Bond with Baden Baden

Beautiful casinos, museums, theatre, spas, thermal springs and landscaped parks make a visit to this town in Germany a treat Inder Raj Ahluwalia

A panoramic view of Baden Baden. Thinkstock

You might say a town possessing the largest percentage of woodland in Germany has a fair claim to fame. But fame goes further for this famous town that nestles on the edge of the Black Forest, and is entirely embedded in parks and gardens with streams and fountains.

But then Baden-Baden has always been considered to be somewhat special.

With spas, casinos, five museums, several social events, car events, horse racing, and the Baden-Baden Philharmonic Orchestra — one of Germany’s oldest — it is one busy town indeed. Stating that the town hoped to get a World Heritage tag because its 19th century life and antiquities are still intact.

The Pumphall
The Pumphall

Kurhaus, the fabled casino
Kurhaus, the fabled casino

The magnificent hall of the casino
The magnificent hall of the casino

Baden-Baden has absorbed its exceptional attributes with skill and grace. Thirty short steps from my hotel brought me to Kurhaus, the fabled casino, which is fronted by superb gardens and lawns, and hemmed in by a hill on one side. Nearby is the modern casino complex and the Pumphall. I walked the length of the famed Lichtentaler Allee, a landscaped park that stretches for over 3 km through the heart of the town, and is home to several of the town’s notable symbols. There’s Brenners Park Hotel & Spa, one of Germany’s top hotels; the Museum Frieder Burda, a showpiece symbiosis of modern and contemporary art with some 550 paintings, sculptures, objects and works on paper; the Theatre Baden-Baden built in 1860-62 by architects Derchy, Couteau and Lang, along the lines of the Paris Opera; and Europe’s second largest opera house, the ‘Festspielhaus’, with 2, 500 seating capacity and 300 annual performances.

The town is also home to Germany’s oldest and largest casino, which is among the most beautiful casinos in the world. Guided tours of the establishment are available for Euro 5. Built in 1824, it was the only casino to operate through World War II. The grand reception area leads on to the Austrian Hall, then on to the Winter Garden, a grand room with ornate tables. Then comes the highly ornate Renaissance Hall with its grand ceiling looking down on gaming tables. The Smoking Room; Poker Room, which is quite plain looking; the relatively small Salon Pompedeau; and the Red Saloon make up the rest of the business end of the casino.

I crossed the little River Oos, and found myself smack in the middle of the Old Town. Baden-Baden’s downtown core is a large, chic, beautiful, traffic-free pedestrian zone with Belle Epoque architecture; picturesque streets and lanes; bars and cafes; and elegant boutiques stocked with designer label merchandise.

About 800, 000 litres of hot, curative water rising daily from 12 thermal springs can make for a significant health factor. The Romans were the first to discover the healing powers of the local thermal springs, and built magnificent bathing temples. Today, the world descends on the town to extract benefit from the spring waters. The town’s fabled spa quarter houses the Friedrichsbad, with the unique Roman-Irish Bath; and the modern Caracalla Spa that ranks amongst Europe’s finest thermal baths. One of the Roman Baths has been converted into a museum that’s open for just two hours daily.

Not quite done with my health binge, I dropped in at Salina, which turned out to be a useful stopover. It’s a cave of salt — the ceiling and floor are all salt — with dim lighting, and you just lie around on deck chairs and inhale the salt-laden air while listening to soothing music. The fact is it did me good. Museums are an integral part of the town’s charm and character, and it was only fitting that I found myself admiring the bejeweled clocks and daggers at the Faberge Museum.

This done, we took a short drive to the town’s edge and hopped on to one of Europe’s steepest funicular railways to get to Mount Merkur for spectacular views. The coffee break there was welcome indeed, and the lunch at Waldcafe was even better. Our hosts had planned a special dinner, and I found myself seated at Stahlbad, arguably the best restaurant in town. A classy place, it sports a wonderful ambience, enhanced by its fairy-tale park location.

You may not notice it immediately but Baden-Baden sports a hectic events calendar, which ensures there’s something of interest for everyone. Three times yearly, the town becomes the meeting point of international turf with the ‘Spring Meeting’ in May/June; the ‘Great Festival Week’ in August/September; and the ‘Sales & Racing Festival’ in October.

And for a quarter of a century now, the town has been home to Europe’s largest hot air balloon fleet with over 26 balloons. Enough to make you soar and your thoughts fly.

Fact File

How to reach: Baden-Baden is a couple of hours by train from Frankfurt Airport, which is connected to several Indian cities. Accommodation comes in the form of a hotel range stretching from deluxe down to budget class.

Where to eat: Eating out is a delight. Every corner of the town has restaurants and taverns that serve German cuisine in addition to an international assortment, including Indian.

Where to go: The abundance of parks and gardens in town make is a paradise for children, who can enjoy specially designated play-sections. The parks are also popular with senior citizens who can be seen walking and sitting on benches under shady trees. Everything is within walking distance on one another, and one doesn’t need local transportation.