36 Hours in Baden-Baden

Germany is a beautiful country and Baden Baden is no exception.

In fact, it’s so good they named it twice.


Perched on the edge of the Black Forest, straddling the River Oos and just a stone’s throw from the Rhine, the historic spa town has been a favourite of the rich and famous for centuries. Now, it’s a favourite of mine too.

Once named Aurelia Aquensis, Latin for ‘Aurelius of the Waters’ (after the last emperor of the Severan dynasty, Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander Augustus), the town has officially gone by the more humble Baden-Baden since 1931. ‘Baden’ , of course, meaning ‘bathing’ in German although technically here the name is a derivative of an earlier form of the plural of ‘bad’ (bath), hence ‘baden’ (baths).

However, spa towns built around hot springs are not uncommon throughout Europe and, not unlike the UK’s Bath, there are other towns with the same name: Baden in Vienna, Baden near Zurich… The doubling up for Baden Baden was an attempt to distinguish it (although for fact-fans, prior to ‘Baden-Baden’ it had been known as ‘Baden in Baden’… I’ll leave it down to you to find out why). 

And worth distinguishing it is.


Doing

Given as the town has almost exclusively developed around the 50-68°C hot springs, it would be unreasonable to expect the town to have a great deal of activities on offer. Besides shopping, the majority of interesting things in Baden-Baden are there to be seen (it is necessary to venture a little further outside of the town to find activities such as paragliding, mountain biking etc.). However, the 3 most defining attractions of the town do involve interaction…

Caracalla Therme

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The first of the 2 high profile spas in the town, Caracalla is without a doubt a relaxed way to spend a few hours. In fact, a visit to Baden-Baden positively requires it and if using spa facilities in Germany is a new experience for you, then Caracalla is a great start.

Split over two levels: a pool complex on the lower, a sauna one on the upper, the spa is a mini-paradise of relaxation. The pool waters go up to a very warm 38C and offer a variety of features, including mini-waterfalls, to enjoy. Down here is also a large steam room, a cold plunge pool, several outdoor pools and a large sun lawn. Upstairs is the unclothed section that is filled with a variety of saunas, plunge pools and sun decks. 

You’ll find you have a variety of entrance options and my advice is to pay for the full day ticket so that you wont have to worry about overstaying and paying the extra 70cents every 10 minutes – it’s more economical to pay the extra few Euros for an unlimited day stay.

You can read a more in-depth post about Caracalla Therme here.  

Top Tip: take a towel unless you want to rent one.

Friedrichsbad

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The other notable spa in the town is Friedrichsbad, the Roman-Irish bath containing precisely 17 stages of mind-body relaxation. This is the far more unique experience of the two, although not for the reasons one may assume. However, the thing that seems to interest everyone most about this spa is that it is to be experienced entirely naked. 

For the uninitiated this might come as a shock, or a thrill, but once those British/American reservations about nudity are shaken off along with the clothes, being in such environments with clingy swimming shorts or bikinis will soon seem unnatural. Frankly, you’ll get a lot more attention if you turn up in anything other than your birthday suit. So, for about 3 hours you roam around the spa, experiencing the steam rooms and pools fully unclothed.

Towards the end, of course, the process slows a little and you’re wrapped in a blanket, made all snug like some bug in a fluffy rug and can doze or meditate for a little while in the Reading and Relaxation rooms.

The other thing about Friedrichsbad that is somewhat curious is just how regimented it is. The 17 stages are timed and are practically policed in order to ensure your experience is optimal. You even get a watch to keep you aware of time spent here and there. Go over the time you paid for and you’ll incur additional costs.

Yet, the thing that really makes the place unique is the building itself. The 17th century (built 1877) building is majestic from the outside but experiencing it from the spa itself makes for a wonderful environment. Particularly the central, domed hall, beneath which is their largest pool.

Between the architecture, lack of pretension and just shuttling through the remarkable variety of water temperatures, rooms and procedures it was a thorough adventure and I loved it.

But you can read a more in-depth post about Friedrichsbad here.  

Top Tip: That thing you’re worrying about? Don’t worry about it. No one else is.

Kurhaus

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The third of Baden Baden’s Big Three Attractions is the charming Casino at the heart of the town.

Whilst the building was original designed in 1824, the casino element only came into its own about a decade later when gambling was prohibited in France. 

Fun Facts:

  1. Between 23rd and 28th September, 1981, the 11th Olympic Congress was convened in the Kurhaus. 
  2. The Gambler, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, was inspired by his visit to the Kurhaus casino.
  3. Marlene Dietrich once declared the Kurhaus to be “the most beautiful casino in the world.

Seeing

Romische Badruinen: The Roman Bath Ruins

The town has been a go-to destination for relaxation for centuries thanks to the Romans who really put it on the map. They loved the waters so much that they developed the area to really make the most of them, evidence of which can still be seen today.

Right by Friedrichsbad Spa, two particular areas to look for are:

  1. The Soldier’s Bath beneath Friedrichsbad spa where you can see the ancient heating system
  2. The Roman Wall that still reaches 2m high.

The ruins are preserved behind a glass case after an excavation unearthed them in the mid-1800s. Of course, you can have a guided tour but a little self-exploration is usually much more satisfying.

The Old Town

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Baden Baden is a treasure trove of cobbled streets, little nooks hiding a peaceful home/cosey coffee shop/winery, and historical sites. There’s a lot to appreciate in terms of architecture but there are also a lot of artisan shops, jewellers, cafés, bakeries, restaurants and ice-cream parlours. Sure, the the population is not big (50,000 approx.) but it is well served. 

