The German spa town of Baden-Baden

Come June, the England team - and their lovely ladies - will descend on the sleepy German spa town of Baden-Baden. Rhiannon Batten is one step ahead

Antonio, the hotel driver, is explaining why a helicopter is spilling out a fresh load of men in suits: "All the ladies of Baden-Baden want to meet David Beckham, so we need security."

Increased security isn't the only change at the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe since it was announced that it is to host the England football team during the World Cup. As part of the Bühlerhöhe's deal with the Football Association, the interior is being redone in "champagne". Longer beds are being delivered. Sven-Goran Eriksson may not like this part as much, but eventhe manager has been replaced.

This grand old hotel certainly needs a facelift. It was built as a rest home for injured Prussian officers early in the 20th century. More recently it was owned by the technology magnate Max Grundig. The assets are considerable: a Michelin-starred restaurant; a pool with floor-to-ceiling windows; a spa stocked with La Prairie products (anyone for the "manager anti-stress day"?); and a £1,500-a- night presidential suite. Yet, recently, the hotel has started to look old, with tired furnishings.

The Bühlerhöhe's main problem is that it isn't sure what it's meant to be. It has some nice historic details: parquet floors, swirling staircase and ornate fireplaces. But much of the decor looks boringly corporate - neither lavishly period nor excitingly contemporary. Step beyond the few revamped areas and it feels like walking into 1986.

I can pinpoint the date so precisely because 1986 was the year I last visited Baden-Baden, when I was 12 and living in Germany. I haven't been back to Germany since, so the route down memory lane is more sharply navigated than it might have been - though in 1986 this hotel wasn't on the itinerary.

In nearby Baden-Baden I feel like Rip van Winkle. There is the same French Empire-style Kurhaus, dubbed the "the most beautiful casino in the world" by Marlene Dietrich. Any footballer tempted to stake a week's wages on a single number should be warned: Dostoevsky came for a holiday but escaped the casino only when Turgenev gave him the cash for a ticket home.

There, too, is the Trinkhalle, or Pump Hall, with its fairytale murals warning of sirens luring men into dark Black Forest lakes. Ditto the elegant Lichtentaler Allee, a linear park stretching for 2km past grand mansions and the river. Not to mention the Russian Orthodox church with its golden bauble of a roof.

There were other sights reminiscent of the past. Fur-coated women wearing expressions so haughty they could easily out-posh Posh. Sex shops slotted alongside posh kitchenware outfits in otherwise upmarket streets. Elaborate stationery shops, lavish chidren's clothing boutiques and old-fashioned bakeries serving mountains of crunchy, seeded breads.

Not everything has stood still since I last visited, though. The Caracalla spa's outdoor pools and saunas (nudity obligatory) offers great views, although rather my spur-of-the-moment massage there was carried out to the retro sound of the Bee Gees, still staying alive over the airwaves.

The other big change is the Museum Frieder Burda - a contemporary art gallery, owned and paid for by the former publisher whose name it carries. It opened on the Lichtentaler Allee late in 2004.

The choice of location was controversial. "The Lichtentaler Allee is like a holy place," explained spokesman Horst Koppelstatter. "Normally it wouldn't have been possible to build here." Architect Richard Meier designed a space to reflect the surrounding greenery, also offering "a little bit of California in Baden-Baden".

The result is convincing. Slotted in between the park's trees, the museum is surprisingly unobtrusive. Inside, enormous picture windows frame the park beyond. With its slatted roof and wooden floors, the space even feels like a forest glade. The only trouble is, with so many compelling views of the Lichtentaler Allee, it's hard to keep your eyes on the artwork - most of which comes from Burda's own mammoth collection. For artistically-minded football fans, a Chagall retrospective is planned for July.

Lichtentaler Allee's other big attraction this summer will be Brenner's Park-Hotel, just across the river from the museum. With its shiny floors, plumped-up furnishings and newly installed second spa, it looks to be doing better business than the Bühlerhöhe and, possibly due to its proximity to Sophienstrasse's upmarket shops, is where the footballers' wives will be staying in June.

Meanwhile, back at the Bühlerhöhe, the refurbishment continues, with plenty to appeal to the players. The bar is full of atmosphere, the staff are mostly young and willing without being overbearing, and, if romance suddenly strikes, it has a registry office in a tiny turret 850m above sea level and accessed via a stone bridge (steady on though, Wayne and Colleen - Boris Becker and Germany's goalkeeper Oliver Kahn both married there and both are now divorced).

One facet of the hotel that presumably appealed to Eriksson is its impenetrable position: 10km outside town up a vertiginous mountain road. The outcrop of rock it balances on is so high that a spring mist can create a spectacular illusion. When the mist descends, it is like being on an island, with the tips of the surrounding pine trees and the hotel's ship-like terrace the only parts of the landscape to pierce the clouds. The hotel is firmly out of late-night stumbling distance of the casino, and seals off the players from over-eager fans.

One over-eager fan they won't have to worry about is Peter Saur, who works for the tourist office. "I remember 1972, when everyone in southern Germany said it would be their best [tourist] season yet because of the Munich Olympics, but it was the worst," he huffs. "People thought the traffic was going to be bad so they all stayed away. I know where I'll be during the World Cup. In my apartment in the Bavarian Alps, walking in the mountains. You can always catch the football on TV."

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The only airline with direct flights from the UK to Baden-Baden is Ryanair (0906 270 5656; www.ryanair.com).

The next-closest airports are Strasbourg and Stuttgart, but Frankfurt has a wider range of services and is only 80 minutes by train. Rhiannon Batten flew from Edinburgh to Frankfurt with Lufthansa (0870 837 7747; www.lufthansa.co.uk), return flights from £104. If you plan to follow the England team this summer, Lufthansa is offering a GloBall Airpass, whereby fans can buy flexible flights within Germany for £60 a hop. You can offset the carbon emissions of your flight with Climate Care (01865 207000; www.climatecare.org).

By rail, the trip to Baden-Baden takes just over seven hours from London Waterloo via Brussels and Cologne; contact Deutsche Bahn (0870 243 5363; www.bahn.co.uk).

STAYING THERE

When the England team are not in residence, double rooms at the Schlosshotel Bühlerhöhe (00 49 722 6550; www.buehlerhoehe.de) start at €260 (£180), room only. Slightly better deals may be available through Leading Hotels of the World (00800 2888 8882; www.lhw.com). At the Brenners Park-Hotel (00 49 7221 9000; www.brenners-park.de), doubles start at €356 (£254), with breakfast an extra €23 (£16.50).

MORE INFORMATION

German national tourist office: 020-7317 0908; www.germany-tourism.de. Baden-Baden tourist office: 00 49 7221 275206.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?