With its grand hotels, opulent villas and antique shops, few places in Germany exude the confident style of Kaisers Zeiten – the age of the Kaisers – quite as strongly as WIESBADEN, about 40km west of Frankfurt. The Romans had a fort here, the hot springs have been popular for centuries and the city served as capital of an independent Duchy of Nassau from 1815 until it was subsumed into Prussia after the 1866 Austro-Prussian war. But it was in the Wilhelmine era following German unification in 1871 that Wiesbaden experienced its heyday as a fashionable spa, favoured by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself, and it's from this period that much of its grandiose architecture dates. It came through two world wars in better shape than most large German cities, and its status grew post-1945 as capital of the newly created Land of Hesse and as the European headquarters of the US Air Force: the Berlin airlift was coordinated from here in 1948. It's also a centre for the Sekt – or German champagne – industry.
Idyllically situated at the foot of the rolling Taunus and with lavish parks and greenery, Wiesbaden combines the attractions of a health resort with those of a city. The traffic-free Altstadt is easily explored on foot and is fringed to the east by Wilhelmstrasse – the kilometre-long avenue known as the "Rue" – with the Kurhaus on its eastern side. Within easy reach to the north, the Neroberg is popular for fresh air and views, while south of the centre the suburb of Biebrich boasts a Baroque Schloss and park. Offering everything from bracing walks and spa facilities to good restaurants, luxurious shopping and high culture – all of it overlaid with an atmosphere of faded glamour and genteel convalescence – the "Nice of the North" is unique among major German cities.