Cast aside decades ago, a Baltic Sea resort 130 miles north of Berlin is a white elephant no more
Heiligendamm, Germany's first beachfront resort, was born in 1793, when the Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin was ordered by his doctor to take the waters. In the inevitable building boom that followed, 26 snow-white bathhouses and villas—ranging in style from Tudor to classical, with many designed by top German architects—went up overlooking the Baltic like a string of pearls, earning Heiligendamm the nickname "the white town by the sea." It was an exclusive locale, playing host to European royalty and aristocracy; its heyday lasted well into the 1930's, with contemporary luminaries such as Rainer Maria Rilke coming for a restorative holiday.
After World War II, Communists in East Germany converted the resort into a sanatorium. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Heiligendamm was in dire need of repair. In 2000, the Fundus Group, the developers behind the renovation of Berlin's beloved Hotel Adlon, swooped in; after three years and more than $220 million, five of the buildings reopened last summer as the Kempinski Grand Hotel Heiligendamm, with 225 spare yet luxurious rooms, many in muted greens and blues to mirror the surroundings. A number of the palatial white edifices still sit vacant, however. In the works for the next decade are another hotel (tentatively named Adlon by the Sea) and an ayurveda center. For now, travelers seeking a healing experience can visit the hotel's 32,000-square-foot spa—a link to the 18th century that's rooted firmly in the 21st. Heiligendamm; 800/426-3135 or 49-38203/7400; www.grandhotel-heiligendamm.de; doubles from $350.