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.