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Bed, bath and beyond
For locals, it's the perfect place for a relaxed retirement or second-vacation home. But for those looking for a leisurely holiday, south-west Germany offers an array of healthy and luxurious options in Wiesbaden, Baden-Baden and Badenweiler - picturesque towns aptly called wellness and health spa destinations.
If it weren't for its hot thermal springs, Roman baths and spas, world-famous casinos and cultural hubs in Kurhaus, the sunny and scenic regions of central and south western Germany, namely Hessen and Baden-Wurttemberg, could easily be mistaken for classic English countryside.
Wiesbaden, famous for its hot springs or 'meadow baths', is a pleasant departure from the sombre, grey, steely cities of Germany. Located in the Rhine Main region, 38 km from Frankfurt, it is also known as the oldest spa town of Europe, an amalgam of beautifully landscaped parks dotted with small water bodies and streets bedecked with riotous flowers. First documented by the Romans, 14 of the original 26 thermal/ mineral hot springs still flow today across Wiesbaden.
The healing qualities of hot springs contributed to making Wiesbaden a 'classic spa' resort at a time when preventative health care did not exist. Such was their attraction that the town once boasted visitors like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Wagner and Johannes Brahms who composed his Brahms' Symphony No 3 (Op. 90) here in the summer of 1883. It's also called the Wiesbaden Symphony.
Today, the town is reputed for its treatment of rheumatic and orthopaedic disorders. Several hotels in the city including the Nassauer Hof, Radisson Blu Schwarzer Bock and Hotel Baren have their own thermal springs. This is a luxury open not only to house guests but also to day visitors who can spoil themselves with massages and wellness treatments in addition to spa baths in pleasantly tempered springs.
Not to be missed are the inviting therapies and various saunas at the Thermalbad Aukammtal and the Kaiser Friedrich Therme. Built atop the erstwhile ancient Roman sweat bath, the 1, 500-square-metre sauna reawakens the bath luxury of Wilhelminian times as one opts to sweat in the Tepidarium or in the Sudatorium just as the Romans did.
If one is in the mood for further spoiling, one can choose from a Russian or stone steam bath and a classic Finnish sauna or go for the 'Balsam for Body and Soul' or 'Romance, Ease and Excitement' packages from the many others on offer.
According to Claudia P Meyer, Wiesbaden Marketing GmbH, "The baths attracted roughly 5, 10, 000 guest arrivals and 1, 02, 4, 634 overnight stays for the year 2011 as the town remains in great demand particularly in the months of May, September, October and November. "
Once done with the spas, there are other lures in the town: the cultural hub or Kurhaus - which boasts of over 1000 glamorous balls, galas and concerts of internationally renowned orchestras and composers in a year - the Russian Orthodox Church and the vintage Spielbank casino, where Dostoyevsky, who suffered from an acute gambling addiction, is rumoured to have lost his travelling money in 1865. The experience became the inspiration for his 1866 Russian novel The Gambler, set in a fictitious place called 'Roulettenburg'. Looking at the neat, flower-decked window of the house occupied by Dostoevsky in Wiesbaden, one can almost imagine him gambling his money away at the casino while his wife waited endlessly for him at home.
The opulence of this town of cobbled streets, vast walkways, charming roadside cafes with the best wines of the region also stretches to boasting more millionaires than in any other city of Germany.
Beverly Hills-style mansions of multi millionaires are splashed across its hilly terrain: some notable residents have been Peter Carl Fabergê, who fled Russia to Germany and moved from earlier Bad Homburg to Wiesbaden, American tennis star John McEnroe (born on a US military base at Wiesbaden), F1 driver Nico Rosberg, German film director Volker Schl?ndorff and Priscilla Presley (Beaulieu at the time). It was here that the 14-year-old Priscilla met Elvis Presley who was 24 then.
Hollywood stars like Reese Witherspoon have been residents while Mickey Rourke calls it home.
As Rhine and wine are inseparably connected with Wiesbaden, the vineyard atop Neroberg mountain (245m above sea level and reached by the second-oldest cable railway with a rack and pinion drive in Europe) offers the best Rieslings and Pinot Noir vines that are cultivated in the region.
Approximately 185 km and 2. 5hours from Wiesbaden is an even more welcome delight in Baden-Baden, nestled in the Black Forest area (yes, the one famous for its Black Forest cake and cuckoo wall clocks). Spas and thermal baths abound here too. Almost like a testimony to the ancient emperors, Baden-Baden's thermal baths - the Caracalla Spa and the nudist Roman-Irish Bath - as well as many exquisite spa-hotels offer an extended relaxation. Apart from loving the views of this picturepostcard town, a week soaking in the soothing, healing thermal waters that flow from the town's 12 springs each day will take away all aches and creaks.
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