A wander around the Old Town might also reveal other little treats like: 

  • The Stiftkirche (housing the tomb of Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm, Chief Commander of the Imperial Army, who died in 1707)
  • The Convent of the Holy Sepulchre

Florentinerberg

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A favourite place for the Romans to bath back in the day, you can check out the ruins of those baths within a rather charming little garden. 

The Kurgarten 

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This is the garden in front of the Kurhaus and is immediately accessible from the centre of the town, and even more so should you have arrived via public transport as this is the heart of town. It’s tucked in amongst a handful of the town’s biggest draws, like:

  1. Kunsthalle
  2. Theater Baden Baden
  3. Mamutbaume
  4. Museum LA8
  5. Stadtmuseum Baden Baden

Catch it at sunset on a warm summer day and you’ll have found another wonderful slice of tranquility although bear in mind that this is a popular area. In fact, the Kurgarten is frequently host to a number of events, including the New Pop Festival, the Oldtimer Meeting and the Christmas Market. 

Trinkhalle

IMG_20180421_175800.jpgPerched at the bottom of the pleasant hillside walkway up to Mamutbaume, and just a stone’s throw from the Kurhaus, the Trinkhalle was actually built as an 1839 addition to it. Step into the portico for a stroll by several 19th century frescos of some of the famous locals or take a pew on one of the several benches that line it. 
 
Inside, to quench your thirst, take a sip from the mineral water. It’s free and, legend has it, Baden Baden’s Elixir of Youth. 

Neues Schloss

In the Florentine mountains on the edge of the Black Forest, Baden-Baden’s historic New Castle (Neues Schloss) was built by Margrave Christoph I in 1479 and was occasionally used as a residence by the former grand-ducal family. Purchased by a private group in 2010, it’s currently under development as a luxury hotel under the Hyatt name. Once it’s reopened, it will certainly be worth a visit for its interesting architecture and fine views.

Russische Kirche

The pretty Byzantine-style Russian Church was completed in 1882 and is probably most recognisable from it’s impressive golden dome and fresco decoration. 

Kloster Lichtenthal

This abbey, founded in 1245, lies at the end of the Lichtentaler Allee. The Cistercian abbey also houses a church where several generations of the town’s margraves are buried.

Paradies am Annaberg

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Perhaps the place for a picnic, or certainly a moment or two of quiet contemplation, these Italian gardens are filled with water features and provide wonderful views over the Aldstadt and the surrounding hillsides.  

Mt. Merkur

The perfect place for a little additional adventure, the mountain is a great spot for hiking, picnics and, yes, paragliding. A short bus ride from the centre of town will drop you at the funicular, which will take you to the very top. If not for the activities, head up for the stunning views of Baden Baden and the Murg Valley.

Museum Frieder Burda

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The museum’s striking architecture will let you know you’ve found the place long before the signs do and the quality of the art inside (including Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock originals) will let you know it’s the real deal. 
 
German art collection, Frieder Burda had originally planned to open a museum closer to his home in France but ultimately settled on Baden Baden. The €20 million building designed by architect Richard Meier houses temporary collections as well as permanent. 

Lichtentaler Allee

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There’s no other way to really describe this as perhaps one of the most rewarding walks I’ve ever enjoyed in the middle of an urban space. To call it picturesque is verging on disingenuous given how beautiful it was on a spring morning. 

Stretching 2.3km along the River Oos, from Goetheplatz to Kloster Lichtenthal, the impossibly lush walk is literally peppered with sculptures amidst a carpet of flowers and tapestry of bridges criss-crossing the cobbled river bed.

The Fabergé Museum

A new addition to the town’s portfolio of attractions, the museum worships all things Fabergé. Home to over 700 pieces, the museum’s centrepiece is the Rothschild Fabergé Egg – built in 1902 and worth more than 11 million Euros. You’ll also find the last egg Fabergé made as well as the diamond, gold and birch wood Karelian Birch Egg.

Brahm’s House

Tucked away inside Brahm’s House, the building Johannes Brahms spent his summers for the best part of a decade [1865 – 1874], is the Blue Room. Frozen in time just as he might have left it, the room is a pleasing insight into the environment he wrote many of his most famous pieces. 

Festspielhaus

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Built inside the 1904 building that was originally Baden Baden’s central train station, the Festspielhaus is a colossal concert hall (currently the second biggest in Europe) that seats 2,500 guests and is home to a huge, eclectic variety of performances every year.  

Stiftskirche

Taking centre stage in the middle of Marktplatz is the Stiftskirche – an unmissable, pink church standing proud and like a mish-mash of Gothic, baroque and Romanesque architecture. 
 
In the tombs of the Princely House lie the remains of 13 margraves, whilst several other officials lie in the various other tombs. For history buffs, the Collegiate Church has undergone several renovations over the last 150 years. 
 
If you happen to pass it by one afternoon, check out the stained-glass windows.

Paradies Cascade

An area of fountains and cascades, the Paradies was built in 1925. Look out for the ornamental garden which stretches along 3 streets of of the town’s bigger homes and mansions. Interestingly, the water comes from an underground spring and its waters fall a cool 40 meters. 

Altes Schloss, Hohenbaden

Built in 1102, the Altes Schloss or Hohenbaden Castle, was home to the Margraves from the 11th to the 15th centuries. Whilst it is mostly ruins now, you can head up to the Old Castle for outstanding views of the town and surrounding countryside. It’s a little out of the way though so bear that in mind if you planned on walking everywhere.  

