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Germany> Highways of the Black Forest


A Karen Brown Recommended Itinerary

Highways of the Black Forest

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Without a doubt the Black Forest (named for its dense, dark forests) is one of Europe's most attractive holiday areas. Called the Schwarzwald in German, the Black Forest is a range of rolling hills 160 kilometers from north to south and 60 kilometers from east to west. Besides being famous for its vast tracts of thick pine forest, the region is popular for its cuckoo clocks, spa resorts offering cures with clean mountain air and healing mineral waters, endless hiking possibilities, cherry cakes (Schwarzwalder torte), pretty villages, and rolling green pastures dotted with farmhouses.

Recommended Pacing: If you are driving the region, you can explore the Black Forest at leisure by spending two nights based in the south (Freiburg, Staufen, Münstertal, Badenweiler, Hinterzarten, or Schluchsee) and one night at its heart (Triberg, Wolfach, or Oberwolfach), then traveling the Hochstrasse north to Baden-Baden. Here you will need one night to simply experience the city or two nights if you plan on visiting the baths or going to Baden-Baden's beautiful new opera house.

For those whose travels originated in France, the A5 parallels the border and there are numerous crossover points from Alsace. With a gorgeous setting at the base of the mountains, Freiburg is the capital of the Schwarzwald and makes for an appropriate beginning to this itinerary. The dark-green forests come right down within a block or two of this large city. Full of character, the pedestrian-only old center was founded in 1120 and is laden with numerous quaint buildings. On Münsterplatz (main square) you find the beautiful Münster Unserer Lieben Frau (cathedral) whose tall spires crest all vistas. Inside the cathedral 14th-century sculptures depict sin and temptation. The nave's gorgeous 14th-century stained glass was donated by the guilds and each window shows the emblem of the guild that donated it. Three very attractive buildings are found on the south side of the Münsterplatz: the Kaufhaus with its steep roof and pointed turrets, the Baroque Erzbischöfliches Palais (Archbishop's Palace), and the Haus zum Schönen Eck, which now houses the music academy. Here you also find the delightful Oberkirchs Weinstuben, a cozy wine tavern-hotel combination. Little streams run down each street between the cathedral and the Swabian gate: known as Bächle, these waterways are the city's trademark.

If you prefer a countryside setting, just to the south of Freiburg is a gorgeous, lush region of the Black Forest, reminiscent of the gentle foothills of Switzerland, and three towns that are convenient to Freiburg and would make an ideal base: Staufen, Münstertal, and Badenweiler. Small pedestrian bridges cross the narrow little waterways that trickle through the heart of Staufen. Crowned by the ruins of its castle, Staufen is a charming village whose pedestrian streets are lined with richly colored old houses.

It's a beautiful drive east from Staufen along a road that winds through a gorgeous valley to the tiny village of Münstertal.

Another area in the southern region of the Black Forest is just a half-hour drive travel-ing east from Freiburg along the scenic 31 (signposted Donauschingen). The 31 will bring you to Titisee but rather than taking the direct route, detour down scenic byways by leaving Freiburg following the white signposts depicting a gondola. Follow-ing the tram tracks to their terminus in the suburbs, the road narrows and climbs steeply as it weaves back and forth beneath the cable car that soars to the summit of the Schauinsland (mountain). Pause at the summit, catch your breath, and admire the view of Freiburg way below you and beyond it the plain stretching to the distant horizon. Traversing the high mountain meadow, you find the hamlet of Horsgrund nestled in a sheltered fold of the mountain. As you re-enter the forest, turn right (signposted Todtnau) and begin a 12-kilometer descent to the valley floor passing through the villages of Muggenbrun and Afterseg.

Turn left in Todtnau (signposted Donaueschingen) and follow this broader valley whose sides rise steeply into the dark forest. Climb through Brandenburg ever higher to crest the pass at the ski resort of Feldburg and travel down to the cool waters of the Titisee. Join the 31 in the direction of Freiburg and exit after Neustadt for Titisee (the resort with the same name), following signposts for parking and Ortmitte. The resort is invariably crowded with tourists and hiring a rowboat is a pleasant way to escape the throngs of visitors.

