In defiance of the posh surroundings, I was gulping down my tall glass of Sommerschorle with an impressive lack of elegance. It was nearly 38C/100F and I was melting in the summer heat of Baden-Baden, Germany. The icy glass of rose, aperol, tonic water, lime and mint was just the, well, tonic I needed to perk up after an afternoon of sightseeing with our city guide, Valeria. She’d recommended this popular summer spritzer pick-me-up, and we sat and sipped, watching the late afternoon stroll of people go past.
We’d spent a half-day walking through the narrow streets and up and down the hills of one of the world’s original spa towns, a city that thrives on wellness, culture and natural beauty. If wellness is a newish travel trend, then Baden-Baden, Germany, has been ahead of the curve, by about 2,000 years.
Weekend in Baden-Baden, Germany
Baden-Baden is the Belle Epoque town that’s been attracting the rich, famous and those seeking water cures for centuries. But the history of this bucolic spa center goes back millennia. The Romans established the city more than 2,000 years ago as a place of strategic importance but also for relaxation in its healing hot springs.
The Roman baths ruins can be seen and toured, as well as cultivating grapevines in the nearby hills to produce wine as part of the soldiers’ daily rations, as was required by Roman law.
The ‘good-good’ life of Baden-Baden really took off in the 17th century. Nobility from across Europe converged for spa cures (the healing waters were sipped rather than soaked) in the green hills of the Black Forest, and those idle nobles needed more than water to keep them occupied.
Their presence spawned cultural festivals, founded museums and musical societies, and built one of the largest casinos in Europe. The elite promenaded daily along the frescoed arcade of the Trinkhalle (pump house), and the beautiful tree-lined Lichtentaler Allee, to see and be seen.
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All of these activities carry on to this day, though the dress code and accessibility has changed. Baden-Baden is open to everyone, including families interested in adding dashes of history and culture into their European adventure mix.
This Belle Epoque town has been attracting the rich, famous and those seeking water cures for centuries.
We’ve visited Baden-Baden on a number of occasions, both with and without children. Close to the borders of France and Switzerland, it was a perfect location to take a cultural and wellness break from visiting family and our active European road trip itinerary.
The city sits in a green valley surrounded by rolling hills. Its pedestrian-only downtown is well maintained with narrow passages and pathways that are best explored with good walking shoes, although Valeria navigated the cobblestones in impressively high wedge heels. You can easily walk from hotels to the spas, museums and local restaurants in this compact city.
Baden-Baden’s reputation as a spa town is well earned, and every visitor should take in a spa experience. There are two excellent bathhouses, and the choice between them will depend on how comfortable you are in your own skin.
The Caracalla Spa is a modern thermal spa with a slightly Romanesque design that includes a lot of marble columns and decorative statues. There are 12 thermal springs, a rock grotto with hot and cold pools, and an outdoor area with two marble pools, outdoor lazy river, two whirlpools and sun bathing loungers.
This is the more family-friendly of the two spas, where kids between the ages of 7 and 14 are allowed when accompanied by an adult. (There is childcare for kids 18 months+.) The sauna facilities are extensive but there is an extra charge to use them, and it’s a clothing free zone. Or as they refer to it, a nudist area.
Which brings us to the Friedrichsbad Spa. For couples or families with kids 14 and older who are comfortable in their own skins, the beautiful Roman-Irish bathhouse of Friedrichsbad is an excellent choice. It is an elegant nudist bathhouse built in the 19th century, with thermal pools, warm air chambers, massage areas and relaxation rooms. Its domed bathing temple room is like nothing else.
Yes, it’s good to get naked among strangers, and can be quite freeing once you know where to look, or not look. It’s a mixed bathhouse on most days of the week, so mind the schedule and plan accordingly.
A city of culture, museums and mountains
As delightful as spending every day at the spa might be, Baden-Baden is a city of culture and natural beauty that invites exploration. One of the prettiest tree-lined avenues in the world, the Lichtentaler Allee, links the city’s impressive collection of art and cultural museums along a green corridor just steps from the romantic old town. Couples and families with children walk the Allee until dark, admiring the lush landscaping and variety of towering trees, and taking rests in the shade on plentiful benches.
Our summer visit coincided with the city’s Long Night of Museums. In late July, museums such as Museum Frieder Burda (excellent art gallery and museum shop), Museum LA8, State Art Gallery and the City Museum are free to the public from 6 PM to midnight.
In addition, the museums offer live music, food and special guided tours through the exhibitions. We enjoyed wandering through the galleries and halls of the various museums, and listened to a concert of alphorn music and an operatic exhibition that took place across the Allee’s garden.
Lovers of tiny, shiny objects should plan a visit to the city’s Fabergé Museum. This is the only museum in the world that is dedicated to the work of one of history’s most famous jewelers, Carl Peter Fabergé. The museum is home to exquisite pieces of precious artwork from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The beauty of the valley is impressive, but seeing it from the city’s highest point of Mount Merkur is well worth the ride up Germany’s steepest and longest funicular railway, the Merkurbergbahn. You can drive or take the bus from town to get to the base of this mountain, and then ride the scenic funicular up 1,200 feet to the summit of Merkur, which sits at 2,191 feet.
The views of Baden-Baden and the valley are beautiful on a summer’s day. We took a walk along the summit pathways, and then enjoyed a light lunch and toasting the view with local beer and white wine at the Merkurstüble restaurant. The mountain is very popular with paragliders, and we watched several do running take offs to ride the wind and float gently back into the valley.
If you notice small brass plaques in the cobblestones under your feet, they’re known as stolpersteine. Read more about them here.
A summer weekend in Baden-Baden, Germany, will rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit, with fond memories of a good-good life that can be found among the trees and waters in the Black Forest.
Hotels in Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden has a wide variety of historic and luxurious boutique hotels. Here are just a few to choose from.
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