The Baden-Baden Museum

Should you have the time, a visit to the museum will provide an insightful education about the town’s rich and eclectic past. You’ll find a generous number of displays regarding it’s Roman heritage, various stone monuments, more typical artworks and a collection of interesting antiquities and paraphernalia. Not essential viewing, but worth it if you have a spare hour.


Eating

I had a bit of a rule for this trip and, in hindsight it sounds odd, but it was instigated for a reason. The rule was this: 

  • no eating in restaurants.

Ok, so even now it sounds odd (especially as I, like the rest of us, enjoy a meal out) but hear me out. The reason I imposed this was so that I could maximise my time spent doing other things and, moreover, to force myself into situations where I had to be creative and rely more on my German language skills. Sure, it would be easy to wander into a restaurant and be served in a very quick, and clinical way, but I wanted to work a little harder, glutton for punishment I am. 

So, I thought that by bypassing restaurants I could get up and out, maybe explore further afield for, say, a grocery store where English was a genuinely limited option or hunt the streets for a food stall or somewhere a little more rustic and authentic of the local experience. And you know what? It worked pretty well! 

Breakfasts

My hotel did not come with an included breakfast option so I opted to hit the road, both mornings, and find something, somewhere, that would be a good start to the day. 

On the Saturday morning, I wandered the town in the beautiful rising sun, already in my t-shirt, and picked up a coffee to go from a cafe that had just opened and dropped into a bakery for a nutty pastry and pretzel. Ensuring I got also my fibre and protein intake in, I spotted a supermarket and grabbed an apple, a handful of cucumbers and a carton of quark. 

Sunday morning I repeated the walk as I enjoyed it so much and loved being out in the brilliant morning sun but this time settled for another coffee to go and a cream cheese pretzel. On the way to the airport I snacked on a few banana chips. 

Lunches

Fresh wholemeal baton with low-fat cream cheese, tomatoes, ham and a smoothie on Saturday.

Sunday is not applicable as I was already at the airport.

Dinners

Friday night dinner, immediately post Friedrichsbad was a margarita pizza from a small pizzeria as at 10pm this was literally the only available option. 

Saturday night dinner was a homemade salad with cured meats, fresh bread, almond milk and a banana. 

**Altogether it is clear that the trip was not built around food. I’d used the weekend as a physical and mental detox and so ate a lot less than is typical for me.  


Coffee

Coffee is such an integral part of any city break it’s pretty much a prerequisite to stake out some strong candidates. Here’s a handful of highlights:

Trinkhalle

Literally, ‘the drink hall’, this building contains a water pump tapped into the 17,000 yea-old Friedrichsbad spring. Completely accessible, the town has long been hailed for its healing waters and this is Ground Zero for tasting it straight from the source.

The building itself is also rather charming and makes for an ideal spot for a few photos en route to take a coffee, which you’ll find at the Trinkhalle’s cafe and bar.

The other useful thing about the site is that thanks to its tourist appeal, a tourist desk is tucked away on site.

Café König

Over 250 years and showing no signs of slowing down, Tolstoy is one of several notable patrons of the cafe and it’s no wonder the rich and/or famous have dropped in. Head over for a coffee, stay for the delicious Kuchen (cakes).
 
See here.

Kaffeehaus Baden-Baden

Despite lacking originality in its name, Kaffeehaus Baden-Baden amply makes up for in quality and ambience thanks to the alluring aroma of freshly ground beans and the gentle whiff of baked goods.
 
See here.

Kaffeesack

Another pleasant little artisan coffee joint, you’ll find this one up a cobbled street in relative privacy. 
 
See here.

Sleeping

A town like Baden-Baden has high standards, so depending on budget, preference and approach, one could opt to pay £100’s per night or £10’s.

In general I believe that travel is not defined by the opulence of one’s accommodation simply because I don’t plan on spending much time inside a hotel when there’s a whole new world to be exploring. Yes, expensive hotels are fun and lovely and comfortable, but unless you’re looking to impress someone or thoroughly treat yourself then I’d suggest using that excess budget for more interesting, culturally specific things.

In my case, I opted to shoot for an available room at Hotel Magnetberg. Certainly towards to the lower end of the budget, Magnetberg is nonetheless somewhere I can happily recommend. Clean, fantastically located and incredibly peaceful, it’s a 10 minute stroll into the centre of town and perched on the hill as it is provides excellent views of the surrounding area.

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Interestingly, my original booking was £140 although after cancelling that booking and making a new one, I paid £113. They also have an on site sauna should the options in town not be to your liking (not likely, but possible) or you simply can’t get enough of that sweet, sweet steam. 

In fact, the reason for booking here was, as always, entirely practical. Having hunted through the AirBnB ads I found that staying in the hotel was a cheaper option than 95% of the available options. And, moreover, the location was second to none in terms of convenience. 


Keeping Active

As we all know, travel is never an excuse to get lazy. In fact, travel is quite the opposite: it’s the perfect opportunity to get a little creative with your workouts as well as to take in a host of new environments to be active in. Here’s a couple of ideas to help make sure you don’t lose any of those hard earned gains…

T’s Workout Game Plan

So, you’ve got 36 hours in the town and, as luck would have it, you forgot to schedule your rest day to coincide with the trip so it’s business as usual. I chose to do only one ‘workout’ during the stay, as the town is a place to be explored on foot and so I anticipated covering a healthy number of miles just by walking. 

