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Saturday, September 17, 2011
Continuing her rail journey in Germany, Anne Walsh leaves Nuremberg and heads to Baden-Baden – the world-renowned spa town nestling at the foot of the Black Forest.
Bye, bye Bavaria, hello Baden-Baden. We were up and away, and soon to be up, up and away, floating in a hot-air balloon above some of the most beautiful views in the world.
But first we headed west, taking the Deutschebahn to Karlsruhe, where we hopped on another train for our 20-minute journey to Baden-Baden.
The first thing you notice when you arrive in the town is the smell of clean air – the second thing that hits you is the smell of money. Hardly surprising as Baden-Baden is home to what Marlene Dietrich described as “the most beautiful casino in the world”. Housed in the stunning 19th century Romanesque-style Kurhaus, overlooking the park, you couldn’t imagine a more salubrious setting in which to lose your hard-earned cash.
However, the roulette wheel would have to wait – we were here to relax and recharge in spa heaven. Baden-Baden’s spa reputation hasn’t emerged by accident – the Romans were the first to build baths in the town more than 2,000 years ago – recognising the restorative value of the thermal springs.
Get a taste for more luxury at The Fabergé Museum, open daily, 10am to 6pm. Visit www.faberge-museum.de/
Find out more about the Caracalla Spa at www.caracalla.de
On our first night we ate at Rizzi Wine Bistro and Restaurant. The food, service and atmosphere were excellent. There is a wide choice of steaks and fish dishes – I chose scallops and truffle mash. The setting is pretty amazing too, with plenty of seating outside. Visit www.rizzi-baden-baden.de
We spent our second night eating from a traditional Black Forest menu in the lively courtyard, right, of Weinstube im Baldreit. Dishes included Veal Wiener Schnitzel with peas, French fries and a side salad, or Black Forest brook trout fillet with caper and lemon butter, and parsley potatoes. To finish, what else but Black Forest Gateau, above? Visit the website at www.deutscherwein.de/Weinverzeichnis/Baldreit-Weinstube/Baldreit-Weinstube.N2902.html
We travelled to Baden-Baden with Railbookers, which designs tailormade rail holidays, staying at the Hotel Merkur, right, in a quiet street near the town centre. My room in the new annexe was lovely. Prices for a two-night short break by train, staying at the Hotel Merkur, cost from £365 per person. For a three-night break, prices start from £465 per person. Our scheduled rail journey back went from Baden-Baden to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Cologne with Deutschebahn. Cologne to Brussels was via Thalys rail and finally Brussells to London St Pancras with Eurostar. All prices per person include hotel accommodation with breakfast and return Eurostar and train travel from London, Ebbsfleet or Ashford. Rail travel can be arranged from your local station. Telephone Railbookers on 020 3327 2401 or visit the website at www.railbookers.com
Today, the ruins of these ancient baths are housed under the historic ‘temple of wellbeing’, the Friedrichsbad, which opened in 1877. And now we’re really talking hardcore bathing. First of all, there are 17 different stations to visit, including massage, steam bath, thermal whirlpool and cold water bath. Secondly, they all have to be done in the nude.
I opted for a teeth-clenching massage but chose to spend the rest of the afternoon in the Caracalla Spa, just a short walk away, where you do wear a bathing suit while taking the waters. After a delicious light lunch, I settled down in the wellness lounge, which is fed by water from 12 mineral-rich thermal springs, reaching a temperature of 68C. Sheer bliss!
The main features are the indoor and outdoor pools, where the water ranges from 18C to a very comfortable 38 C. It was lovely to lie in the water, soak up the sun and feel my massage working. Apparently, those hardy Germans are happy to lie back and relax in the outdoor pool even when there’s snow on the ground. If you’re still desperate to get your kit off (I wasn’t), you can sunbathe in the altogether on the roof terrace. But for me, a dip in the rock grotto, a visit to the aroma steam bath and the brine inhalation room left me about as relaxed as it’s possible to be.
This feeling of contentment stayed with me all the way back to my room at the Merkur Hotel – mind you, Baden-Baden is a pretty lush place to be. Wherever you go, you are surrounded by parks, gardens, fountains and little streams. The famous Lichtentaler Allee, a green oasis, stretches for about two miles through the town, covering 40 hectares in total. It came as no surprise to me that Baden-Baden also possesses the highest percentage of woodland of any German town.
There are beautiful buildings wherever you look, such as the Theater Baden-Baden, built in the 19th century and designed along the lines of the Paris Opera. Close to the Kurhaus is the Trinkhalle, a colonnade with Corinthian pillars and murals. As well as being a cafe, it is also the poshest setting for a tourist information centre that I have ever seen. Oh, and if you’re thirsty from all that walking, you can also sample some curative water there, straight from the spring.
Baden-Baden is a place to stroll and window-shop. The town centre is awash with shops such as exclusive shoe-makers Vickermann & Stoya whose customers come from all over the world to have their shoes handmade. The same applies to goldsmiths Baumgärtner & Ratti, who handcraft beautiful gold jewellery. It’s a town where luxury is taken for granted.