Baden-Baden's curative waters and air of old-world luxury have attracted royals, the rich and celebrities over the years – Barack Obama and Bismarck, Queen Victoria and Victoria Beckham included. This Black Forest town boasts grand colonnaded buildings and whimsically turreted art nouveau villas spread across the hillsides and framed by forested mountains.
The bon vivant spirit of France, just across the border, is tangible in the town’s open-air cafes, chic boutiques and pristine gardens fringing the Oos River. And with its temple-like thermal baths – which put the Baden (bathe) in Baden – and palatial casino, the allure of this grand dame of German spa towns is as timeless as it is enduring.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Baden-Baden.
A Joan Miró sculpture guards the front of this architecturally innovative gallery, designed by Richard Meier. The star-studded collection of modern and contemporary art features Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock originals; these are complemented by temporary exhibitions. There are free short guided tours at noon, 2pm and 4pm on Saturdays.
The sublime casino seeks to emulate – indeed, outdo – the gilded, chandelier-lit splendour of Versailles. Marlene Dietrich called it ‘the most beautiful casino in the world’. Gents must wear a jacket and tie. If you’re not much of a gambler and want to simply marvel at the opulence, hook onto a 40-minute guided tour.
This 2.3km ribbon of greenery, threading from Goetheplatz to Kloster Lichtenthal, is quite a picture: studded with fountains and sculptures and carpeted with flowers (crocuses and daffodils in spring, magnolias, roses and azaleas in summer). Shadowing the sprightly Oosbach River, its promenade and bridges are made for aimless ambling. The avenue concludes at the Kloster Lichtenthal.
Rheumatism, arthritis, respiratory complaints, skin problems – all this and a host of other ailments can, apparently, be cured by Baden-Baden’s mineral-rich spring water. If you’d rather drink the stuff than bathe in it, head to the Fettquelle fountain at the base of a flight of steps near Römerplatz, where you can fill your bottle for free. It might taste like lukewarm bathwater but if it makes you feel 10 years younger, who cares?
Standing proud above a manicured park, this neoclassical pump room was built in 1839 as an attractive addition to the Kurhaus. The 90m-long portico is embellished with 19th-century frescos of local legends. Baden-Baden’s elixir of youth, some say, is the free curative mineral water that gushes from a faucet linked to the Friedrichsbad spring.
Sidling up to the Museum Frieder Burda is this sky-lit gallery, which showcases rotating exhibitions of contemporary art in neoclassical surrounds. Previous exhibitions include the immigration-focused works of Nigerian artist Emeka Ogboh and the highly experimental creations of Chinese artist Liang Shuo.
The centrepiece of cobbled Marktplatz is this pink church, a hotchpotch of Romanesque, late Gothic and, to a lesser extent, baroque styles. Its foundations incorporate some ruins of the former Roman baths. Come in the early afternoon to see its stained-glass windows cast rainbow patterns across the nave.
The beauty-conscious Romans were the first to discover the healing properties of Baden-Baden’s springs in the city they called Aquae Aureliae. Slip back 2000 years at one of the oldest and best-preserved Roman bathing complexes in the country. Multilingual audioguides are available.
Admittedly it's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you happen to find Fabergé fascinating, you're going to love this museum devoted to its impossibly ornate imperial Easter eggs, jewellery and gem-encrusted animals made for Russian tsars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.