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May 29, 2023: A Well-Deserved Soak

When planning trip, had to be in Frankfurt that night from Zurich. Looking for place to stop on the way since I heard that Frankfurt is not the most interesting city. Baden-Baden seemed like an interesting place, as it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I could rest the legs in the famous spa after a week of hiking in Switzerland. 

The site has natural hot springs that have been used and developed since the Roman times. Baden is the German word for baths. However, there are already town named Baden in Switzerland and Austria. Therefore, taking the “so nice they named it twice” mentality, the forces that be named the town Baden-Baden.

Baden-Baden was founded by the Romans but fell into ruin during the Dark Ages. The town managed to survive, but only started to thrive in the 1700´s when the Queen of Prussia visited the waters to cure her gout. Since that visit, the government subsidized the construction in the town which begat more important visitors and even more money flowing into the town. Germany´s only casino added to the grandeur of the town. Baden-Baden survived World War II with only minimal damage and emerged as a major center of conferences including the 1981 Olympic Congress. Today, Baden-Baden remains and international spa destination and home prices here are among the highest in all of Germany. 

The ride from Zurich took 2.5 hours. Once at the train station, I rented a storage locker for the day before catching a 15-minute ride into the town on the efficient public bus. Immediately I was struck by the beauty of the town. All the buildings look historic, large, and well-kept. This place has money!

I was dropped off in the center and immediately headed over to the casino for a tour. Opened in 1824, the casino is the oldest in the region. It gained international fame when France banned gambling in the mid-1800´s and when Germany closed all its casinos except this one. 

Main gaming room in the casino

Tours are given in the morning and are the only times when the strict dress code of cocktail attire is not enforced. The tour, completely in German, took us through all the wonderfully ornate rooms. Despite the language barrier, I learned a lot on the tour. 

Another gaming room in the casino. Wow!

I then walked around the historic center. The town was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the Great Spa Towns of Europe, which includes 10 other famous towns in 7 western European countries including Spa (Belgium), Bath (UK), Bad Ems (Germany) and Vichy (France). The town was very proud of that designation and made sure you knew it was a UNESCO site with its barrage of placards and signs. 

The town center is exceptionally maintained. Unfortunately, it is also mostly full of bad restaurants. I ended up finding a highly-rated Chinese restaurant. Not only was it delicious, but my meal was a mere €12. The same meal in Switzerland would have been at least double. 

It was then time to try out the famous spa. The town has two main spas: the traditional Freidrichbad and the modern Caracalla I opted for the traditional…and boy did I get an interesting experience. 

The Friedrichsbad is a bathing palace built in 1877 on the very site of the Roman baths. It preserves the traditional multi-step spa treatments of that time period. I experienced a similar treatment in Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, USA. 

The spa building

The treatment regimen involves 17 steps and takes about 3 hours to complete. The bathing takes place “fabric-free” aka in the nude. I have been in numerous nude spa situations before, but this one was unique because a combination of budget cuts and …Germany, it was co-ed. 

I started off with a shower before heading into the first steam room set at a temperature of 54C. As soon as I walked in, there was a 40-year-old woman laying down on the bench completely unbothered fully naked with her legs spread open. I jumped a little bit, but then looked away trying to play it cool. Throughout the process, there were probably 30 people relaxing, split roughly 50/50 men to women. There were people of all ages, but I was one of the youngest people there. 

The treatment cycle involved both hot steam rooms and pools of various temperatures. The rooms were tile, some quite ornate. The central cold pool had an impressive painted dome. 

The 16th step was a napping room. After laying down on a massage-bed, the attendant cocooned you in towels. I slept for at least an hour, and it was heavenly. 

The final room was a reading room, where the spa provided German newspapers and tea. This was the only room where people were allowed to wear bathrobes. 

After 3 hours, I indeed felt relaxed and rejuvenated. 

I then got gelato and walked down a particularly scenic path called the Lichtentaler Allee. It followed a creek past fancy homes and hotels. This shaded path is considered one of the treasures of Baden-Baden. 

The path ended at a monastery where I caught the bus back to the train station and continued on to Frankfurt. 

Final Thoughts:

Baden-Baden is a gorgeous town. The obvious highlights are the two spas, but the town has plenty of other attractions too such as the casino, some art museums and hiking in the nearby Black Forest. 

While I was able to see the highlights in a day, I would recommend staying 2. That way you can experience both spas and fully appreciate the slow pace of life. 


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