Baden-Baden, Healing thermal baths worth the exposure

by Emily Reagan

***image1***My husband and I recently visited Baden-Baden for a weekend getaway in the Black Forest. We went there to sightsee and enjoy the unique European spa experience.
The city has 12 thermal springs that produce water up to 68.6 degrees Celsius. Two thousand years ago, Roman emperors and citizens bathed in its thermal waters, believing that the water’s healing powers restored health and youth. Today tourists and wealthy residents take advantage of Baden-Baden’s therapeutic spas.
Although the popular fashions on the city’s streets were fur coats and miniature dogs as accessories, the spa dress code called for bare skin – something I wasn’t used to.
Our first spa experience had a minimized nude, culture shock and was the perfect place to ease into the European spa scene. The modern Caracalla Spa is more like a public indoor swimming pool. Swimsuits are required in the downstairs pools and saunas – perfect for families with children. The thermals baths varied in temperatures. I enjoyed the small bath outside, where my face was cooled by the winter air and my body stayed warm.
Upstairs is the nude adult area with saunas, steam rooms, heated tiled seats and whirl pools. Several saunas were located outside on the hillside. My towel was my security the entire time. Be sure to bring your own towel and flip-flops. Rental towels are available with a hefty deposit. Admission was €14 for three hours or €12 for two hours, and would be worth the price on a less crowded weekday.
For a truly European nude spa experience, we went to the Roman-Irish bath Friedrichsbad, which had no towels to hide beneath. Although admission was a pricy €29, I was pampered for three and a half hours in a private and Romanesque setting. Signs guided us in English through 16 stations of saunas, steam rooms and thermal baths and a nine-minute soap brush massage.
I eased into the un-American feeling of being nude with other females for the first seven stages. Eventually I got comfortable before I had to meet up with the men for the main baths, in stages seven to 11. Only on Mondays and Thursdays do women and men bathe separately, with the option of meeting in the beautiful, domed hall’s pool for stage 11. It wasn’t so awkward being naked because everyone else was too. Bathers kept to themselves and avoided eye contact. And I spent most of my time concealing myself in water.
The bathing cycle ended with a lotion station, a warm towel and a nap in the resting room. It was a very meditative experience that I highly recommend to my friends. Only I suggest they don’t go with other Americans, it could be awkward seeing each other naked.
Other springs bubbled up into fountains in parks, hotels and buildings, like the Trinkhalle. Our Romanesque hotel, the Steigenberger Badischer Hof, had its own thermal pool. And for the price we paid to stay there for one night, we probably should have used it more.
There’s more to do in Baden-Baden than floating in naturally hot water and turning into a prune. Music lovers should listen to performances every weekend at the Festspielhaus or tour the house were the composer Johannes Brahms lived.
Castle lovers and hikers should check out the extensive (and free) ruins of the Altes Schloss, also known as the old castle, where the views of the Black Forest and the Rhine plains are magnificent.
Architectural buffs might find the Roman bath ruins underneath Friedrichsbad of interest; however, even though it costs only €2 for admission and the audio guide, I did not enjoy it.
The nightlife in Baden-Baden is minimal. A popular place to spend the evening is at Germany’s oldest and largest casino, located in the Kurhaus. But be aware, unlike in the states, it has a dress code – coat and tie. The Kurhaus nightclub “El Equipaje” was fun because the Europeans, like with nudity, were not shy. The tiny dance floor was packed all night.
(Getting there: Baden-Baden is 100 miles away. Take highway A65 south past Karlsruhe. Take B500 to city center. Color-coded signs will direct visitors to spas.)