Discover a well-kept spa town in the picturesque Black Forest, where portions are generous
Some towns have perfected their specialities so well that it is a wonder, upon visiting for the first time, how you have not done so before. In the small spa town of Baden-Baden, these are its public baths (the 4,000 sq m Caracalla, or nudist at Friedrichsbad), an assortment of luxury boutiques, and scenic walks that end in a generous slice of the region’s eponymous Black Forest gâteau (Schwarzwälder kirschtorte).
Baden-Baden sits at the north-western edge of the forest, which extends for another three hours’ drive southwards. It is the sophisticated sister to the chocolate box, cuckoo clock and watchmaking destinations below it – nonetheless rewarding to explore by car.
Other cultural sites are few (the Fabergé and Frieder Burdaamong museums among them), but natural sights certainly are not. The Merkur funicular and Mercury watchtower at its summit affords the best panorama of both the town and the sprawling forest in every direction. An accidental turn might take you downhill on foot; a treasurable amble in itself, and far preferable to the particularly steep uphill climb.
The prettiest walk, however, is down Lichtentaler Allee. Dahlia, rose and botanical gardens are dotted along a river, with overgrown bridges and houses along the way. Like these fantasy-land gardens, the town is meticulously well kept. At night, cultural and outdoor concerts are held year-round, and the town’s casino comes alive. It may not be as grand as its Monégasque counterpart, but is much more welcoming for amateurs (smart casual attire is advisable).
As to the question of Schwarzwälder kirschtorte, it should be settled that the best is sliced at Café Konig, in the middle of Baden-Baden. In fact, its entire selection of cakes is to be reckoned with. Returning to its pink and white canopied seating is inevitable.
Where to stay
In a villa built in 1874, Hotel Belle Epoque’s 20 individually decorated rooms bring more than a touch of French grandeur across the border. The attention to detail is impressive, attractive and not at all oppressive (Louis XVI chandeliers, huge bathtubs concealed by a mere curtain and gilded antiques trump homogenous contemporary design). Although the hotel does not have its own restaurant, breakfast is served overlooking the trickling fountain in its secluded courtyard and dinner can be booked at its sister establishment, Der Kleine Prinz, just around the corner.
Where to eat
Fine dining in the Black Forest is a Michelin-starred affair. Some of these delights are a while away, but Brenners-Park Hotel & Spa holds two stars all to itself. There are seven-course menus, but ordering à la carte is just as satisfying – and hard to go wrong (pigeon, crab, curd cheese soufflé). Chef Paul Stradner’s Austrian salmon recipe is available to download online, but good luck making flavoursome seaweed jelly cubes and perfect dollops of miso and Mizkan cream back at home.
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A VW Samba minibus, a 1967 convertible Beetle or a Porsche 928: your choice of wheels says a lot at Brenners, which offers these three vintage models for a spin. The forest’s main touring roads are well surfaced and mercifully wide: there are no endless switchbacks or treacherous pass roads. Although this may disappoint some enthusiasts, it makes going full throttle all the more tempting.