Option 1

Hire a bike and take to the roads before your morning coffee. The roads will be even more quiet during the magic hour, you’ll get to see the sunrise as you glide around the town and will work up a nice pre-Pretzel-and-cream-cheese sweat. 

Option 2

There are a lot of open spaces in Baden Baden. Find your own and try the following bodyweight circuit, with each exercise done for 30 seconds and no rest until a circuit has been completed. Once you complete it once, rest for 60 seconds, and start all over again. Aim for 5 times round: 

  1. Jumping Jacks
  2. Mountain climbers
  3. Plank press
  4. Burpees

Once complete you’ll find your heart rate elevated nicely. Take a 2 minute break, but keep moving. A slow walk around your area dynamically stretching will keep the blood flowing. Now, try the following: 

  1. Pushups – 50 reps at whatever level you choose (dive bomber, full, half etc.)
  2. Jumping Squats – 100 reps, achieved through any combination of reps
  3. Lying leg/knee raises – 3 x failure

And to cool back down:

  1. Walking lunges – 20 steps one way, 20 steps back. Do this 3 times and you’ll be set. 

Job done, you’re on holiday remember…


Sample Itinerary for a 36 Hour Stay/ Weekend Break

Friday

5pm: Arrive at airport. Take bus to centre, find hotel and check in.

7pm: Head down to Friedrichsbad – it’ll be super quiet by this time so you’ll have the place pretty much to yourself. 

10pm: Dinner at the hotel as most restaurants will close by 9pm.

Saturday

7am: Lay-in followed by an early morning run and bodyweight circuit

8.30am: Back to the hotel for a quick shower

9am: Head into town for breakfast of a coffee and a pastry (because, hey, you’re in Germany and the bakers know what they’re doing)

10am: Take a walk through the town and see:

  • Kurhaus
  • Trinkhalle
  • Festpielhaus
  • Lichtentaler Allee

11.30am: Jump on a bike and try looking at the world from a new perspective. Find a nice spot for a lunch-picnic.

1pm: Head to Caracalla Therme

6pm: Leave the spa and take an early evening stroll around the town. 

8pm: Find a restaurant around the centre of town for Bavarian cuisine and some of the famed local wine.

10.30pm: Back to the hotel, pack, bed.

Sunday

8am: Final packing, checkout

9am: Final stroll through the neighbourhood – aim for no place in particular so as to get [mildly] lost for the last time. Pick up breakfast en route to the bus stop.

10.30am: Begin journey to airport 


What To Pack

I travel light. Lunking huge backpacks around, the stress and tedium of waiting for stowed luggage…it’s not for me. So over the years I’ve refined my packing to the bare minimum and find the following itinerary for a weekend/short trip ideal:

  1. Change of underwear [socks, boxers] per day of travel (if less than 10 days – any more and provision to do some laundry or buy cheap, fresh undies out there)
  2. 1 t-shirt per day of travel 
  3. Pair of jeans
  4. 1 pair of functional footwear (trainers/walking shoes = perfect if you don’t plan on a fancy restaurant or business meeting)
  5. Water bottle
  6. Laptop, charger, adapter
  7. Notebook and pen
  8. Various high protein snacks
  9. Sunglasses (if sunshine is expected…)
  10. Yoga strap
  11. Multivits
  12. Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb/brush, anti-bac gel, cleansing face wipes, grooming kit [although all consumables could be bought out there too]
  13. Compressible jacket (in case of rain or drops in temperature), or the jacket you wear to the airport
  14. Book
  15. Passport, tickets

…you’ll find that you will wear a good percentage of the above and can comfortable keep the rest in a small backpack or holdall. 


Cost Breakdown

For a weekend break, whether as a solo-retreat or some romance, Baden Baden is not too different from the UK, unless you decide to stick to the many high-end boutiques that line the streets…

Travel is particularly cheap and convenient and in general you could get by on a very modest budget. 

  • Flights: £33
  • Hotel: £113
  • Stansted Express: £25 [return]
  • Transfer to hotel: EUR40 [Taxi]
  • Transfer back to the Airport: EUR3.50
  • Caracalla Therme: £23 + EUR6 towel rental
  • Freidrichsbad: £32
  • Coffee and pastry budget: <EUR10
  • Food budget: EUR25
  • Additional spending money: sky’s the limit…
  • TOTAL: £226 + EUR88.50

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Daily flights from London Stansted to Karlsruhe-Baden Baden airport [aka. FKB] are served by Ryanair

General information can be found here

 


This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 


Image sources:

All other images are the author’s own.

Getting Naked in Germany

For some of us, nudity is no big deal – we all have a body so being naked it about as natural as it gets. For others, it’s a bit like the end of the world. However, it’s well known that nudity in Germany is much less of a taboo than it is here in the UK or in the US. In fact, wearing clothes in certain environments is positively forbidden. 

The spa is one such place…


There are two prominent spas in Baden Baden and both involve nudity. For one, it is mandatory, and the other requires you only to go au naturel should you wish to use the sauna complex.

The two spas are the historic Friedrichsbad and the far more modern Caracalla Therme. Although, fact fans, when Friedrichsbad opened in 1877 it was received as the ‘most modern bathing establishment in Europe’.

Friedrichsbad

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This one is most likely the more notorious of the two, simply because it is mandatory to be naked for the entire experience. So, this is where we’ll begin. I’ll try to provide as clear an overview of the process of attending so that, should you be planning a visit, you’ll know what to expect.