Regain the 31 going towards Freiburg and exit on the 500 for Triburg (this is also the exit you take if you have come directly from Freiburg). Detour into the village of Hinterzarten, a resort noted for its clean mountain air, where pretty little houses and hotels cluster round a grassy green (for specifics on hotels, see Hotel Descriptions). Walking paths that lead in every direction are replaced in winter by cross-country skiing trails. The 500 is an extremely scenic road passing through wide vistas of farmland with patches of dark-green forest. If the weather is clear, consider leaving the main road to take a particularly scenic loop to Furtwangen.

Leave the 500 at Thurner, turning left onto a country road for St. Margen (signposted Freiburg). Travel through a broad green valley with a sky-wide landscape of rolling hills speckled with farms and patchworked with dark-green woodlands. A ten-minute drive brings you to the center of the attractive village of St. Margen where you turn right (signposted Glotteral). Detour into St. Peter to visit Klosterkirche, the ornate Baroquechurch attached to the large abbey. Heading towards Waldkirch, the road twists and climbs to the summit of the Kandel, one of the few mountains whose summit offers a view of the surrounding countryside. Traveling through thick forest, the road twists and turns down to the small non-touristy town of Waldkirch and on to the adjacent town of Glotheral where you turn right for the much prettier village of Simonswald strung along the road as it winds up the narrow valley to Obersimonswald. You climb among the trees, high above the farms that are nestled, each in their grassy patch of pastureland, to Güttenbach, a small industrial town at the summit. From here the road drops steeply to Furtwangen, where you rejoin the 500.

Furtwangen is famous for its cuckoo clocks. Visit a full collection of them in the interesting Deutsches Uhrenmuseum (German Clock Museum), which presents the history of timekeeping. Besides the chirping birds, there are wristwatches and very modern timepieces. (9 am-5 pm, April to November 1st.)

Leaving Furtwangen, the 500 passes through some very pretty countryside and travels through Schönwald, where the cuckoo clock was born. Schönwald was the home of Franz Anton Ketterer who at the beginning of the 18th century thought of combining a clock with bellows. He incorporated a cuckoo carved in wood with a timepiece whose tiny bellows marked the hours with the notes of a cuckoo call. Records show that clocks were manufactured in the Black Forest as early as 1630, but when cuckoo clocks were invented, they became the rage. Today clockmaking remains a considerable industry for the region, and, although factories exist, the production of cuckoo clocks is sometimes still a home business with the whole family working on the intricately carved boxes and painted dials.

Triberg, located in the heart of the Black Forest just a few kilometers beyond Schönwald, is an attractive town and an ideal place to stay. The town has one main street comprised of clock shop after clock shop whose selection, variety, and competitive prices will amaze you. Just as you come into town, you find the very interesting Schwarzwaldmuseum (Black Forest Museum) with the bronze of a larger-than-life lady in traditional dress outside. Inside you get a good look at the costumes, carvings, clocks, and traditions of the region. (10 am-5 pm daily; open weekends only November 15 to December 15.) Above the town is the Gutach waterfall, which cascades over 160 meters (500 feet) through the forest.

Leaving Triberg, turn left at the end of town (signposted Hornburg) and follow the 33 through tunnels beside the rushing River Gutach to Hornburg. Continue on to Gutach, where just beyond the town you find the Schwarzwalder Freilichtermuseum (Black Forest Open-Air Museum), a complex of ancient farmhouses brought here from all over the Black Forest and set in a meadow beside the river to show what rural life was like in days gone by. All of the rustic rooms are furnished and you see not only little cottages but also grand mansions. Many of the homes are typical Black Forest Eindachof (one-roof farms) that come with family accommodation, bakery, granary, barn, workshops, and cattle trough all under one large thatched roof. Wander from house to lovely house and admire the rustic furnishings and old farm implements. By the entrance you find several touristy restaurants and nifty gift shops. (8:30 am-6 pm, April to October.)

