With the opening of the Singapore-Germany vaccinated travel lane and the emphasis on wellness today, Mavis Teo trains the spotlight on the sophisticated health resort and spa industry in the European powerhouse.
Mention Germany, and the words that come to mind are BMW, beer, Beethoven (or Bayern Munich for the football fans) and perhaps, the Black Forest. What’s little-known to many in Asia is that the Black Forest is home to Baden-Baden, a famous spa town. Or that in addition to breweries, Bavaria also has a high concentration of health resorts. Or that wellness is a concept that is deeply ingrained in the German way of life.
The industry is big – there are over 350 spa towns and nearly 1,000 spa resorts and wellness centres all over the country – yet it has remained under the radar to international travellers.
The Romans had introduced baths to Germany some 2,000 years ago. Geothermal spots were discovered, spa towns grew and flourished, and became a gathering place for royalty, and the rich and powerful. Today, families and co-workers bond over retreats in wellness hotels.
Even the German health care system supports the use of spas, and doctors refer patient to health resorts for a stay that can be claimed from insurers.
Over the centuries, wellness has become a well-honed art in Germany. Restorative hot spring resorts are plentiful across the geothermal, mountainous regions of the country’s south, which includes the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. To the north, in addition to spas fed by thermal springs, mineral-rich seawater from the Baltic Sea and North Sea is used in thalassotherapy.
Germany is also blessed with a topography that forms the perfect backdrop to a curative holiday. In the mountains, one can expect crisp air and beautiful snow-capped peaks in winter, or verdant meadows full of wildflowers in spring.
While Germany as a wellness destination currently remains undiscovered for Asians, this might soon change. According to Frances Geoghegan, founder of Healing Holidays, a wellness travel specialist headquartered in the UK, “Medical Spa powerhouses like Lanserhof Tegernsee and Villa Stéphanie have put the country on the map.”
She adds that these places off er highly bespoke and comprehensive wellness solutions, which attract many of the famous and very affluent from around the world; and that as travel restrictions ease, she is getting more enquiries even from Asia for wellness getaways.
Here are eight hotels that tap into the gifts of Mother Nature and enhance them with thoughtful programmes and state-of-the-art facilities. Besides a well-appointed spa, these wellness hotels tick all the right boxes, such as luxurious accommodation and some of the finest food in the land.
Ayurveda Parkschlösschen, Traben-Trarbach, Rhineland-Palatinate
Since travel to India looks like a distant possibility for now, fans of Ayurveda medicine could consider Ayurveda Parkschlösschen, which is known as the specialist for Panchakarma purification cures in Europe. At this hotel, such a programme starts from 10 days, and aims to help guests achieve top physical and mental form by ridding the body of toxins and metabolic waste.
Complementing it are yoga, stress management and shorter programmes under the supervision of experienced Ayurvedic practitioners. Located in a private 4.5ha parkland surrounded by vineyards, grand old trees and a gurgling brook, the hotel also features soothing massages and facials administered with its own oil blends or products from Ila Spa, a cult organic skincare brand.
Meals are prescribed based on individual dosha (personal constitution). They are made with seasonal and organic produce – and are delicious.
Schloss Elmau, Krün, Bavaria
Nestled deep within Germany’s breathtaking Bavarian Alps and protected by a landscape of snow-enveloped crags and dark pine forests is a hotel within a castle that nourishes both body and mind. A cultural hotspot and retreat for writers, artists and musicians, it was opened in 1916 by philosopher and theologian Dr Johannes Müller, who would lecture on the curative powers of nature and the arts to an audience of intellectuals, counts and duchesses.
Today, Schloss Elmau is run by his grandson, Dietmar Müller-Elmau, who is also well-known for concerts performed by musicians the likes of the late Yehudi Menuhin in the hotel’s 300-seater timber-framed auditorium. Schloss Elmau is also home to six spas offering treatments that run the gamut from saltwater baths to Hammam scrubs alongside a medical facility.
Fitness buffs are also spoilt for choice when it comes to activities. They include mountain biking, yoga, pilates, skiing and tennis. Food is taken seriously here, so it’d be a pity to be on a restrictive diet. Executive chef Christoph Rainer at the Michelin-starred Luce D’Oro is said to give guests an unforgettable experience.
Vitalhotel Alter Meierhof, Flensburg Fjord, Glücksburg
Located very close to the Danish border, Alter Meierhof in northern Germany commands spectacular views of the Baltic Sea. And the views are the icing on the cake for many of the beauty aficionados who come to be pampered. The spa, Hof-Therme, features large heated indoor and outdoor pools that overlook the Flensburg Fjord and Danish coast. The spa menu here has an Oriental and Middle Eastern slant.
Besides the Hammam Ceremonial treatment, the Rasul is another highly popular spa treatment. It is carried out in a steam chamber heated at 45 deg C to allow the pores to open and muscles to relax. As you lie back in the mosaic-tiled, Arabian-themed room, mud rich in minerals is then massaged onto your skin. For the spa’s facial treatments, Shiseido products are used. Besides Hof-Therme, another reason to visit the hotel is the two-Michelin-starred French restaurant Meierei Dirk Luther.