That said, there are several pretty good blog posts and articles out there that offer some illustration of the experience and prior to by own visit I found them to be particularly useful. Special thanks to Submerged Oaks and FollowBenandJenna.

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Here is a more specific plan of the complex.

Inside Friedrichsbad

The interesting thing about Friedrichsbad is the precision that has been implemented into what is considered to be the optimal bathing experience. 17 separate areas (referred to as ‘stations’) are provided for bathers: a calculated journey through various hot air rooms, steam rooms and a variety of different temperature pools.

How It All Works

Upon arrival you buy an entrance ticket (ranging from Basic through to a Deluxe package) and make your way up the grand staircase.

NB: It’s important to note that the spa is predominantly a mixed-sex experience although there are a few days where the bathing stages are split. The spa is essentially double sided: on one side is several stations for men only (on non-mixed days) and the same for women on the other side. Only the central pools (stages 10 and 11) are always mixed, but you could skip these if you wish. However, skipping them is not advisable given how spectacular those two particular rooms are. 

Inside the changing room you’ll use your wrist band to go through the turnstile and get changed into your birthday suit. A spa attendant will greet you [yup, you’ll be naked, they won’t, deal with it] and send you on your way to the first of the 17 stages.

Oh, the other really interesting thing is that each stage has been given a recommended usage time. The recommendations are incredibly specific: some are 3 minutes, some are 5, some are 7. Not more, not less.

But, I’ll tell you a secret. I disobeyed the rules and spent much longer in some and maybe a little less in others (I’m looking at you, freezing cold ‘Cold Water Bath’) and didn’t get told off, didn’t suffer any adverse side effects (yet) and wasn’t ostracised by my bathing brethren for such recklessness.

The 17 stages look like this:

  1. Shower
  2. Warm-air Bath
  3. Hot-air Bath
  4. Shower
  5. Soap and brush massage (optional)
  6. Shower
  7. Thermal Steam Baths
  8. Thermal Steam Baths pt.2
  9. Thermal Full Bath
  10. Thermal Whirlpool Bath
  11. Thermal Exercise Bath
  12. Shower
  13. Cold Water Bath
  14. Drying Off
  15. Cream Application/ Cream Massage (like the brushing, the cream massage is optional if you pay for it)
  16. Relaxation Room
  17. Reading Room

There is a lot of showering and I guarantee you’ll come away feeling cleaner than you’ve ever felt in your entire life.

Getting Naked

This is the elephant in the room and no doubt why many of the readers here are reading this at all. Perhaps you’re interested in Friedrichsbad because it really is a novelty, perhaps you want to see if you can handle the maximum exposure or perhaps you’re just curious about how it all works. The one thing that everyone will realise, if being naked in public is new to you, is that it’s no big deal. Nobody will slink around checking you out or perving and those fully dressed spa workers? Think your schlong is the first they’ll have ever seen? They work there, remember? They would have lost count on the first day.

However, if you’re still a little trepidacious about the whole situation, here’s a few thoughts to hopefully put you a bit more at ease:

  1. Literally, as soon as you’re naked, you’ll be in the majority. You’ll blend right in. As biased as we are to our bodies, they’re all super similar and it’s only the minor degrees of difference that distinguish us from one another.
  2. Honestly, no one cares. They’re not their for an oggle-fest, they’re there for some me-time; some relaxation and to feel good. Minding their business is all they’ll be doing, not checking you out.
  3. It’s not elitist in there. Everyone might end up using the stages at the same time as you: the overweight, underweight, aged, young, tall, short…
  4. In Germany, textile-frei (i.e. no clothes allowed) is absolutely, 100% normal. You probably already know how liberal the country is as a whole when it comes to nudity. Head on down to some public parks on a sunny day and you’ll get the picture. As soon as you let go of your own cultural conditioning and embrace the German one, you’ll realise just how boring it really is.
  5. That heart-pounding you feel as you commit to visiting the spa, as you pay for a ticket, as you enter the changing room (oh, by the way, chances are you’ll already be in the thick of naked folks by that point) and then begin to get undressed? That feeling will cease almost as soon as you take your first step into the spa area. Heck, you might even chuckle a little bit at how worried you were about, well, nothing!
  6. And think about it: how comfortable can you really be if every time you step out of one pool to head to the next you’re rearranging your bikini or shorts? Or if you’ve been out of water for a while how chilly those swimming costumes will begin to feel…

Pre-Station 1

In the changing room you’ll find an incredibly large cotton towel waiting for you in the locker. It’s bigger than a picnic blanket and it’s not really for hiding all your special bits with – you need it for covering the loungers in the first few stages.

As you make your way from the changing rooms to the first station, it’s likely you’ll be met by a couple of the spa team who will explain the process to you and to show you where to go.

Station 1: Shower

At the entrance, grab a pair of spa slipper and in you go.

The showers are pretty special. Several large shower heads, each replete with a single hand crank for operation, all looking like something from the turn of the 20th century and fitted along the left hand side of the room as you enter it. You’ll scrub up here for the recommended time of 3 minutes, although no one was timing. At least not when I went…

Once officially clean, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

Station 2: Warm-air bath

This room is a bit like the relaxation rooms you might find in your local Turkish bath house. Tiled, and full of wooden sun loungers, this room is moderately warm (54°C) and a laid-back (pun intended) start to the journey. As you settle into your chair (for the recommended time of 15 minutes, please) you’ll find your body temperature begin to rise and set you up for the next room.

