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December 07, 1986|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

ADEN, Switzerland — One year an entire orchestra was imported from Rome, led by the director of Rome's Conservatory of Music who got so steamed up over the baths he returned for five consecutive seasons.

Knowledgeable travelers know that this is one city in Switzerland where the tourist gets soaked.

Make that drenched.

As a matter of fact, vacationers get themselves into a lot of hot water hanging around Baden.

As the spa capital of Switzerland, Baden has been attracting bathers ever since the Romans took the plunge a couple of thousand years ago.

Since then travelers have been arriving in Baden (not to be confused with Germany's Baden-Baden) to boil away aches and pains and to relieve stresses as well as tension suffered by mortals in life's day-to-day game.

In addition to the baths there are drinking cures that have absolutely nothing to do with a healthy slug of Stolichnoya, Wild Turkey or a belt of Campari. In Baden whenever the barkeep shouts "Bottoms up!" he refers to a shot of the steaming stuff everyone else is bathing in.

(According to a confidential source, patients switch right back to Scotch or the dry martini.)

Some claim they've discovered the Fountain of Youth in Baden. Others keep searching. Several even insist they've found the Fountain of Love. That's right, l-o-v-e. It's in the basement of the deluxe Limmathof, the spa hotel with a bath that's dedicated to romance. Years ago the proprietor explained that lovers never should be expected to bathe with others.

This lovers' natatorium features a jet that would knock the socks off the bather or whatever else he or she might be wearing. It's stimulating, to say the least. In addition, with a locked door, the Fountain of Love features loads of privacy.

At the Limmathof one can live like Prince Charlie or Princess Di for around $1,300 for an entire two weeks. Or there's a beauty package at the Staadhof and Verenahof hotels that leaves ladies with the impression they've just been crowned Miss World. For around $1,200 the guest is delivered by chauffeur-driven limousine from Zurich Airport to Baden for seven days and nights at either the Staadhof or the Verenahof. The package includes meals, underwater massages, mud packs, dips in a sauna, facials, cream packs and a face peel. Afterward there's a triumphant ride back to Zurich Airport with our lady feeling like Sophia Loren in her salad days.

Others dip in a public bath in the center of town, an enormous outdoor puddle that steams in winter while snow sparkles on tree branches surrounding the bathers.

Last year Baden's 2,000th anniversary was celebrated with song and symphony. Concerts are a daily ritual. After immersing themselves in the steaming waters, guests frequently are too weak to walk. Indeed, they're often speechless and limp. It is for this reason they are entertained both afternoon and evening with the works of Bach, Beethoven and other immortals of the world of classics.

One year an entire orchestra was imported from Rome, led by the director of Rome's Conservatory of Music who got so steamed up over the baths he returned for five consecutive seasons.

The idea is for Baden's vacationers to go home cultured as well as cured. As a result, they've been entertained by choirs from Germany and Israel, actors from Britain, divas and dancers. The other evening in Stadisch Trinkhalle a string quartet was grinding out the Vienna Waltz for an after-dinner crowd, the same group that features an 80-year-old violinist who's been mesmerizing Baden's bathers for 28 years.

The scene is a flashback to an opulent period in Baden's history when carriages rolled through the streets and ankle-length gowns were in fashion.

Funds to hire entertainers are obtained with a cure tax that's collected from guests. The bigger the cure, the bigger the gift. At least that's how it's supposed to work. This is where Walter Wenger, the 40-year-old director of Baden's tourist office, plays a role. For reasons that bewilder and amuse him, he's been placed in the position as Baden's impresario, a sophisticated raconteur who recruits all that talent.

When he took the job at the tourist office, Wenger was under the impression he would be punching out publicity releases on a computer. This he does, of course. But he's also swimming, as it were, in performers.

Who's next on Wenger's list? Leonard Bernstein? Zubin Mehta? "Anything is possible," says Wenger.

Some day perhaps Wenger will discover some popular new talent, become immensely wealthy and open his own Swiss bank account.

A gleam came into his eye as he told me once, "Then I could go out and buy my own spa, hire my own publicity man and just sit back and soak while somebody else had all the headaches."

Meanwhile, he continues to round up new talent. Requests pour in from artists everywhere. Not just musicians but poets, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, break-dancers, a yodeling team from Appenzell and a rock group from Manhattan.

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