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.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
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: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all