The History & Glamour of Baden-Baden

Jane Wilson steps back in time

Let’s promenade… Imagine ladies in ballooned attire, nipped in at the waist, puffed sleeves with a wide brimmed hat and an umbrella to protect against the sun. Picture men in frock coats over three-piece suits, top hats with a curly moustache. I can visualise this 19th century scene as I stroll along the pretty boulevard known as Lichtentaler Allee, here in Baden-Baden in southwestern Germany with the Black Forest in the distance.

The glamour and the decadence of a bygone era are still in evidence where thermal springs seem to trickle into view around many a corner. Soothed from the depths of 12 thermal springs and inspired from grand architecture of the past, Baden-Baden was known as the summer capital of Europe, attracting the IT crowd – Emperors and kings, aristocrats, artists and musicians – the influencers of the time. It was the meeting point for high society during Belle Époque period, Europe’s golden age. It became the Grand Dame of places to be seen for the well-heeled, affluent and the prosperous jet-set.

Ancient Romans were the first to discover the healing powers and bathing culture that first flourished under the Roman Emperor Caracalla. These traditions have been preserved in their structure, substance and original functions as well as their uses as historic buildings earning Baden-Baden a reputation as a health destination and one of the selected Great Spa Towns of Europe which in 2021 was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Friedrichsbad Spa is a fine example of a Roman-Irish bath. Dating back to 1877, here you step into a time warp – no clothes, just sheets to respect your modesty. A 12-step tradition of thermal water experiences of various temperatures is a health tradition – but don’t expect comfort. Here the wooden benches are heated and a little hard but the emphasis is on the architecture. Roman statutes watch from pillars and cornices as all is revealed when coverings are shed.

Caracalla Spa is a more contemporary experience with a spacious landscape of indoor and outdoor pools, forest and fire saunas, cold water rock grottoes, a halotherapy salt inhalation room and saunas at varying temperatures. Body coverings are allowed here – in the pool area where ladies float in the thermal waters and, in keeping with appearances, are in full make up to look their best. For the ultra-luxury spa, head to the famous Villa Stephanie which offers the comfort and exclusivity that befit the celebrities, royalty and the high society of today that frequent this establishment which is part of Brenner’s Hotel & Spa.

Originally designed and built for pedestrians, Baden-Baden is a place to people watch and be in the moment whether its soaking in thermal waters or sitting at outside tables enjoying afternoon tea under the trees. It’s a walkable town to browse the boutique shops under the colonnades, take a coffee at the established Café Konig or you choose to travel by carriage or bicycle. Museum Frieder Burda is a modern art museum while the Faberge Museum is steeped in history. The Casino has a spectacular interior with crystal chandeliers lighting the gambling tables, a dance floor and a beef and sushi restaurant.  

Baden-Baden oozes wealth and character, a place that reminisces on its past and has evolved with its traditions in place. This is a destination to relax, rejuvenate and reconnect amongst its precious resources of hot springs and spas and enjoy the leisure and cultural attractions. And with its parks, gardens and floral displays, I join the other strollers along the promenade just like they did all those years ago. This is the good, good life.

Find out more

For spa holidays across Europe, our Silver Travel Advisors have many suggestions and can create a unique break for you. Call them on 0800 412 5678 for more information and to make a booking.

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Jane Wilson

Founder & editor of the Wellness Traveller

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