Wellness has been a given since Napoleon III made Baden-Baden a trending destination in the mid-1800s, and Europe’s royalty, celebrities and politicians followed. What the tourism office smartly calls the “the good-good life” today is available to visitors of all ages as budget allows.
Fresh air and abundant gardens, thermal spas and regal architecture, organic cuisine served in typical cafes; these are only a few reasons wealthy families choose this southwestern German town for a restorative vacation.
Taking the Waters in Baden-Baden
Soaking in the local thermal springs dates back to the 2nd century reign of Caracalla when Roman Baths were built here. Rumor has it that townspeople drank the spring water daily from a special public fountain until scientists discovered its high arsenic content; the fountain was discreetly closed.
Today, mineral water sourced from 29 natural springs that vary in temperature from 46°- 67°C (115°- 153°F) is piped into two main bathhouses – classic and modern — for bathing only (although some guests bring water bottles.)
Choosing Where You Want to Bathe
Friedrichsbad is an early 19th-century palace whose tiles and ornate ceilings evoke the most elaborate Turkish hammam. Open only to guests above 14 years, Friedrichsbad is a totally nude, two to three-hour journey through 16 stages of showers, warm pools, saunas, plunge pools, steam rooms and optional scrubs or massages, ending with tea served in a lounge. Donning sheet and sandals, visitors are guided by attentive staff through the definition of an immersive experience.
Caracalla Thermae is a stunning, modern water park where everyone is in bathing suits, even at the cafe. In the German spa tradition, the lower level has a variety of pools indoors and out, including a powerful lazy river, all fueled by the famous warm mineral water said to relax the spirit after 30 minutes of calm soaking. Children above age 7 accompany their parents through each phase; others can join the supervised kids’ program for ages 18 months and up. Intense saunas (with equally frigid plunge pools to stimulate the senses) are located outside in rustic cabins under the trees.
Kurhaus: Exploring Wellness in Music and Chance
Baden-Baden exudes sophistication. That relaxed monied air of The Hamptons is best appreciated at the Belle Epoque-style Kurhaus, a colonnaded cultural complex from 1766 that includes an opera house and casino, gardens, an outdoor stage and space to host a very popular Christmas Market with 100 food stalls, live entertainment and more.
Among the town’s original attractions for Europe’s elite, FestSpiel Haus (Festival Hall) is among Europe’s largest opera houses. The calendar is not all arias. Your family may catch Wagner or Beethoven, ballet, a Persian orchestra. Or, a local production of “Mamma Mia!”
Crystal chandeliers first lit the poker, Black Jack and roulette tables of Casino Baden-Baden in 1838. Marlene Dietrich famously called it “the most beautiful casino in the world.” The elegant gambling hall immediately attracted the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky (who wrote “The Gambler” here), Ivan Turgenev and Gustave Flaubert. This powerful intellectual legacy puts Baden-Baden on every Russian’s Bucket List.
In addition to gambling, Casino Baden-Baden has a members’ club, bar and well-regarded restaurant. All ages can walk in by day; 21 and over can play nightly except Friday, catch occasional classical concerts or a cabaret show. Elegant attire is required including a jacket for men; a tie is requested.
Wellness in Nature
More millionaires per capita live in Baden-Baden than in any other German city, perhaps because horticulture has been elevated to an art form. Lawns are manicured, window pots are full, street lamps are festooned with hanging baskets and the space between cobblestones is carefully weeded. Boldface names such as Queen Victoria, Khrushchev, De Gaulle, Beckham and Obama have strolled or jogged the parks.
The grandest tree-lined promenade is Lichtentaler Allee which attracts residents and visitors at all hours.
Established more than 350 years ago, it runs along the Oos River, whose natural current is tamed by a paved channel running straight through town. The elegantly landscaped pathway and car route boast immaculate plantings from more than 150 countries.
Explore the paved 1.5-mile-long allee from the Festspielhaus theatre to the Lichtental Kloster, The kloster or cloister, a nunnery of the Cisterian order, is located past beautiful rose gardens at the opposite end of the trail from the village, and has a nice small café to recharge in.
Skyhigh Views of Baden-Baden
During summer, adventurers flock to the Black Forest National Park above town, which can be reached by the gravity defying Merkurbahn Railway funicular to Mt. Merkur.
The goal is to see or be seen gleitschirmfliegen – paragliding – a fun and photo-worthy sport. Local tour operators can arrange tandem paragliding sessions for visitors. Baden-Baden boasts 320 kms of mountain biking and hiking trails for fit families. Several novice trails and a sign-posted wilderness walk begin from the summit. There’s a small outdoor café and biergarten for lunch.
