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At Schlossbergplatz at the southern end of Badstrasse is the turreted fifteenth-century Stadtturm, gateway into the Old Town. On a hill above to the west, and visible from all over town, is the Stein castle, for three centuries the meeting place of the Confederate Diet (Switzerland’s parliament of the day), but partially destroyed in 1712 by the Protestant forces of Bern, Basel and Zürich during a battle against the Catholic cantons of Solothurn, Luzern and Zug. Rathausgasse runs east from the Stadtturm just inside the walls, and partway along you’ll find the Stadthaus (Town Hall): take a look inside at the whimsical modern ceiling murals of clouds and sky, and then head two floors up to the old Tagsatzungssaal (meeting hall), a gorgeously restored interior dating from 1497, complete with full wood panelling and original stained glass showing the Swiss cantonal flags. (You’ll have to ask in one of the offices on the same floor for the key, since the anonymous modern door to the hall is kept locked). An alley from Rathausgasse leads through to Kirchplatz, with its atmospheric church, built in 1420 (and retaining its Gothic arches) but later renovated in a surprisingly frill-free Baroque style. Stairways and steep alleys head down to a picturesque covered wooden bridge of 1813, leading to the stout bailiff’s castle on the other bank. If the rock nearby looks oddly flat, it’s because after the rainy night of June 25, 1899, the whole top of the crag sheared off and crashed into the river – such a momentous event that it is still talked about today.
It’s a short but pleasant walk north along the banks of the Limmat, on a footpath fragrant with wild garlic, to the tranquil Kurgebiet. Kurplatz, a peaceful little square, is surrounded on all sides by Belle Epoque hotel architecture that is the height of dignified elegance, and is worth exploring in itself. Baden’s nineteen springs were well known to the Romans, who called the place Aquae Helveticae and built a lavish baths complex to exploit the hot water, a million litres of which emerges every day at a toasty 47°C, having spent the last 30,000 years rising from 3km down. All through the Middle Ages, and well into the nineteenth century, Baden was infamous for the high jinks that took place in its pools: the combination of deliciously hot water, naked bodies, and four-to-six-week residential “cures” seems to have loosened inhibitions a treat.
Things are somewhat more subdued in these more prudish times, and these days your flesh is more likely to receive attention from a no-nonsense white-coated masseur than from an amorous wooer. In the Baden tradition, all the Kurhotels (see opposite) are built over their own springs which serve their own thermal pools; the public pools (Mon–Fri 7.30am–9pm, Sat & Sun 7.30am–8pm; 056/203 91 12; Fr.15) are on Kurplatz, beside the Verenahof hotel, with a drinking fountain outside – although you may have trouble keeping the warm smelly water down long enough for it to do any internal good. As an extra, you can enjoy an hour and three-quarters in your own private tub (one/two person) for Fr.15/30. Saunas start from Fr.16.50, full massages from Fr.41 for 25min.
The Langmatt Foundation
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