The smart and dignified grande dame of German spas, BADEN-BADEN lies cradled in the palm of idyllic and gentle wooded hills, 42km south of Karlsruhe. In the nineteenth century this was the St Tropez of high society and something of this era’s privilege survives in the dusty elegance of its villas, hotels and boutiques and in the manicured gardens where well-groomed socialites promenade. The absence of any heavyweight sights, moreover, helps make it a near perfect setting for a recuperative weekend.
Baden margraves built today’s thermal baths in 1810 around the same springs that once lured Roman bathers – in particular Emperor Caracalla – nearly two millennia earlier. The baths were a hit in nineteenth-century Germany, so architect Friedrich Weinbrenner designed a complementary Neoclassical spa quarter. Some thirty years later, dapper Parisian impresario Jacques Bénazet added a casino, catapulting Baden-Baden to an elite playground that lured an international who’s-who to play, promenade and soothe their rheumatic joints: Tolstoy, Strauss, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm I, Dostoyevsky, Bismarck, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and the Vanderbilts all visited. More recent visitors have included Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Victoria Beckham. Mark Twain came too, but had mixed feelings, describing it as “an inane town, filled with sham and petty fraud and snobbery”. The town emerged unscathed from World War II and now effortlessly blends its halcyon days with modern-day pampering.