Wellness through Art
Lichtentaler Allee is nicknamed the town’s Cultural Mile because its trees shade stunning museum collections such as the Frieder Burda Museum, named after a local philanthropist. World-class temporary exhibitions are mounted in this striking white cube designed by architect Richard Meier, and art openings draw visitors from throughout Europe.
The Staatliche Kunsthalle art gallery, the modern glass and marble LA8 Museum as well as the Baden-Baden Museum sculpture collection are each within a few minutes’ walk. A small and delightfully comprehensive Faberge Museum with 800 masterworks by Carl Peter Faberge, his proteges and colleagues is in the old town.
Baden-Baden and its Old-Old Town
The Old Town’s cobblestone streets and crooked lanes cater to a clientele who prefer their pens from Montblanc and skiwear from Bogner. While shops skew towards jewelry, watches and clothing from Europe’s top designers, it’s really a walkable, welcoming and unpretentious 19th century village.
The wellness concept manifests in the culinary scene. Restaurants typically feature organic, locally sourced dishes, many vegetarian and vegan options, and are well-priced. The ultra-luxurious Brenners Park-Hotel serves a lavish breakfast buffet with a variety of grains, fruits, seeds and nuts unrivaled by Whole Foods. A memorable dinner –- well worth the splurge — is served indoors or in the hotel’s garden. The locally sourced menu includes Black Forest trout and regional lamb, all delicious.
For a hearty typical dinner, try the pike-perch fish dumplings served with lobster sauce or the veal dishes which garnered a Michelin star for Schneider’s Restaurant und Weinstube.
Kids will flip for the posh display of culinary arts at Café Konig, said to be the most traditionally German eatery in the city. Some of the better dishes we tried with our fresh rhubarb sodas were the risotto with local Chanterelle mushrooms, and Quark farmer cheese with roasted new potatoes. Although there is a take-out confiserie, the pastries, cakes, hand-crafted chocolates and artisan desserts are so extraordinary that you’ll want to sit down to relish them.
Baden-Baden’s Castle: Brenners Park-Hotel
Wealth has its privileges and the Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa feels extremely privileged… in a very appealing way. The 110-room hotel, opened in 1872, is lovingly maintained by an excellent staff. With different layouts, all rooms are artfully decorated to highlight the hotel’s Beaux Arts pedigree without sacrificing state-of-the-art technology.
The main hotel epitomizes low-key luxury yet accommodates well behaved children, especially during the school holidays. A resident cat (Kleopatre) who sits on the Reception Desk, guest-centric restaurants and parlors full of books feel genuinely welcoming. The recreational facilities including a large pool in a frescoed ballroom. The concierge arranges day trips to tour nearby Riesling vineyards or play golf. It all adds up to a worry-free and pampering parent-child getaway.
The newest addition to the hotel, Villa Stephanie, wraps all the fine service and elegance of Brenners into an even more serious spa environment. Treatment rooms and medical services, such as aesthetic medicine (cosmetic surgery, Botox), nutrition and physical therapy are housed nearby. Spa-goers, or those guests who’ve booked a detox package, are fed uniquely tailored diets in the more private villa restaurant. Note that spa treatments are for adults only.
Planning a Baden-Baden Retreat
Book 1-2 weeks ahead for any type of wellness treatment you want to try. Certain facilities only accept guests of a certain age.
Getting to Baden-Baden is equally stress-free. It’s about a 90-minute drive from Frankfurt Airport, has its own small airport, gets local train service and is served by express buses from many German cities.
Couples and families with adult children will want to book Brenners “Weekend for Two,” two nights in a deluxe gardenview room with breakfast, welcome fruit basket and Casino admission (1430€). The pet fee of 40€ per day includes a posh dog pillow.
Other hotel packages include tickets to local museums or a guided sightseeing tour of the Black Forest in one of the hotel’s nostalgic older cars. The fully stocked and supervised kids club is open for two hours each morning and afternoon so that parents can be pampered, worry-free, at the spa. The 2018 Villa Stephanie room-only rates begin at 500€ per night depending on season, plus any spa treatments.
May, August and October are the busy horse racing season, and the very popular Christmas Market runs November 29-January 6 each year, so plan carefully. For more ideas on local sightseeing, other hotel choices (there are many options plus vacation rentals) and dining, please visit the Baden Baden tourism office.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.