler Allee.

The Kurhaus and theater offer a continuous array of concerts, exhibitions and recitals, and with seating for 2,500 patrons, the opera house is second only in size to the grand opera house of Paris.

Spring, summer and fall bring international horse racing events to the area. There is also golf, tennis and mile upon mile of well- maintained hiking trails.

Christmas market in Baden Baden  (Photo: Bob Taylor)
From the end of November until just after Christmas, Baden Baden comes alive with more than 100 stalls in its Christmas market featuring local arts and crafts, live music, Christmas decorations and, of course, hot spiced wine and delicious food.

Once the summer residence of kaisers and kings, Baden Baden might just be the grandest spot in Europe to finish a holiday. Indulge yourself in a place of genteel, sophisticated pleasures where visitors may actually be wealthy or simply enjoy pretending they are.