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With impressive Moorish-style medi-spas, Black Forest bike trails, lush greenery and an abundance of good food, southwest Germany is the perfect healthy holiday destination, as Annabelle Hood discovers.  Holidaymakers can fall on both sides of the wellbeing fence when visiting southern Germany. On the one hand, the multifarious breads,...

Spas and Wellbeing – German Style

With impressive Moorish-style medi-spas, Black Forest bike trails, lush greenery and an abundance of good food, southwest Germany is the perfect healthy holiday destination, as Annabelle Hood discovers. 

Holidaymakers can fall on both sides of the wellbeing fence when visiting southern Germany. On the one hand, the multifarious breads, carb-rich Swabian dishes and beer could all pile on the pounds. But then there are other sides to the regions of Baden-Württemberg and Schwarz Wald (Black Forest), which I hadn’t appreciated before: the unbelievably pure air, historic spa towns built around natural thermal springs and fabulous bike trails through miles of forest, being just three reasons to go for a health boost. 

Our journey started in Stuttgart – home to Porsche and Mercedes-Benz – both of which boast wow-factor motor museums, but could hardly be deemed a ‘healthy’ reason for a visit. Nor perhaps could the wineries of Rotenberg and of Untertürkheim, although we were reminded of the well-documented benefits of wine’s polyphenols during our tour (so that’s alright then). We also visited Das Leuze and Mineralbad Cannstatt, a couple of thermal spas near the city centre. Neither is the lap of luxury, but many locals use these medicinal spas for their rehabilitative water exercise programmes and for convalescing. Far fewer visit than previously, however, because the German state has all but ceased its previously heavily subsidised ‘kur’ health programmes. Nowadays insurance companies won’t cough up for preventative reasons alone, so it’s down to forward-thinking employers and increasingly, individuals, to bear the cost. 

The following day we visited the charming medieval town of Esslingen, with its colourful part-timbered chocolate box facades, handsome church and cobbled streets that come in to their own in December for the Christmas Market. Right in the town centre are the famous old Kessler champagne cellars dating back to 1826. Here we tasted Sekt, Germany’s oldest sparkling wine, much quaffed by the royal court of Württemberg and by silver screen legends from Romy Schneider to Errol Flynn. Its health benefits? For chemistry boffins, it’s apparently all about the mood-enhancing grape phytochemical beta-carboline… But for our group it sufficed to sample a glass of this dry bubbly and we all felt marvellous… 

How apt it was to loll for a couple of hours afterwards at the Merkel’sches Bad. This government-run spa complex manages to fuse medi-spa wellness with pampering prowess, from its thermal waters and array of saunas, to fruit smoothies in the spa bar and glassy contemporary décor throughout. Highlights were the top-floor Finnish sauna, complete with log fire, and witnessing an Aufguss (Scorching Breath) involving the Saunameister swinging a hot wet towel around the sauna to circulate and humidify the hot air. Not one for the faint-hearted… I much preferred pummelling my knots in the main thermal pool’s gamut of underwater jets set at various heights. 

The mission for our short trip to this underrated part of Germany was to escape industrialisation and city/town smog and spend a couple of days in the scenic surrounds of the deep South’s countryside; specifically, the quaint hilly spa town of Bad Wildbad, about 40kms east of its internationally better known spa sister, Baden Baden. The most famous hotels in the heart of Bad Wildbad’s bijoux town centre are the grand Badhotel dominating a cobbled square and opposite, the water fronted Rossini Hotel (formerly Hotel Bären). Both properties, run by the Mokni family, offer exceptional value compared to mainstream European prices (from only €70 a night, including a full breakfast buffet and access to the famous neighbouring Palais Thermal Baths). Our wellness-focused Hotel Rothfuss was nice enough, if dated and basic, with tiny rooms and narrow single beds, however the mountainous views were nice. The jewel in its crown was a brand new modern indoor pool, whose waters glistened with morphing colour therapy lights. I found it a meditative distraction to swim laps through invigorating red, orange, yellow and then calming green and indigo water. 

Wellbeing-wise, Bad Wildbad has lots more besides: The place to wile away a couple of hours is at its pièce de résistance and beautifully preserved Moorish-style Palais Thermal Spa, boasting ornate 19th century tiles, majestic Roman statues and various thermal water hydro pools and saunas of varied styles and temperatures including Finnish saunas, steam rooms, Kneipp footbaths and a meditation sauna. The historic thermal pools range from 34-38ºC; a soak in their mineral-rich thermal waters is the real deal for easing rheumatic and neuromuscular aches. A newly completed rooftop pool offers a panoramic view across the town centre. 

The town also has an attractive park with rocky walkways, bursts of floral colour and a gushing river spitting fresh oxygenating negative ions into the air. Vital Thermae, another medi-spa is located here and there is even a Moroccan-style pagoda for taking a contemplative rest. 

Real exercise came on our last day, when we hired e-bikes (from €9 per half day) from Kaltenbronn, with its lofty Enztal valley views set high above Bad Wildbad. Being battery-powered, these bikes are brilliant for seniors or the unfit, because they power uphill faster than Roadrunner at the flick of a switch. I did my best not to activate the magic button while on the flat, which gave my heart and legs a good workout. Which was just as well, because seven miles later we stopped for a gargantuan pancake lunch at a popular traditional wooden restaurant ‘Grünhütte’ located deep in the forest. 

We all chose the homemade blueberry sauce topping and were soon falling about from our black-stained grins. Laughter is of course nature’s best medicine – and our fit of hysterics was a fitting finale to my taste of wellbeing in this charming part of Germany. 

Annabelle flew from London Stansted to Stuttgart with Germanwings. Flights cost from £24.99.www.germanwings.comThanks to Radisson Blu Hotel, London Stansted Airport. Rates start from £109 room only.www.radissonblu.comStansted’s No.1 Traveller lounge offers free WiFi, newspapers, magazines, food and beverages throughout the day, in addition to flight updates.

Further information on tourism and spas in southwest Germany available at the following websites: 

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