After a long weekend of blinding lights, noisy partygoers and even louder carpet in Vegas, some years passed before I saw the inside of a casino again. I’m not a fan of gambling–was brought up to consider it something unsavory that preyed on weak minds. After Vegas, call me crazy, but I was sure I’d seen it all and it wasn’t for me.
Which is strange, if you think about it, because Europe is scattered with gorgeous, historic casinos that even non-gamblers can’t resist, most notably in Venice and Paris. But perhaps it has more to do with proximity that preference. While in Spain, where I live, gambling is a widespread and popular past-time, and casinos aren’t uncommon, locals in Barcelona seem to prefer slot machines in dingy bars, 24-hour BINGO, and lottery tickets. Locals that don’t dig BINGO or the local bar scene stick with online and cell phone options–here there are even lotteries via text message publicized on television.
But I digress. Even though I’ve travelled (on more than one occasion) to Paris, and Venice, I didn’t visit their historic casinos. This, despite the fact that In Venice, visitors can try their luck in the world’s oldest operating Casino, founded in 1638. And in Paris, the Barrière d’Enghien-les-Bains Casino is touted as a striking combination of historic and modern architecture with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. There’s just too much to see to spend time in a Casino, if you ask me.
So who would’ve thought that Baden-Baden, a tiny German spa town on the edge of the Black Forest would finally tempt me to lift my casino ban. In this charming community once frequented by glitterrati like Roman Emperor Hadrian, Queen Victory, Dostoevsky and composer Johannes Brahms, the wealthy, royal, and famous came to treat their ails in the hot springs, and risk piles of cash at the roulette table in what is easily the most beautiful casino I’ve ever seen—I definitely agree with Marlene Dietrich on this one.
Inside the imposing white building, golden chandeliers drip sparkling crystals above elaborate frescos and deep red plush carpeting and I find myself thinking of Versailles palace and wondering if Louis XIV would have approved of this apparent tribute to all things French.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the casino at Baden-Baden has a dress code—as well as an entry fee—to ensure that it remains an elegant, upscale atmosphere for guests—the polar opposite of shorts and flip-flop wearing crowds in Vegas, and the greasy slot machine at the corner bar in Madrid. Unlike a lot of travellers, I adore dress codes, or pretty much any excuse to get all dressed up (weddings, fancy restaurants, Mardi Gras…). Another thing I adore about this casino is how calm and low-key it is. No one shouts or shrieks when they win or lose, and discerning who’s bluffing, or even happy or sad, is best reserved for the most experienced people-watchers.
The only negative? No pictures allowed while the casino is open and in operation—not even for the high-rollers or travel-writers like yours truly. We did get special permission, for the Spanish-language travel video we were producing to film during the off-hours. Check it out below.
Or head to LaVanguardia.com to check it out, here.
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