After a weekend stop in Freiburg, where I was able to meet up with my friends Johannes and Phil, whom I met back in India and participated in the Holi festivities with, I decided to make a quick stop in Baden Baden on my way north towards Cologne.
Baden-Baden is a small town located on the outskirts of the Black Forest, and mere miles away from the Rhine River, that marks the border between Germany and France. Baden-Baden is normally a destination for the higher-end traveler, as the small town doesn’t offer any hostels or budget hotels. The town was built right on the site of Ancient Roman baths. Spas, concert halls, golf courses, and even a casino cater to the older clientele that tends to visit Baden-Baden on a guided tour. Luckily, I was able to find a couchsurfing host, and discovered ways to enjoy the city while still remain on a budget!
I took a BlaBla car from Freiburg to Baden-Baden, where my host, Erdal, met me at the train station. (Sidenote-for anyone travelling overland through Europe solo or in a small group, I highly recommend checking out BlaBla car. It’s a rideshare app that is very affordable as well as a chance to meet and interact with more locals!) Erdal had grown up in Freiburg, but now lives in Frankfurt. He was home for a few weeks visiting his mother, and was eager to show me around the town. The two things on my bucket list for Baden-Baden was to visit one of the famous spas, as well as get a tour of the casino. Luckily I was able to accomplish both in the day and a half I was there.
There are a few hiking trails in the hills surrounding the town. Since it was such a nice day, Erdal and I decided to explore them and get some exercise before heading to the spa. Situated on top of one of the hills is the abandoned castle, Hohenbaden. While we got a little lost during the hike up, we eventually made it to the castle. Built in 1102, it is surprisingly in very good condition. It also offered stupendous views of the town, and we were even able to see the Rhine River and French border in the distance! We spent some time there just hanging out and enjoying the fresh air before making the trip back down into town.
Baden-Baden has three main spas: Caracalla, Friedrichsbad, and Brenners. While I had found the most information online about Friedrichsbad, Erdal, insisted that Caracalla was the best one and had clientele of all ages, while mostly middle aged and elderly people frequented Friedrichsbad. Erdal said that he tries to go to the spa at least once a week when he is home. Trusting Erdal’s opinion, we headed to Caracalla Spa. The entry fee for Caracalla was 16 Euros for 2 hours. That’s not a bad deal, considering all of the amenities it offered. After paying and changing into our swimsuits in the locker room, we headed into the lower level. It consisted of several indoor and outdoor pools, both of which had jet streams lining the outer walls of the pools. We didn’t linger too long here, as the saunas and cold and hot pools were located on the upper levels.
The upper levels of Caracalla were clothing optional, and most people chose to simply wear their towels, and a few chose to go au natural. This would definitely not happen in the U.S.! Our first stop was the “Fire Sauna”, named for its temperature of 95 degrees Celsius! Surprisingly, it did not feel that hot, since it was a dry heat with no humidity. After spending some time there, we doused ourselves in a cold shower, and proceed to alternate with hot and then cold saunas and baths. Erdal explained that by doing this we maximized the health benefits by sweating out the toxins in the saunas, and improved blood flow and circulation in the cold baths.
Some of the saunas even had a special program every half hour. In these larger rooms, an attendant would add fragrances such as green tea to the water they poured over hot stones. This caused steam to rise, which the attendant would then disperse throughout the room by waving a giant fan. It was both a bizarre and interesting experience, and we decided to revisit it again 30 minutes later. Soon enough our 2 hour time block was over, and it was time to leave the spa. I had never felt so relaxed and my skin felt rejuvenated and healthy. I can see why visiting the spa is such a popular thing to do for Europeans!
The next morning, Erdal and I went to go on a tour of the Baden-Baden casino. While he had gambled there a few times, Erdal had never gone on an official tour. Tours are only offered in the morning from 9:30-11:30, and cost 7 Euro. If you go in the evening to gamble, entrance is free, but there is a strict dress code enforced. The casino itself was very regal-I felt like I was walking through the set of a James Bond movie. The floor was covered in a bright red carpet and fancy chandeliers hung from the ceiling. While the tour was short, only lasting about 45 minutes, I was glad I got to see the casino.
Soon after that it was time for me to catch the train to Cologne. While it was a short trip to Baden-Baden, I felt like I was able to hit all of the major highlights and had a nice break from visiting the larger capital cities and enjoyed this small town.