Love in the Black For­est

The Ger­man spa town of Baden- Baden is mov­ing with the times, re­plac­ing its aris­to­cratic image with a mod­ern look, writes Neil Ger­aghty

The Scotsman - - TRAVEL & OUTDOORS -

Baden- Baden and Banksy? You might think that the two go to­gether like chalk and cheese, but in an un­likely twist of fate, the 21st cen­tury’s most talked about paint­ing, the in­fa­mous shred­ded Love Is In The Bin, re­cently turned up here for its first pub­lic view­ing and cre­ated quite a buzz in this well heeled Black For­est spa town.

I’m vis­it­ing Baden- Baden for a late win­ter break and I’m stay­ing in the Bren­ners Park Ho­tel, a pala­tial 19th cen­tury pile that was once a sum­mer re­treat for royal fam­i­lies from across the globe.

The ho­tel looks out over the Lich­t­en­taler Allee, a rib­bon of English- style park­land that fol­lows the gen­tle course of the River Oos.

Across the river the crisp, min­i­mal­ist lines of the Mu­seum Frieder Burda stand in to­tal con­trast to the Bren­ners Park’s flam­boy­ant Belle Epoque ar­chi­tec­ture. The

Mu­seum is a pri­vate art foun­da­tion that houses more than 700 works by fa­mous artists in­clud­ing sev­eral by Pi­casso and in the foyer, I join a throng of ex­cited vis­i­tors from all over the world queue­ing up for wrist bands that al­low free en­try into the room fea­tur­ing the Banksy ex­hibit.

We walk up a gen­tly slop­ing ramp to the up­per gal­leries and a sense of pil­grim­age hangs in the air. In front of the iconic paint­ing, I walk through the crowds and catch snip­pets of hushed con­ver­sa­tions.

Some com­pare it to a mod­ern day Mona Lisa while oth­ers think it is a crude pub­lic­ity stunt, but ev­ery­body seems to have fallen in love with it. From out of the blue, Baden- Baden has be­come one of the coolest towns in Europe.

In re­al­ity, the Banksy ex­hibit is symp­to­matic of sub­tle changes that in re­cent years have seen BadenBaden cast off its fusty aris­to­cratic image to be­come a cen­tre for more con­tem­po­rary leisure ac­tiv­i­ties.

Fine din­ing and cut­ting- edge well­ness treat­ments have led the way and af­ter check­ing in at Bren­ners Park Ho­tel, I head down to the lounge for an af­ter­noon tea where I im­me­di­ately get an inkling of the won­der­ful lo­cal in­gre­di­ents that abound in the Black For­est re­gion.

Top amongst them is black sal­sify, a Mediter­ranean root crop that thrives in the sunny low­land val­leys. I try a glass of foam­ing sal­sify soup and the flavour is a de­li­cious ex­plo­sion of in­tense as­para­gus and wild mush­room notes.

The dense wood­lands of the Black For­est are a haven for for­ag­ing wild boar and the hams and sausages of the re­gion are fa­mous through­out Ger­many.

To ac­com­pany the soup, I pick up a piece of crisp rye bread spread with a layer of onion con­fit and dec­o­rated with coils of wafer- thin smoked ham.

Of course no visit to the Black For­est is com­plete with­out try­ing its world­fa­mous gateau and on a three- tiered cake stand I spot sev­eral vari­a­tions of this clas­sic.

I choose a pud­ding- like ver­sion that re­sem­bles an Eton mess but is a mas­ter­class in con­trast­ing tex­tures and flavours. The black cher­ries are enor­mous and when I bite into one, a spray of fiery kirsch slices through the moist choco­late sponge.

Along­side the food scene, the qual­ity of Baden- Baden’s lo­cal wines has im­proved enor­mously in re­cent years and in the af­ter­noon I take

Fine din­ing and cut­ting- edge well­ness treat­ments have led the way

a scenic 20 minute drive through the foothills of the Black For­est to a wine tast­ing at Schloss Neuweier, a beau­ti­ful 12th- cen­tury cas­tle which stands be­neath a moun­tain slope cov­ered in sun­lit vine­yards.

Over a mouth- wa­ter­ing plat­ter of ter­rines, sausages and lo­cal cheeses, owner Robert Schat­zle in­tro­duces us to his prize- win­ning ries­lings. The wines have a com­plex min­er­al­ity that cas­cades over the tongue and lingers long on the pal­ette. The grand crus, Robert points out, would have been very fa­mil­iar to vis­it­ing roy­als in the 19th cen­tury in­clud­ing Queen Victoria who vis­ited the Black For­est sev­eral times. Sip­ping the aris­to­cratic wine I could well imag­ine her hob­nob­bing with Kais­ers and Tsars in the gilded sa­lons of Baden- Baden.

