If, by wellness, you mean local, sustainable meals, yoga at your hotel, massages galore and a bit of forest bathing, then you’ll never want to leave Germany’s wellbeing capital, Baden-Baden.
Open your hotel curtains and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d woken up in France rather than a small German town a couple of hours south of Frankfurt. You’ll find whitewashed villas with colourful wooden shutters, art nouveau architecture and old-world thermal spas, which give off a sense of faded royalty. In fact, the polished little town on the edge of the Black Forest has long drawn celebrities and royals for its famously curative thermal waters – pumped from 2km (1.2mi) below ground and used as the basis of preventative medicine, cardiovascular therapy and super-deluxe spa treatments for centuries. The Black Forest is a place of legend itself, once inspiring the Brothers Grimm to write their darkest fairy tales. But there’s nothing to fear on a wellness break here, when the restaurants are this good, the hotels are this luxurious and the air is as clear as can be.
Where to Stay
Spread out opposite the tree-dappled, dahlia-filled Lichtentaler Allee, the grande dame of Baden-Baden happens to be home to one of the city’s best-equipped (and beautifully appointed) wellness centres: the pastel-hued Villa Stephanie. Here, nutritionists design tailored menus for guests, massages are administered by chiropractors, and in-house doctors tend to every ache and pain. There’s a serenely beautiful pool, sunbathing terrace and relaxation area, plus a yoga studio and a preventative medicine centre. If you don’t leave feeling healthier, you’ve not done it right.
Is this the most tranquil spot in Baden-Baden? Floating on your back in a bath-warm indoor pool, where the water shimmers from shards of sunlight refracted through art deco stained glass, you’d be tempted to think so. Next, put your slippers on to pad over to the Roman-style steam rooms – and swimsuits off for the Swedish sauna (baring all has never felt so comfortable). The only thing that’ll tempt you back upstairs is the sweet, sunspot courtyard where you can dry off – or the hotel restaurant, which might just be Baden-Baden’s finest. Order the light, creamy white tomato soup if it’s in season, and pan-fried river trout caught that morning in the nearby Oos.
Where to Soak
The Caracalla spa is so flashy that it’s a surprise to learn that it’s been open since 1985. It started life as one of Germany’s most state-of-the-art spa centres, and continues that legacy with its diverse range of pools and treatments. The famous Baden-Baden thermal water can be bathed in, both outside and inside, in pools kept at their natural temperatures of 32-35C (90-95F). Waterfalls, massage jets and a flow channel keep you entertained outside, and inside there are hot and cold water grottoes to dip between. Then there’s the scented steam bath and salt inhalation room, where you can breathe in the healing mineral air like others have done in Baden-Baden for hundreds of years.
This is the grandfather spa to Caracalla – a Neo-Renaissance landmark that’s been reviving visitors to Baden-Baden (and its lucky residents) for over 140 years. On the day it opened in 1877, this was considered the most modern bathing house in Europe. Nowadays, its magnificent domed ceiling, hand-painted tiling and antique frescoes recall centuries-old bathing traditions (that and the clothes-free policy). There are saunas, soap-brush massages, thermal steam baths, honey skin peels and of course, healing thermal water in a variety of baths, all offering a different treat for mind, body and soul.
Where to Eat
Consistently rated as Baden-Baden’s top restaurant, Nigrum has a diverse range of vegetarian-friendly options as well as the most innovative flavour combinations in town. Beneath a vaulted, stone ceiling and between gold-inflected walls (and sat on plump armchairs) you can choose between a four, five, six, seven or even eight-course menu. Whatever you decide, you’ll be treated to plates that are divinely put together, both visually and in flavour: think glazed salmon with smoked-eel cream, sea bream with a bubbly cloud of mussel stock, or a nibbly dessert of macarons balanced on smooth pebbles.
Sure, its name translates to ‘cure house’, but this restaurant is more suited to a retox than a detox (we can’t be angels all the time). Attached to the neoclassical Casino – arguably the centrepiece of the whole town, with its Belle Epoque throwbacks and mini nightclub – the restaurant does a good line in traditional, regional grub. The menu is meat-tastic: local veal cheeks softened by thick gravy, crisp schnitzel with a squeeze of lemon, doorstop slabs of steak and river-fresh trout, the skin crisp from the pan. Order a crème brulée for dessert and you’ll get three for the price of one – they just couldn’t choose between the flavours, apparently. For any itch that the thermal spas couldn’t scratch, you’ll find the cure here.
What to Do in Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden is sometimes called the gateway to the Black Forest and it’s true that the dense evergreen carpet creeps almost to its doorstep. You can be away from Baden-Baden’s polished streets and in the quiet of the forest within minutes on foot, to hike a section of the Panorama Trail. Although it’s 28mi (45km) long in total, the first section is a more reasonable 5.6mi (9km), winding gradually uphill via picturesque viewpoints, gorges and tall, thick trees. You’ll end up at the Merkur Bergbahn, a cable car that glides 370m (1,214ft) to the summit of the mountain – sometimes at an almost-vertical angle – and rewards with soaring views of the lush-green valley below.
It’s long been understood that airborne salt minerals in sea air are good for the lungs. Baden-Baden may be some 400mi (700km) from Germany’s coastline, but salt has long been produced here, extracted and dried from the mineral-rich thermal water and breathed in by patients recuperating in the town via ‘inhalatoriums’. The Salina Grotto actually uses salt from the Himalayas and the Dead Sea, but continues the tradition from this part of Germany. Sit in the salt cave for an hour, breathing in air that’s 40 times saltier than the air on the North Sea coast, and feel symptoms of hay fever and respiratory illnesses slip away. It’s also great for relaxation, said to improve your general immunity and concentration, and reduce anxiety.
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