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Reflecting on the Waters

December 25, 2011

BadenBaden, famed for its healing waters for 2,000 years, has seen emperors, queens, authors, composers, and many other such celebrities visit to take the Cure (and, more lately,  amuse themselves in the casino).  The natural hot springs would certainly have been as appealing to weary and filthy Roman soldiers as to arthritic seniors in a cold land.  However, winter doesn’t seem to be the Season here.  Of course there are many outdoor activities to be had in warmer months; hiking, tennis, and at times horse racing.  But why not be drawn to the warm pools and hot saunas when one is chilled to the bone by the Black Forest winter?  Our hotel was quiet, the baths not over-crowded, and the Christmas markets festive without being oppressive.

Promo photo, as cameras are verboten

The main facility, Caracalla Spa, includes a large indoor pool ~with sneaky little currents, ostensibly to add resistance for those pursuing aqua-therapeutic exercise, but mostly unsettling those headed for the ladder and finding themselves no closer~ with high-pressure neck shower jets and a separate rock grotto containing hot and cold pools.  There are two outdoor pools with jacuzzi features and a waterfall which were shrouded in steam this wintry afternoon, beautifully softening the dour features of those taking their relaxation experience far too seriously.  How can they sit on the bubble-benches and crack nary a grin?  It makes me giggle out loud… and receive a shower of frowning.

In addition to space on the indoor deck set aside for loungers under an array of heat-lamps (imagine a rack of rotisserie chickens splayed out on beach chairs, blissfully unaware of their fate), the upstairs is devoted to saunas and steam rooms: ranging from 117°F (with steam) to 203°F (dry sauna), even I was warmed to the core, and getting crispy around the edges.  Each space boasts a special feature of aroma infusion, chromatherapy, or being a traditional wooden cabin outdoors with it’s own fireplace.

Having booked three hours plus a basic massage, I could have soaked up another hour or so in the dedicated relaxing zones.  The full massage treatment menu is available only at the other facility, the Friedrichsbad, under separate entrance fee.  While being the more historical of the two and sitting atop the recently discovered ruins of the Roman Soldiers’ baths, the temperature of the pools ranges from  64-97°F.  That warmest one is about the bottom end of where I like to sit, so it just wouldn’t be worth it for us.  The springs here surface at 154°F, so there is just no excuse for not having at least one water feature over 100… other than, “That’s not how it’s done.”  If painfully litigious Americans can crank up their jacuzzis to 105, no one is going to sue for it over here.  I’ve become convinced that, traditionally, only the Japanese understand how to do a hot tub.  It is from them that Californians learned the practice.

But all in all, it has been a very pleasant and relaxing stay.  We enjoyed some live music one evening in the Weihnachtsmärkt, a man singing a selection of (what could only have been) popular Christmas dirges.  When he began one we knew should be lively and still the tempo left us leaning forward, grabbing for the next beat as he held it back, it was time to move on.

Next stop: Paris!

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