When we think of elite European resort towns, our minds immediately conjure up images of the grandest and most aristocratic of all. The German resort of Baden-Baden is a bucolic enclave at the foot of the Black Forest on the Rhine Valley, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, a few miles from the French border. Review our curated selection of international luxury destinations.
Baden-Baden is blessed with copious springs that give the city its name and its fame. The word baden in German translates to baths. The pedigree of this unique resort dates back to Roman times when Emperor Hadrian sent his legions to protect the northern borders of the Empire. Later, Marcus Aurelius—also known as Caracalla—built public baths not only in Rome but all over the empire’s domains to deal with his severe arthritis.
The city of Baden established its reputation as a healing center during the Middle Ages. It fell into ruins for a period of years, and in the 14th century the Margraves of Baden changed its name to Baden-Baden. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that the most illustrious personages of the time started visiting regularly. These included Queen Victoria, Wilhelm I, Napoleon III, Berlioz, Brahms, Turgenev, Gogol, and Dostoyevsky. By the mid-1830s Baden-Baden had become Europe’s favorite summer destination for high society travelers.
Tales of the city’s magical waters spread throughout the world in the early 19th century when the Prussian royalty reserved the town as a kind of exclusive resort and spa. The aura of well-being and relaxation came with a penchant for the good life although there were other very exciting amenities in Baden-Baden.
The city’s most emblematic attraction—besides its magical springs—is its famous casino. The symbolic gambling emporium is located in the Kurhaus, a palatial building designed by Friedrich Weinbrenner in 1824, which also houses dining rooms, several lobbies, a theater and a splendid banquet hall. The neo-classical edifice adorned with white marble columns, alcoves, countless statues, gilded mirrors, sculptured moldings, and romantic frescoes painted on the ceiling, has an opulent air that complements the rest of the city. In more recent times, the Casino has been presenting classical music, rock concerts, plays, grand balls, black-tie galas and other cultural events. More than one illustrious nobleman lost their fortune at the gambling tables, including Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who is said to have written his novel The Gambler yo pay for debts incurred at the fabled casino. In the following years, the town was a magnet not only for the European nobility, but also for Javanese merchants, Mogul aristocrats, and even Ottoman noblemen.
The gorgeous city carefully maintains its winding streets and beautiful boulevards lined with impressive buildings, parks, fountains, cafes, shops and beer gardens. Travelers can enjoy the soothing mineral baths equipped with saunas and hot springs and engage in centuries old cleansing rituals that promise to rid the body of aches, pains and toxins. The main thermal baths are elegant, restorative and housed in grand, cathedral-like buildings.
Art lovers also have a plethora of reasons to visit this most attractive German city, home to the Fabergé Museum. Baden-Baden also hosts some of the best German Expressionist art: the Frieder Burda Collection with more than 1,000 paintings, sculptures, objects d’art and works on paper from the leading artists of the 20th century.
Other attractions include the city’s castle complexes. The Old Castle—dating from the 12th century—was the home of the margraves of Baden, who defended with pride and bravery the southern borders of the Holly Roman Empire. From the castle’s ruins, one can take in the impressive views of the northern Black Forest. In the 16th century, a new castle was built for the margraves and became the residence of the Dukes of Baden. Today it is the municipal historical museum.
The churches at Baden-Baden are exceptional architectural jewels ranging from the late Gothic to the German Baroque to Modernism. These include the Russian Church with fantastic Byzantine frescoes, the Stiftskirche, Stourdza Chapel, the peaceful Lichtenthal Abbey, and the contemporary Autobahn Church built in the 1970s.
The placid landscape of the Black Forest lends itself to recreation amidst the beautiful nature. Lichtentaler Allee is an idyllic park and arboretum from the 17th century lined with more than 300 species of native and exotic trees, ideal to take in the brisk breeze that invades the city at dusk. Paradies, another impressive garden, is a lung for the city surrounded by magnificent villas dating from the 1920’s.
Baden-Baden will always be the most aristocratic resort in Germany. The emblematic town boasts at least six Michelin starred restaurants and fantastic hotels including the iconic Brenners Park Hotel and Spa. ■
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