Station 3: Hot-air bath

Almost the same as Station 2, here the temperature has been upped a little to 68°C, which will be enough to get your sweat on. It’s suggested that you spend 5 minutes here which, I would argue, feels just about right. Spend longer if you want to though, as it is pretty relaxing.

Station 4: Shower

Back in the shower (you’ll realise the way through all the stations will take you back and forth a little bit. For example, this shower is the same one as Station 1). The recommended time here is a brisk 1 minute although the shower is so good you might want to break the rules again…

Station 5: Soap and brush massage

Ok, so, up until now you’ve had your trusty picnic blanket but upon entry to Station 5 you’ll be asked to deposit your towel into a basket and slide off your slippers too. Now, there is absolutely no hiding.

If you paid for this service, you’ll be asked to slide onto one of the 2 tables where you’ll receive a brushing like you’ve never had. If not, you’ll head on through to the next stage.

As I arrived late, I did not opt for this in an effort to not feel rushed, so here’s the description from the website:

The soap and brush massage is a particular highlight of the Friedrichsbad. It’s optional and can be booked in addition to the bathing experience. For eight minutes strong hands move over your entire body. Water and soap is spread evenly and afterwards you are massaged with a brush. This acts like a skin peel and is the ideal preparation for the following bath in the curative thermal water. The massage enhances the circulation in your skin – a fountain of youth for your body.

Tip: As an alternative to the soap and brush massage, try the honey skin peel. The honey penetrates deep into the skin cells quenching the skin with moisture.

You can get a taste as to what this look like here.

NB. In her excellent summary of Friedrichsbad, Jenna (of followbenandjenna.com) suggests choosing the soft brush when you’re given the option. Having caught a glimpse of the brushes, I’d second this…

Station 6: Shower

Shower time again and by now you’ll have gotten the hang of this showering business pretty good. Time yourself and see if you can scrub-a-dub-dub for the optimal 60 seconds.

Station 7: Thermal steam baths

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This is the first of the steam baths and you’ll go in with a nice new little butt-mat. Pick a seat on the tiered seating steps, and use this little blue and white cushion to keep things hygienic.

It’s recommended to spend 10 minutes here but without a clock it’s difficult to tell how long you’ve been in. However, expect to want to spend longer that this enjoying the warmth and clinging of the steam and the wonderfully meditative quality of watching the thermal waters trickle down one of the walls.

Once you decide you’ve had enough, drop your cushion in the basket by the door to Station 8.

Another video for your research.

Station 8: Thermal steam baths

As is the case with Friedrichsbad, the next stage takes things up a notch and you’ll immediately notice that this room is warmer than the last. Time spent here is recommended to be 5 minutes.

Station 9: Thermal full bath

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Take another shower to rinse yourself of that steamy sweat and slip into the first pool: a balmy 36°C in temperature and a really treat to dip into. The pool is big enough for a fair number of people but when I went I shared it with only 2 others so it was very easy to relax in a good amount of space. The suggested 10 minutes here is, again, not quite enough so to all you rule-breakers, enjoy yourself.

Station 10: Thermal whirlpool bath

Things take a turn for the cooler now as, at a full 2°C colder than Station 9, the thermal whirlpool is 34°C gentle jet-propulsion. The pool is incredibly shallow, by the way, and for most people will likely come no higher than about knee height.

You won’t really notice the change in temperature although if you do spend the full 15 minutes in here you might begin to feel it towards the end.

Station 11: Thermal exercise bath

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The piece d’resistance and maybe the reason you came. This is the pool beneath the lovely dome and it does not disappoint on any level.

The thermal exercise bath is 28°C and you’ll know it as soon as your big toe takes the plunge. However, as the name suggests, a little bit of exercise (read: swimming) will get you alive. In fact, despite feeling frigid upon first entry, the temperature of the pool was so refreshing I spent a lot longer in here than the suggested 5 minutes. I even went back and forth to it about 5 times between showers and using Station 10 a handful of times.

See here for a little video.

Station 12: Shower

Back to the shower again and the tip here is to spend the full 3 minutes (or more, if you’re naughty) under particularly warm water because what’s next might make you squeal a little.

For the record, I did not, but I’m pretty sure I could hear someone yelping in shivery fright as I was showering.

Station 13: Cold-water bath

At 18°C we’re not in the bahamas any more. Like splashing about in the Arctic sea with nothing but your best intentions hiding your shrinking modesty, you might wonder why on earth you’ve been invited to end your bathing rituals with such torture.

The answer, as you may decide to find out, is that such a sharp cool down will leave you feeling revitalised and all tingly.

The recommended time spent here: ‘brisk’.

Station 14: Drying off

Head on back through the entrance way, grab a towel, take a seat and dry off. The towel you are given this time is much plusher than the picnic blanket you started with: it’s big, and fluffy, and cosey.

This area is intended to encourage you to enjoy the process of drying off. It’s also suggested that you can best enjoy this process by spending precisely 4 minutes doing so. I’m pretty sure I spend 3 here, and neither of the two spa practitioners told me off.

For those you curious as to how one might dry themselves, here’s the official video.

Station 15: Cream application / Cream massage

Two things will happen here. Either you will apply body lotion to yourself or, if you paid for it, someone else will do it for you. The lotions provided are advertised as being scented differently (indeed, in the ‘creaming area’ there are several dispensers) although I did not really notice much difference.

I’m pretty self-sufficient so I managed to put my own body lotion on and yes, my skin was left feeling even smoother and softer than before. But, body lotion is body lotion, so refrain from going too crazy with the freebie.

