The German word “baden” means “to bathe”. And bathe we did when Matt and I went to Baden-Baden in South-West Germany last weekend. But we didn’t only take advantage of the thermal spas in this small town in the Black Forest. We also climbed a mountain, checked out a casino from the 19th century and sampled some of the local cuisine.
Even though I’ve lived most of my life in Germany, any place south of Frankfurt is pretty much completely alien to me. So going to Baden-Baden felt almost like an exotic holiday. I’d heard years ago that the town has thermal spas, and I’ve been wanting to check it out ever since.
Ryanair flights from Stansted are cheap and go directly to Baden-Baden’s tiny airport, which used to be a Canadian airbase.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon we soon realised that the bus to Baden-Baden station only goes once an hour. A taxi into town costs around €50, so we decided we’d rather spend our money on beer and pretzels at the only airport café and wait around for the next bus.
After 40 minutes we finally took the bus to the station, changed onto another bus to the town center and checked into our Airbnb. It was really roomy and clean. I can recommend it.
In the evening we walked around the town for a bit in order to find a good place to have a drink before dinner. We found a bar that brews its own beer and serves Flammkuchen alongside it. Flammkuchen is a speciality from that area of Germany, so we had to sample it. Over the course of the weekend I realised that everywhere in Baden-Baden serves Flammkuchen. Even kebab shops!
For a while we couldn’t really find a restaurant that we were keen on until finally we randomly walked past a Czech place which had very interesting decor and served this amazing kale dish that I always thought was just available in the North of Germany, where I’m from.
Czech complimentary starter
Czech mains (kale, ham, sausages and potatoes in the foreground!)
French men dining across the room from us
The next day we set out to explore Baden-Baden a little bit more. It’s small, so the exploration can probably be completed in half a day.
It was freezing cold but sunny.
We went to check out the casino, which was built in the 19th century. Back then Baden-Baden was very popular not only among Germans but it also profited from a huge number of French guests because gambling was illegal in France. And with increasing popularity of the entertainment that the casino offered (they also put on concerts and theatre plays), people from all over Europe came to Baden-Baden to “take advantage of the healing powers of the thermal waters” – when in reality they came for the entertainment. This also included famous Russian writers like Dostoyevsky, who references Baden-Baden in his novel “The Gambler”.
The casino offers tours in the morning, before it opens its gambling business at 2pm. Tours last approximately 45 minutes. We participated in the last tour at 11:30am. And it was definitely worth it. The casino’s interior is absolutely fantastic! A mix of 19th century French palais decor and modern style. The old looking bits are all original. The casino wasn’t bombed during WWII and the French occupiers largely left it in peace, so it’s in really good condition.
Afterwards we planned to go up mount Merkur, seeing that we were so close to the Black Forest. We had to at least get a small forest adventure in.
So we walked to the little train station from which you can take a funicular railway to the mountain top. You can see the summit in the background.
And here’s the train station. It’s so cute…
…and so closed!
What a disappointment. But I wanted to go up that mountain anyway. So we tried to find the path that would bring us to the top. It wasn’t this one.
After asking some locals for advice, we found the correct way.
There was quite a bit of snow when we got higher. My Nike Free clad feet were soaking wet. I definitely didn’t have the right footwear for this. But the activity of the steep climb kept me warm.
The views from the top weren’t that great because it was too misty. But that didn’t really matter to me because I felt so accomplished to have made it to the top.
We were knackered when we finally made it back to our Airbnb flat after the unexpected hike.
To soothe our aching muscles, we decided to spend the evening at one of the two thermal spas in town: the Friedrichsbad.
In this spa you go through a 17 step prescribed program (10 minutes in the sauna, 5 minutes in the hotter sauna, shower, go to the steam room for 15 minutes, shower, sit in this pool, sit in that pool, etc.). And you are naked the whole time. No bathing suit allowed. This New York Times article has a mostly accurate description of it if you care for more details.
They have mixed gender days a few times a week, but Saturday isn’t one of them, so we spent most of the two hours in the Friedrichsbad by ourselves. We were only able to meet in the centre in two slightly too chilly thermal water pools.
The spa experience itself was ok, but I would recommend going mainly for the architecture. Again, it looked like a lot of original 19th century features were still in tact.
On Sunday, we did even more spa-ing. We spent 7 hours in the Caracalla Thermal Spa. It was fantastic! They had several different indoor and outdoor pools and it was lovely to swim outside in the hot water while the air temperature was under zero degrees celsius!
The building is modern, very different from the Friedrichsbad.
Look at the steam coming from those hot outdoor pools!
The spa also has about 10 different saunas. I must have gone to at least half of them over the course of the day. Maybe more. I left the spa completely relaxed (and a bit dehydrated…).
And that concluded our weekend in Baden-Baden!
Bonus photo: a shop window in the high street. Wat??