Althoff Seehotel Überfahrt, Rottach-Egern, Bavaria
Located just metres from the banks of shimmering Tegernsee Lake and enveloped in the pure air of the Bavarian Alps, one can begin to feel the healing powers of the Althoff Seehotel Überfahrt on the senses as one draws close to the hotel. Inside the Leading Hotels of the World member, 4 Elements Spa by Althoff (so called because its concept is inspired by four elements of nature: fire, water, air, and earth) promises a comprehensive experience for every visitor, including children.
If the indoor pools and different sauna rooms in the all-suite 32,000 sq ft spa are not enough, guests can even take a dip in the lake which the hotel has private access to. Guests can also expect highly personalised and dedicated fitness programmes to help them achieve their goals.
After a good workout, you’d deserve a good meal. Fortunately, there are four restaurants serving different cuisine and experiences. The jewel in the crown is the three-Michelin-starred Restaurant Überfahrt, which is also one of the highest rated culinary establishments in Germany.
Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden, Berchtesgaden, Bavaria
Commanding 15,070 sq ft of floor space, Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden is a must-visit for all wellness enthusiasts visiting the Berchtesgaden area in the Bavarian Alps. It boasts of facilities like a colour therapy sauna, a meditation lounge with floating water beds, and a heated outdoor pool.
While La Prairie is used in facials, some beauty treatments incorporate wild herbs and flowers that have been fresh-picked and processed by hand. For the Thermal Alpine Herb Massage, alpine plants such as wild calendula, arnica and chamomile are made into herbal pouches that are steamed and applied on the body.
The Kempinski Hotel Berchtesgaden, situated at 1,000 metres above sea level, offers views that match the finesse of its spa treatments. From here, guests can feast their eyes on 360-degree panoramas and spectacular sunsets. And of course, there are also gastronomic treats at the one-Michelin-starred Restaurant Le Ciel to savour.
Lanserhof Tegernsee, Waakirchen, Bavaria
Up above the spectacular glassy Lake Tegern, amidst the rolling forests of the Bavarian Alps, is a 226,000 sq ft medical facility that has been billed by many seasoned wellness holiday seekers as the most advanced medical spa in the world. The wood and glass structure designed by renowned German architect Christoph Ingenhoven is sleek and modern, and so are the suites, which are fitted with a power shut-off device to reduce electrosmog.
Yet Lanserhof adheres to the early 20th-century principles of Dr Franz Xavier Mayr, known as the father of fasting, who believed that a clean digestive system leads to a clean bill of health. Thus, age-old concepts like detox and rest underpin the programmes here. Spa and diagnostic treatments are a different matter. While there are the usual holistic treatments like massages and body wraps, there are some with a futuristic feel.
For one, there is the PillCam, which as its name suggests, is a pill you swallow to film your intestines. To keep your mind off food that is forbidden while you detox, there are the glorious Augustinus Bader facials and vitamin infusions. When food is introduced back into your diet, delicious meals are made with organic produce and biophotonic meat (from animals raised in humane farms) to reboot your digestive system. Word has it that oligarch Roman Abramovich is a regular.
Hotel Klosterhof, Bayerisch Gmain, Bavaria
While this medi-hotel offers a comprehensive suite of beauty and body treatments, health both mental or physical is the main focus here. Services at the Artemacur Health Centre at Hotel Klosterhof range from diagnostics to therapy. For issues like pain management, healthy practices are integrated into everyday life by specialists. There are also special nutrition programmes for diabetics and those suffering from heart disease or cancer.
A treatment worth singling out here for its popularity with guests is saltwater flotation therapy, which is deeply meditative and relaxing whether done privately or with a therapist. In this treatment, alpine brine from a prehistoric sea deep within the depths of the Bavarian mountains is used in the flotation tanks. The salt has been found to have a cleansing effect on the skin and a restorative quality that works wonders for tired and stressed minds.
Rooms are furnished with sustainable wood like apple and Swiss pine. Our top pick is the two-storey spa suite with amazing views of the Alps.
Villa Stéphanie at Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa, Baden-Baden, Black Forest
Villa Stéphanie is a 14-key wellness hotel located within the beautiful historic spa town of Baden-Baden in the Black Forest that enjoys rave reviews from guests, particularly from London since direct flights to the old Baden-Baden airport take less than an hour. It also boasts a reputation as one of the world’s top medi-spas helmed by a superstar doctor. Dr Harry König has amassed a faithful following all over the world for his practice of integrative medicine and fine bedside manners. He combines naturopathy with state-of-the-art equipment and referrals to specialists.
Besides medically prescribed treatments, one can also find spa treatments from a Sisley Phyto Aromatique Facial to a Shiatsu massage. What’s more, there’s even a cosmetic dental surgeon at the hotel. When it comes to food, every guest gets a menu that comes under 1,000 calories a day tailor-made for them by a team of seven nutritionists. Spoiling guests seems to be a rule here – there is even a sofa in the lift should you feel so relaxed that standing becomes a chore. Wellness guests, fret not if you cannot get a room here.
Villa Stéphanie is directly connected to the larger and equally sumptuous 100-key Brenners Park-Hotel & Spa via a corridor, no less – so that guests can drift back to their suites between treatments without having to change out of their Frette bathrobes.
(Main and featured image: Althoff Seehotel Überfahrt)
This story first appeared in the September 2021 issue of Prestige Singapore.