Exclusive and elegant, Baden-Baden is one of the world’s most renowned spa destinations. Since the early 19th century, this fashionable little town on the outskirts of the Black Forest has attracted well-heeled visitors. They come for the temperate climate and beautiful countryside, but most of all for the spas, casinos and horse races. These days, Baden-Baden is as popular as ever and the charming streets lined with designer shops, trendy restaurants and lively bars bustle year-round with visitors from across the globe.
Keeping with the tradition that dates back to Roman times, there are several excellent bathhouses in town—the modern Caracalla Spa and the historic Friedrichsbad are the two most popular—but the landmark Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa is still the most luxurious. Considered one of the finest hotels in Germany, Frank Sinatra once called Brenners the best place he ever stayed. Check in the day of your arrival and spend a blissful afternoon relaxing in the hotel’s über-chic spa, Villa Stéphanie. Afterward, head over to Fritz & Felix for a delicious dinner of regionally inspired comfort food like roast beef-filled ravioli with sage butter.
The next morning, take a spin around town in one of the classic cars the Brenners make available to guests. Be sure and stop by the 250-year-old Café Koenig for a coffee and a piece of Black Forest cake. Spend the afternoon playing a round of golf at the Golf Club Baden-Baden or visit the Fabergé Museum on a tour of the city. In the evening, wander over to the Baden-Baden Casino, an opulent spectacle just a short stroll from the hotel. With a minimum bet of just a few euros, you’ll find an intriguing mix of high rollers and low-stake amateurs all hedging their bets in what is possibly the world’s most beautiful casino.
Known as the thinking person’s wellness retreat, the Schloss Elmau Luxury Spa Retreat & Cultural Hideaway is a sanctuary unlike any other. Nestled in a magnificent green valley in the Bavarian Alps, the drive from Baden-Baden takes about four hours, but you’ll be so captivated by the jagged limestone peaks and shimmering turquoise lakes, you’ll hardly notice the time pass. Once you arrive, you’ll quickly find yourself immersed in an experience designed to stimulate the mind, body and soul.
Schloss Elmau offers everything required of an exceptional luxury resort—well-appointed suites, outstanding food, gorgeous spas and swimming pools, beautiful surroundings—but what truly sets the hotel apart are its cultural offerings. Hosting upwards of 200 classical music and jazz concerts per year, many by world-renowned musicians, as well as a regular lecture series by noted scholars and public intellectuals, Schloss Elmau is highly regarded as a place where the arts flourish and intellectual curiosity is celebrated.
With everything going on at Schloss Elmau, it would be easy to never leave the grounds, but the surrounding area has much to offer, especially for those who love the great outdoors. The Isar River Valley, one of the last untouched rivers in Europe, is within a 20-minute ride on an electric mountain bike, while in the opposite direction, 6,000 feet above sea level, is King Ludwig’s mountaintop retreat Schachen. Exactly what you’d expect from a ruler known as the Fairytale King, the villa’s Turkish Room is a stunningly imaginative display of gilt, stained-glass windows and oriental rugs and the views of the Alps are nothing short of spectacular.
Austria’s cultural capital, the beautiful city of Salzburg is synonymous with music. The birthplace of Mozart—and perhaps equally well known as the von Trapp family’s stomping grounds—music miraculously seems to waft out of open windows all over town. Filled with a wonderful collection of pastel-hued Baroque and Rococo buildings, elegant gardens and charming palaces, the atmosphere in Salzburg is nothing short of magical, making the nonstop schedule of concerts, music festivals and recitals far from the only reason to visit.
The drive from Schloss Elmau to Salzburg is an epic two-and-half-hour ride through an alpine landscape that is simply spectacular. After settling into your hotel, take a few minutes to contemplate the experience at Café Bazar, a popular riverside haunt. Afterward, stretch your legs at the opulent Mirabell Gardens known for its grand fountains, sweet-smelling rose gardens and magnificent views of Hohensalzburg Fortress. That evening, visit the Mozarteum University, one of the world’s top music conservancies, to enjoy the regular student recitals that are free and open to the public.
The next morning, take a ride on a funicular to the top of Festungsberg mountain and visit Salzburg’s iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the best-preserved castles in Europe with breathtaking city views. Spend the afternoon following in the footsteps of the von Trapp family on a tour of The Sound of Music’s most popular locations, visit the enchanting Hellbrunn Palace or, if shopping is on your list, stop by Dschulnigg. Catering to generations of celebrities, including Prince Charles, Oscar de la Renta and Clark Gable, this family-run emporium is famous for its Alpine-chic hunting gear and handcrafted homewares.
Known as the Imperial City, Vienna doesn’t disappoint, and neither will the drive from Salzburg. Taking about three hours, there are several excellent places to stop along the way, including the particularly charming riverside town of Steyr and Melk Abbey, one of the largest and most beautiful Baroque buildings in Europe. You’ll arrive in Vienna with time to settle into your hotel before heading out for a pre-dinner stroll around town. For a traditional Austrian meal, try the elegant Restaurant Rote Bar in the Hotel Sacher or, for something on the lighter side, the popular farm-to-table restaurant Labstelle.
Wake up the next morning and head out on a tour of the city. Even with an entire day, you’ll have to pick and choose what you’d like to see as Vienna is chock full of excellent options. St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Rathaus, Karlskirche and the Spanish Riding School all top the list. In the afternoon, visit one of the city’s impressive museums. The MuseumsQuartier is where you’ll find The Leopold and its famous collection of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt paintings, and the gigantic Kunsthistorisches Museum, which holds the personal collection of the art-loving Habsburg family.
Of course, Vienna is famous for its cafés, and no visit is complete without spending at least a few hours in one of the city’s many coffeehouses. The next morning, visit Café Central, well-known for its vaulted ceilings and famous patrons such as Sigmund Freud and Leo Trotsky. Be sure to try a slice of traditional apple strudel while you’re there. Afterward, head to Schönbrunn Palace, the over-the-top summer residence of the Habsburg. Vienna is no less enchanting in the evenings, and there would be no better ending to this glorious trip than to catch a performance by the Vienna State Opera before flying home the next day.