8 minutes is all it should take by the way, but this is perhaps the most questionable calculation. Surely the time spent here is relative to body size, hand size, experience with self-application and the desire to do so in the first place.

If you’re thinking about the cream massage, check out the promotional video.

Station 16: Relaxation Room & Station 17: Reading Room

The end of the journey is kind of a two-in-one. The Relaxation Room and the Reading Room are, from what I could see, the same space. 30 minutes in each (ergo 60 minutes in total) is, for me, quite a generous recommendation and one that I certainly did not adhere to. If I want to doze and/or read, I’ll do that at home. It’s nice to sit in here for a handful of minutes, sipping on one of the fruit teas available, but more than that seems a bit of a waste of time.

Conclusion

The overall experience of Friedrichsbad is one that is both memorable and thoroughly recommended. It is one of the 2 main spas in Baden-Baden and is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours.


Caracalla Therme

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The other spa option in Baden Baden is Caracalla Therme, and it’s literally next door to Friedrichsbad. Whereas Freidrichsbad is predominantly a pool spa, Caracalla Therme is far more modern, far more spacious and provides greater variety.

It’s split into two halves, which are most easily distinguished between an upstairs and a downstairs. On the lower level there are:

  • a handful of pools,
  • a steam room,
  • some therapy rooms,
  • a restaurant,
  • the changing area,
  • showers,
  • and a garden space.

…and in this area it is compulsory to wear swimming costumes. Here’s a corporate link to the bathing area on the ground floor.

On the upper level, which is reached by a tight little spiral staircase right next to the restaurant, there are:

  1. a number of saunas,
  2. steam rooms,
  3. plunge pools,
  4. foot baths,
  5. sunbathing areas,
  6. showers,
  7. a bar,
  8. jacuzzis,
  9. relaxation rooms

…and up here it is mandatory to be textile-frei. As soon as you enter the area from the turnstile you have to leave your costumes, and inhibitions, in the shelves provided and you and your towel will be free to explore as you see fit.

Ground Level Pool Area

Certainly the more busy and populated of the two levels, this is the family area and here is where a lot of poolside frolicking and splashing and general hooplah happens. Stay for the atmosphere and the sun lawns if the sun’s a’shining.

Indoor Pool

This is the pool that’s in all the promotional material, front and centre. And, like the biggest pool at Friedrichsbad, this too is beneath a domed ceiling. The water here is a very comfortable 34°C. It’s not really a space for swimming, as so many people enjoy just sitting or hanging around in the warm water. It also has a selection of water features: water jets of differing pressures and sizes.

It’s also worth noting that none of the pools at the spa have a depth that exceeds 1.35m.

Outdoor Pools

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Outside there are 2 pools: a large, 32°C, one and a smaller one with a temperature of 35°C. Like the indoor pool, there are a number of different water feature options such as a waterfall, a water mushroom, massage jets and a water current. There are also 2 whirlpools, each 38°C, to be enjoyed if they are not too busy already.

Hot and Cold Water Grotto

Sounding something like a watery kind of Christmas, the Hot and Cold Water Grotto is exactly what it says on the tin: a grotto-like space with a 38°C pool and a smaller, hide-away of a pool, that’s kept at a chilly 18°C. It’s recommended that you hang out in the warm water for about 5 minutes, nip round to the cold one for 10-20 seconds then back to the warm one to repeat the cycle.

Aroma Steam Room: 43°C

As far as steam rooms go, this one is pretty big. There are 4 pockets that each have enough space for about 6-8 people to sit comfortably. The temperature is maintained at 43-46°C whilst the humidity is kept maxed out at 100%.

Brine Inhalation Room

Not really the sort of space I enjoy, the idea with the Brine Inhalation Room is to open your passageways and clear them for better respiration. The room itself is 38°C to 40°C where a natural brine ‘trickles through blackthorn twigs creating a fine salty mist in the air’. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

The idea here is to stay for not more than 20 minutes for the effects to be optimal and to pair it with a refreshing cold shower immediately afterwards.

Sauna Level Area

The upper level is split into a further 3 areas: one indoors, two outdoors. The indoor area is the first that is reached, although immediately to the right upon entrance is the first sunbathing area.

First Sun Deck

This area is relatively compact but comfortably houses about 15 permanent loungers and easily has space for 20-30 people should they want to all stand about together. It looks down through the atrium at the pools in the lower level but is largely secluded from all other areas.

Indoors

Once you’re inside, the area really is cavernous. Saunas to the left of me, saunas to the right, oh, here I am, stuck in the middle with…choice.

In this area there are 5 different saunas:

  1. Spectaculum: 90°C
  2. Vitality Sauna: 90°C
  3. Aroma-Sauna: 85°C
  4. Meditation-Sauna: 65°C
  5. Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There is also a:

  1. Sanarium: 57°C
  2. Steam Room: 47°C
  3. Refreshments bar
  4. Jacuzzi
  5. Lounge area
  6. Blue Space Sensory Room
  7. Green Room
  8. Million showers

Spectaculum: 90°C

This is a huge, theatre-like sauna where every hour a spa attendant will perform a ritual of wafting the hot air around using a combination of whipping the air with a towel and gently pushing the air towards each patron in turn with a large, fan-like instrument. This process lasts for about 12 minutes and during the time no one can enter, although of course, people can leave should the heat become too much.

At 90°C it is also one of the hottest saunas upstairs and definitely worth a few visits: the hourly performance is unmissable.

Aroma-Sauna: 85°C

Another aroma sauna where the aromas are changed everyday. It’s also lit with different coloured lighting that ‘supports and reinforces the relaxation process and leads you to experience unimaginable physical and mental relaxation‘.

