Soaking Up Germany

Spas focus on wellness instead of pampering

By: Susan James

Encompassing the legendary Schwarzwald or Black Forest and the Swabian Alps with its glacial lakes, the southwestern German state of Baden-Wurttemberg sits on a flowing geography of blue granite and limestone, conditions that produce an abundance of mineral springs. Stuttgart’s springs alone gush 6 million gallons a day, second in Europe only to Budapest with 7 million.

“What we are known for,” said my guide, “is baths and beer. Both are the gift of the waters.”

The Romans discovered the area’s waters and built numerous baths. The modern spa era began in the middle of the 17th century, but it was the 19th century with its restless royalty and nouveau-riche manufacturers that turned towns like Bad Cannstatt and Baden-Baden into bywords for bubbling luxury.

Today’s baths are far more luxurious and extensive than ever before. Both curative and preventative wellness are like a religion in the area, and the Germans have worked hard to perfect the bath center as the ultimate shrine to health. The area is peppered with towns whose names begin with bad, German for bath, where medical therapy and luxurious indulgence overlap in a series of pools, saunas and treatment rooms.

Ayurvedic massage is the trendy treatment of the moment. A stand-alone or in-hotel German spa will have from three to six swimming pools, both indoors and out, of different temperatures. Some will be salt water; some will be mineral water. The water circulates from natural springs so it is fresh daily. Bath centers also include a steam room with cold plunge, Finnish sauna, shaved-ice igloo and often aroma baths with changing scents.

Visitors should be aware that frequently these baths are mixed and clothing free. But if you’re shy, just look around: A clothed bath will be nearby. In Baden-Baden, they’re across the street from each other Friedrichsbad is clothing free but clothing is required at the Caracalla Bath.

Using a hotel with bath and spa as a center for touring the area is a great choice. In Baden-Baden, Brenner’s Park Hotel is a grande dame of German hotels and one of the best in the country. Its luxurious rooms and junior suites, with separate bedroom, sitting room, dressing room and bathroom (separate bath and shower) and exceptional bath products hark back to the opulent days of the Belle Epoque.

The hotel’s spa is ultramodern. Bodymasters specialize in shiatsu, Hawaiian lomi-lomi and various Asian techniques. The hotel restaurants are thoroughly upscale and from Brenner’s you can enjoy the pleasures of the city, including high-end shopping, a world-famous casino and a racetrack.

For those who would like to explore the Black Forest and its glorious scenery, two privately owned hotels Hotel Bareiss and Hotel Traube Tonbach have extensive spas, upscale accommodations and offer walks and carriage rides into the forest.

Hotel Traube Tonbach also boasts the Bauernstube Restaurant, which has earned three stars in the Michelin Guide. Its spa offers a signature local treatment called Fango which includes a rub with mineral mud and immersion in the pocket of a heated waterbed. If you don’t like mud, you can go for chocolate, chardonnay or even hay.

Excursions farther afield can include castles like the Hohenzollern seat at Sigmaringen or drives to picturesque mountain villages like St. Margen, with a stop for kaffee und kuchen at the Cafe Goldene Krone.

Another possibility is to stay in a spa hotel on the outskirts of a historic town. The Hotel Oschberghof just outside the ancient town of Donaueschingen offers an Olympic-size pool, a variety of saunas, spa treatments and two golf courses (28 holes altogether). Donaueschingen has a palace, a unique collection of art nouveau buildings and the limpid spring which is the source of the Danube River.

Another choice is the Parkhotel Jordanbad, with its private corridor to a large, many-pooled public bath, near another historic town, Biberach. Biberach’s earliest buildings date to the 14th century. It has two medieval towers, the only traditional tannery in Germany, the splendid St. Martin’s Church and great shopping.

Combined with a quick dip in the bath and a rub of mud, what more could a person want?


Brenner’s Park Hotel
Schillerstrasse 4-6, 76530 Baden-Baden
Rates: Single room, $263-$430; double room, $380-$605
Breakfast buffet, $28
One-hour massage or facial, $98
Commission: 10 percent on room rate

Hotel Bareiss
D-72270 Baiersbronn-Mitteltal
Rates: Single room with breakfast and dinner, $170-$275;
double room, $310-$460
One-hour massage, $68-$84

Hotel Traube Tonbach
Tonbachstr 237, 72270 Baiersbronn-Tonbach
Rates: Single room with breakfast and spa admission,
$163-$223; double room, $121-$215 per person
One-hour massage, $70
30-minute facial, $30
Commission: Special rates to agents

Hotel Oschberghof

Golfplatz 1, 78166 Donaueschingen
Rates: Single room with breakfast and spa admission,
$144-$150; double room, $211-$223
50-minute massage, $59-$84
60-minute facial, $55
Commission:10 percent on room rate

Parkhotel Jordanbad

Im Jordanbad 7, 88400 Biberach
Single room with breakfast and spa admission,
$85-$97; double room, $135-$147
60-minute massage, $43
30-minute facial, $37
Commission: 10 percent