The Romans knew a good thermal spring when they saw one – and they found dozens of them in present-day SouthWest Germany. One of the most famous was even named for its springs: what was Aquae (waters) to the Romans became Baden-Baden (Baden means ‘baths’ in German). Today, the region boasts some 60 spas and health resorts; Bad in the name of a town is the clue! Some spas have Art Nouveau grandeur; others are contemporary. All are open to anyone and offer ‘wellness’ programmes. Choose from cosmetic treatments and aromatherapy; relaxing massages and a variety of saunas; Ayurveda, Qi Gong and hydrotherapy.
Baden-Baden: Taking the waters
In the 19th century, European royalty flocked to this elegant spa town an hour west of Stuttgart. Today, two thermal baths are open to all. Perhaps the world’s most glamorous public spa is the Friedrichsbad, in a highly-ornate 19th-century building. Known as Roman-Irish Baths, the programme has 17 stages, including steam and dry rooms. It takes several hours and is done in the nude. Less formal is the modern Caracalla Therme, with everything from a Roman-style sauna and marble whirlpools to an aroma steam bath, wellness lounge and indoor/outdoor pool. Here, everyone wears swimsuits.
Bad Wildbad’s Palais Thermal: Bathe like royalty
Some 150 years ago, the Duke of Württemberg commissioned a Greek-style classical bath right on top of the thermal spring in Bad Wildbad. The town became one of Germany’s most famous spa destinations. Popularity brought expansion, with pools, columns, arches and fountains in Moorish and Art Nouveau styles. Today, the town, an hour west of Stuttgart, offers even more: whirlpools, massage and exercise pools, Finnish saunas, a Roman-style steam bath and wellness treatments. Try a soap brush massage or water shiatsu therapy.
Karlsruhe’s Vierordtbad: An urban jewel
The splendour of the Vierordtbad baths is thanks to the generosity of wealthy banker, Heinrich Vierordt. Decorated with frescos and landscape paintings, this Italian Renaissance-style building opened in 1873. Over the years, additions have ranged from a swimming pool to today’s modern wellness area, with steam bath, special massages and beauty treatments plus an outdoor sauna and meditation courtyard. But the historic architecture remains, so you can relax in beautiful surroundings. Karlsruhe is an hour northwest of Stuttgart.
Esslingen’s Merkel’sches Schwimmbad: Soak up the Art Nouveau style
Esslingen, close to Stuttgart, could not look more medieval. But the baths, founded a century ago by one Mr Merkel, are Art Nouveau. A high ceiling arches over the swimming pool; blue tiles offset white walls; a painting depicts an Italian coastal scene; the thermal-spring water is a steady 34°C/93°F. By contrast, just a few steps away is a modern world of saunas, massages and avant-garde therapies.
Badenweiler’s Cassiopeia Thermal Baths: Then and now
The Romans enjoyed the thermal springs here, in what was one of the largest thermal baths north of the Alps. You can still see the remains. Today, the pleasure of relaxing in hot water continues at the Cassiopeia Thermal Baths. The century-old grandeur of arches, pillars and statues is matched by a contemporary glass-walled pool with views of the gardens. Take a traditional (nude) Roman-Irish bath with its successive cold, warm and hot rooms, or choose modern wellness treatments, from massages and wraps to aqua fitness programmes. Badenweiler is three hours southwest of Stuttgart.