Meditation-Sauna: 65°C

Inside the meditation sauna sounds of the sea and/or birdlife and nature are pumped in through discrete speakers to help aid a sense of meditation. And you know what? It works really well! The low-ish temperature is always comfortable and on my visit I clocked one older gentleman taking a nap. I knew he was asleep because he was snoring…

Sanarium: 57°C

The Sanarium, at 57°C is another relaxation space that may not be entirely to the liking of everyone looking for warmer sauna experiences but is nonetheless a calming environment to at least explore for a few minutes. The humidity is capped at 55% which, in combination with the temperature, does contribute to a more natural space in which one could feasibly switch off entirely. Unlike the higher temperatures on the saunas, this one doesn’t raise the heart rate by much so does not ever feel like an endurance test.

Steam Room: 47°C

This is a spacious steam room, though smaller than the one on the ground floor by about 50-60%. However, it is a more rewarding steam room, more comfortable and apparently far less crowded. At 47°C I found myself drifting into a very relaxed state very quickly and dropped in repeatedly.

Ladies’ Sauna: 90°C

There’s also a Ladies’ Sauna which is coupled to the fact that Wednesday is Girls’ Day. I don’t recall seeing signs labelling any sauna as the ‘Ladies’ one, although having visited all saunas on the site on a Sunday, men and women used all saunas freely.

Outdoors

Outside, there are two more saunas that have been built on the side of the mountain:

  • Fire Sauna: 95°C
  • Forest Sauna: 85°C

Between the two there are also a handful of cold showers and more space for sunbathing and/or lounging.

Fire Sauna: 95°C

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The Fire Sauna is housed around a large log fire that reaches the enormous temperature of 95°C. The log cabin, like the Forest Sauna, is made from a Finnish wood called kelo, of the polar pine tree, and is evidently a wonderful material for sauna cabins.

The cabin is incredibly dark which makes the fire all the more hypnotic and despite its hot, hot, heat it can be easily to lose yourself in here for a good number of minutes, especially if you find yourself with enough space to lay down.

Forest Sauna: 85°C

The other sauna here, the Forest Sauna, is a little cooler at 85°C although you might not really notice it. In here, the heat is different to the Fire Sauna. Whereas the heat there is particularly dry, the heat here comes from the steam oven (excitingly automated to distribute water onto the hot cools every so often), called the ‘Maximus’.

Second Sun Deck

This area is tucked right at the back by the Fire and Forest saunas and is a much smaller space. Hidden away on a small walkway in the trees, several sun loungers line the area, just as several more are positioned outside each of the two saunas in this outside area. Given that the trees provide so much more shade (the First Sun Deck has no shade until the sun goes down) this space appears more inline with lounging: a quiet space to nap or read or cool down.

Conclusion

Caracalla Spa is fantastic, there’s no escaping that. It’s big, it’s inclusive and provides a lot of options. Yes, the sauna area is a highlight for those who enjoy saunas but as an experience on the whole it can’t be faulted. I misjudged how long I would be on site for an opted for a 3 hour pass at the check-in. My suggestion is to pay the handful of additional Euros to get the day pass and even though 4-5 hours is probably the max you’d want to stay there it will save you a little money in the long run as if you go over the allotted time you’ll pay EUR4.20 for every additional hour/ EUR0.70 for every additional 10 minutes.

 


So, Friedrichsbad or Caracalla?

I had gone to Friedrichsbad expecting the experience to trump all else Baden Baden has to offer, but it is not its highlight. Sure, it is relatively novel and an entirely lovely experience, but it has its limitations.

The first is that it is all indoors and when the weather is fine, being outside at Caracalla is infinitely more rewarding.

Friedrichsbad also seems to be the kind of place that would lose it’s charm upon repeated visits whereas Caracalla is a much different experience. In fact, I was legitimately disappointed to have to leave Caracalla and should my stay have been even one day longer I would have visited it again.

I also think that it is worth highlighting that during my time in both spas it seemed pretty evident that there was a greater male contingent than female.


Final thoughts: The Benefits and Etiquette of Bathing Naked

We English have it all wrong. Our Victorian-era prudishness has stolen from many of us of one of life’s most natural pleasures: enjoying the skin were are in and not being embarrassed by our biology.

In the UK, nudity is highly sexualised: if you’re naked, it must be Sexy Time. But nudity has so much value it is difficult to summarise succinctly, but try I will.

  1. Bathing naked frees us from wet, clingy, uncomfortable clothing that restricts our movements, rides up our bum cracks and ultimately sexualises our bodies even more than our naked forms.
  2. No clothes means greater hygiene: sweating into swimming costumes means we’re keeping all of the impurities that sweat from our skin on our skin! It also means that whenever we sit on a sauna seat, a spa seat or even get into the pool we’re depositing whatever is in our costumes wherever we go for everyone else to enjoy.
  3. Bathing naked also frees us of inhibition and insecurity. By being comfortable in our own skin we’ll probably become even more comfortable in clothes too and not worry about whether we look too fat or too thin in them. Hurray for #bodypositivity.
  4. It’s cheaper too. Obviously.
  5. Dont’ forget full body tanning if you’re at a spa/sauna with outside spaces (like Caracalla). Win win.
  6.  Maximum Vitamin D exposure – the more skin exposed to sunlight the greater amounts of the magic D vitamin we’ll take in. And right now, Vitamin D levels are way below recommendations.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. 


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