Back in Bren­ners Park Ho­tel, I stroll over to neigh­bour­ing Villa Stephanie for a well­ness treat­ment in their beau­ti­ful spa. Tra­di­tional ther­a­pies in Baden- Baden of­ten in­volve long im­mer­sions in hot, salt- rich water that bub­bles out of 12 springs in and around the town. This can be de­hy­drat­ing for the skin and at Villa Stephanie the water is ionised with ozone for a softer im­pact on the skin.

Af­ter a visit to the steam bath and a dip in the plunge pool I un­dergo an up­per body and fa­cial treat­ment that com­bines shi­atsu, ex­fo­li­a­tion, lym­phatic drainage mas­sage and aro­mather­apy. I pick an en­er­gis­ing pep­per­mint and gera­nium oil mix for the mas­sage and it’s a good choice. Af­ter an hour’s treat­ment of gen­tle scrub­bing, stretch­ing and mas­sag­ing I feel com­pletely re­freshed and am rar­ing to dis­cover the culi­nary de­lights of Baden- Baden’s res­tau­rant scene.

A com­mon prob­lem fac­ing grand his­toric ho­tels is how to up­date their din­ing fa­cil­i­ties with­out im­pact­ing the ho­tels’ her­itage too much. In the case of Bren­ners Park’s new Fritz and Felix res­tau­rant, the man­age­ment brought in ac­claimed Lon­don­based de­sign­ers Gor­geous Group to sprin­kle some retro magic over the in­te­rior de­sign.

The bar is a de­light­ful Art Deco in­spired space straight out of The

Great Gatsby. Al­coves of ma­roon­coloured ban­quettes lit by globe wall lamps sur­round an is­land bar where bar­tenders rus­tle up beau­ti­fully crafted con­tem­po­rary cock­tails. Thurs­day night is Ne­groni night and guests sit­ting at the bar sip tum­blers sparkling like ru­bies as ice in the Cam­pari- based cock­tail cap­tures and re­flects the mellow light.

From the roar­ing 1920s bar the main res­tau­rant trans­ports guests to the 1970s where a fun lounge- like at­mos­phere en­cour­ages din­ers to re­lax and en­joy an in­for­mal slow food ex­pe­ri­ence.

The culi­nary con­cept be­hind Fritz and Felix is to take a hand­ful of the finest lo­cal in­gre­di­ents and cre­ate light dishes with punchy con­trast­ing flavours.

Head chef Se­bas­tian Mat­tis be­lieves in mak­ing the fruit and veg­etable com­po­nents of his dishes the star at­trac­tions and a tast­ing menu starts with braised rhubarb in oys­ter sauce ac­com­pa­nied by a slice of foie gras.

The del­i­cate pink rhubarb is the first forced crop of the sea­son and its sweet acid­ity tem­pers the richer flavours of duck and oys­ter. Other lo­cal veg­etable treats in­clude seared leeks sprin­kled with shards of black truf­fle and baby car­rots poached in orange blos­som- in­fused but­ter­milk.

The food is a far cry from the tra­di­tional meat- heavy clas­sics of Black For­est cui­sine and al­though I get through eight cour­ses, at the end of the meal my stom­ach feels as light as a feather.

I leave the res­tau­rant through the bar which is filled with a ca­su­ally dressed crowd en­joy­ing the jazzy in­for­mal at­mos­phere. Baden- Baden has come a long way from the stuffy for­mal­ity of yes­ter­year and as I glance at one of the cock­tail glasses, I spot a minia­ture ver­sion of Love Is In The

Bin drawn on the foam. How cool is that?

Easyjet ( www. easyjet. com) flies di­rectly from Ed­in­burgh to Stuttgart with fares start­ing from £ 29 each way. Dou­ble rooms at the Bren­ners Park Ho­tel start at € 360 per night, in­clud­ing ac­cess to the spa and fit­ness

fa­cil­i­ties. For more in­for­ma­tion visit www. oetk­er­col­lec­tion.com

The view across the Black For­est spa town of Baden- Baden, main; the pool at the Bren­ners Park Ho­tel spa, above

The ex­te­rior of the Bren­ners Park Ho­tel in Baden- Baden

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