“Great SPA towns of Europe” is the label under which UNESCO World Heritage celebrates a dear European tradition that started early 18th century : the "spa culture". Escapes from tumultuous life of the big cities, these “spa's” were elegant resorts hidden in gorgeous landscapes, rich in mineral spring waters, usually built on ancient Roman baths edifices. Currently there are eleven towns on the World Heritage list scattered throughout Europe: Baden bei Wien (Austria), Spa (Belgium), Františkovy Lázně, Karlovy Vary, Mariánské Lázně (Czechia), Vichy (France), Bad Ems, Baden-Baden, Bad Kissingen (Germany), Montecatini Terme (Italy) and City of Bath (United Kingdom). Easy to observe these retreat centers were named "spa's" after the city with the same name in Belgium.
Concerning about one's health started to become popular in the 1700's. Doctors were prescribing enthusiastically cures at a Spa town. Gout, one of the most frequent aristocratic illness, migraine or just simple fatigue were reasons enough to ask for 2 weeks or even few months in a Spa. The healing waters were the promised cure for most of the cases, involving drinking or bathing with a certain regularity throughout the day.
Beyond therapeutic benefits, the towns offered the opportunity to mix with the upper class, to be seen and to socialize. Promenade, bath and ball. Hotels although not cheap were crowded, restaurants were busy serving fine or diet food to hungry guests, concerts were playing in the park while throughout the night dancing, gambling or theater plays.... social entertainment designed to provide complete services for a relaxing, therapeutical, enjoyable and sometimes flamboyant stay.
We visited Baden at beginning of June on a gorgeous sunny day: wonderful architecture and panorama, cosy cafes and welcoming restaurants, one amazing park (KurPark) and an imposing Casino. Although dating far back in 17th century the architecture now is mostly belonging to Biedermeier era after massive rehabilitation works in 1812 ( recovering after a devastating fire)
A silent city drenched in grace and opulence. We could hear the butterfly wings in the scented air of the park, imagining lavishing hotel rooms filled with laughter and the music of Strauss, one century ago.
Many artists: poets, painters, composers found themselves as frequent clients of the spa's looking for inspiration but also the healing powers of the springs. The magnificent Baden Kurpark reminds us of Mozart and Beethoven. Both composers came to Baden to write music. Ludwig von Beethoven composed sections of his Ninth symphony while staying for 3 summers in 1821, 22 and 23. The house he stayed in at Rathausgasse 10 is now a museum where to experience and understand the music of a genius.
The Beethoven Temple was built in KurPark inbetween 1925-1927 and inaugurated on the anniversary of 100th years since his death. The paintings on the ceiling capture an allegoric fresco of the ninth symphony having as main character Prometeus.
The charming central plaza in Baden is in itself an invitation to a cafe (or maybe two :)). And what better place to go than "Cafe Central". The Cafe dates back to 1841. In its early days it was running under the name "Cafe Francais" (as everything "francais" was fashionable since Metternich's Congress in Vienna). After the World War II it become Cafe Central being an outstanding example of Austrian Kaffee Kultur. We stayed about one hour and a half at Cafe Central : 3 coffees and one delicious, memorable Kardinalschnitte mit Kaffee. The taste, the texture remained well anchored in my mind that I decided to try the recipe at home.
Kardinal Schnitte has its own story. It was created by L.Heiner with the occasion of the Catholic Day held in Vienna in 1933. The recipe celebrates the bonds between Vatican and Austrian Catholic Church. It consists of two layers of meringue and biscuit ( white and yellow - symbolising the colours of Vatican) filled with vanilla whipped cream and red currant jam (red symbolising the dignity of the Austrian Cardinal). In time, versions of Kardinalschnitte were developed just by changing the filling. The best one (maybe being here a little subjective ...) is with Kaffee .