While it may not be on the typical tourist's map, there's a resort just outside of Frankfurt that's been making a splash for years.King Chulalongkorn of Thailand, who ruled the Thai kingdom for a 42-year stint beginning in 1868, loved its healing waters so much, he donated a genuine Thai Sala to its spa gardens (perhaps one of the first such Siamese temples outside Thailand). Not to be outdone, Czar Nicholas II, who reigned over the Russian empire at the turn of the 20th century, personally laid the cornerstone on the gold-domed Russian church he had built nearby to accommodate his summer residence here. German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe waxed poetic about its "morning mists" in 1773. Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (of Crime and Punishment fame) went broke herein 1867. So why the heck haven't you heard of Bad Homburg?
Ever since the ruins of a Roman bathhouse were discovered here inthe late 1800s, this German playground nestled at the foot of the Taunus Mountains (30 minutes from Frankfurt by train) has hosted a virtual who's who of international celebrities, dignitaries, and others of the upwardly mobile ilk, all of whom come to town to immerse themselves in the city's natural healing waters. Bad Homburg's 109-acre Kurpark, or "spa park," features numerous mineral springs - all believed to be spouting forth water that is nothing short of miraculous. It was also here that Europe's first tennis courts opened in 1876, as well as Germany's first golfcourse, built in 1889. Needless to say, the well-to-do have been decompressing here for ages.
Not much has changed in Bad Homburg since then. Stroll its fashionable streets, flush with sidewalk-crowding cafes and white-table clothed restaurants, and you quickly see that this resort city attracts Frankfurt's rich and famous like the Hamptonslure New Yorkers. There is a sophisticated, country-club air about the place - minus the pretension. Bad Homburg's marriage of modern luxe and regal history is everywhere, though nowhere more so than inside the Kurpark.
Though impeccable continental cuisine is served at the Golf Haus Restaurant, and the historical casino where Dostoyevsky went bust remains a large draw to this day, it is the spa park's holistic hot springs - said to ease rheumatism, liver problems, you name it -that keep Bad Homburg afloat. The most important public medicinal spring, the Elisabeth Spring, dates to 1622 and was "rediscovered" in 1834. Shrouded by a columned temple, it is a thing of beauty indeed. In addition to drinking straight from its tap and others in the park (many people do), there are two wildly different ways to experience the Kurpark.
Ground zero within the park is Kaiser-Wilhelms-Bad, a stunning neo-Renaissance bathhouse built in 1890 with a bronze statue that honors the Prussian King Wilhelm II, the last of Germany's emperors, and all of his rich and influential friends. Today, it houses what just might be the world's coolest spot for a reawakening, the $4.6 million Kur-Royal Day Spa, a lavishly restored den of decadence and healing that opened in late 2002.