Feel­ing beau­ti­ful in baden baden

S p a S e S S i o n S , p i c t u r e - p e r f e c t S e t t i n g S a n d t h e b l a c k f o r e S t l u l l a v i S i t o r i n t o a m a g i c a l l a n d w h e r e e v e r y t h i n g i S p r e t t y a n d l e i S u r e ly

WKND - - Travel Germany - BY San­chita Guha

Tip­toe­ing into the low- ceilinged room, low­er­ing my­self into a lounger, I get down to the busi­ness of re­lax­ing. There are a few other peo­ple in the room, each on their own lounger; one per­son is ap­par­ently asleep on a small bed on one side. The only sounds in the room are of soft breath­ing and very low deci­bel na­ture melodies like bird­song and flow­ing wa­ter com­ing from hid­den speak­ers.

This is Salina Sea Salt Grotto in Baden Baden, the stylish spa town at the edge of the famed Sch­warzwald ( Black For­est) in Ger­many. The day spa is one of the many in the town, whose name trans­lates to ‘ baths / to bathe’ — and since they said it twice, it’s not hard to see how peo­ple here love get­ting into the ther­mal spring wa­ters.

It had been so even in the times of the 3rd cen­tury Ro­man em­peror Cara­calla. He and his soldiers came here to ease the aches and pains of their ex­haust­ing mil­i­tary cam­paigns. For the 19th cen­tury Euro­pean no­bil­ity, this town was a cen­tre of heal­ing and ex­clu­sive so­cial­is­ing.

Those tra­di­tions con­tinue in mod­ern Baden Baden. The Cara­calla Spa is magnificent, a mas­sive glass- en­closed com­plex of out­door and in­door pools. Stand­ing un­der the ‘ wa­ter­fall’, a ver­ti­cal stream fall­ing with great force, takes a bit of courage at first, but the mas­sag­ing ef­fect on knot­ted mus­cles soon feels like heaven. The cir­cu­lar out­door pool has colder wa­ter that in­vig­o­rates the body af­ter wal­low­ing in the warmth in­side; pumps around the pool edge cre­ate lo­calised cur­rents that soothe bathers’ legs.

An­other ma­jor spa is the Friedrichs­bad, whose ar­chi­tec­ture and wall fres­coes are rem­i­nis­cent of Ro­man times. This is also the place

for shed­ding the last bit of in­hi­bi­tion and go au na­turel to fully ex­pe­ri­ence ev­ery­thing this spa has to of­fer. The tra­di­tion of bathing with­out clothes is an an­cient one in Europe, and the Ger­man Freikör­perkul­tur ( free body cul­ture) move­ment is a part of it. Get­ting com­fort­able with our own bod­ies is an in­te­gral part of a spa visit; few places of­fer a bet­ter set­ting for it than Baden Baden. There’s no par­tic­u­lar state­ment or erot­ica about nu­dity in Ger­many; the peo­ple are just happy with be­ing who they are.

The town it­self is wealthy and lovely. At the cen­tre is the Lich­t­en­taler Allee, the mini prom­e­nade along the slen­der river Oos. The path runs through stun­ning park­lands — on one side is the stately Bren­ners Park Ho­tel & Spa, some of its restau­rants giv­ing guests sweep­ing views of the green­ery out­side. Nearby — well, ev­ery­thing here is nearby — is the Fabergé Mu­seum, where as­tound­ingly beau­ti­ful cre­ations by Rus­sian jew­eller Peter Carl Fabergé are dis­played. Though a small mu­seum, the col­lec­tion is solid, go­ing well be­yond the world- fa­mous Fabergé eggs. Ev­ery­thing here is in­tri­cately de­tailed and per­fect, a bit like the town it­self.

One of the most spec­tac­u­lar build­ings in Baden Baden is its casino. Its ex­trav­a­gantly or­nate in­te­ri­ors qual­ify as ‘ jaw­drop­ping’, even if the reg­u­lars at the gambling ta­bles ap­pear to have got used to the sight. Gambling here is a re­strained af­fair, shorn of the Hol­ly­wood razzmatazz, an in­ter­est­ing way to pass the time rather than a des­per­ate lurch at mak­ing a quick for­tune. The Rus­sian great Fy­o­dor Dos­toyevsky lived in this town and fre­quented the casino; he may have sim­ply been ‘ re­search­ing’ his novel The Gam­bler.

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