Soon after leaving the museum, turn right on the 294 for the short drive to Wolfach, where just as you leave the main road (signposted Zentrum), you find the Glasshütte (glass museum) and  Kris Kringle Markt (Christmas Market), before going through the town wall onto the town's main street. Cross the river and follow signposts for Oberwolfach which brings you onto a pretty country road leading through a narrow valley dotted with farmhouses through Oberwolfach to the tiny charming hamlet of Oberwolfach-Walke. Follow the river up the valley past sawmills with their logs and plans stacked beside the road for the half-hour drive to Freudenstadt.

At the main road turn right if you want to tour the town of Freudenstadt, whose market square is the largest in Europe, or turn left (signposted Strasbourg), leaving the town behind as you climb into the forest and turn right onto the Schwarzwald Hochstrasse (Black Forest High Road). This very aptly named road travels along the crest of the hills through dense coniferous forest, winding back and forth, up and down through the trees with only occasional clearings offering glimpses of steep valleys of dark trees. Every time you come to a clearing, you find a resort hotel (often with food and trinket booths in its car park). A 68-kilometer drive brings you to Baden-Baden where you follow signposts for Zentrum, which bring you to Lichtentalerstrasse from where it is a short distance to the three hotels recommended in our Hotel Descriptions section.

Baden-Baden was the playground of Europe's rich and famous in the middle of the 19th century. Anyone who was anyone came to soak in the curative waters and gamble at the casino. Today it is an attractive town where everywhere you want to visit is located within a 15-minute walk (park your car for the duration of your stay). Promenade yourself down the famous Lichtentaler Allee, strolling along a pleasant lane through the park that runs beside the river from the casino. Baden-Baden's nightlife centers on the Kurhaus set amidst parklike gardens beside the swiftly flowing Oosbach river. Here you find a restaurant, café, ballroom, and casino (take your passport to register: you must be over 21, must not be wearing tennis shoes, and men must wear jackets and ties). Even if you do not gamble, it is fun to tour the casino. Across the river from the casino lies the pedestrian old town full of cobbled streets lined with delightful shops.

Another great draw to this cosmopolitan city is Baden-Baden's beautiful new opera house. All of Germany takes great pride in and is quite boastful of its opera house and rightly so as it is the largest in Europe and the fourth-largest in the world. A local family, the Rademachers, who also own two of our favorite hotels, have been quite supportive of the new cultural center and have secured the best seats for every performance. Tickets are available to guests who stay at either the Romantik Hotel Der Kleine Prinz or the Belle Époque.

The highlight of a visit to Baden-Baden is taking the kur, partaking of the curative waters. Pluck up your courage and opt for the Friedrichsbad (Roman-Irish Bath), a two-hour ritual involving a complex routine which is explained in the blue English instruction sheet that you pick up as you purchase your ticket (it's well worth the extra small charge to include the soap-and-brush massage). Up the stairs (men one side, women the other), insert your ticket to gain admission, put your clothes in the basket, put your card in the locker to get a key, walk self-consciously to the showers, grab a towel, don slippers, and follow the numbers (and English explanation) on the walls. Relax in a hot room for 20 minutes, followed by an even hotter steam room (remember to lie on your towel-it's that hot); inhale steam from the curative waters; forget your modesty as you enter the pool (station 9)-it's men and women mixed (this came as quite a surprise); enjoy an invigorating massage; suffer a cold plunge; and finish with a relaxing rest wrapped in a warm towel beneath a blanket in a dimly lit room. (9 am-10 pm, 2-10 pm, Sunday, last entry 7 pm.)

The adjacent Caracalla Therme offers a water experience with bathing suit. Pick up the English sheet as you buy your card, put the card in a locker to get a key, and set off to enjoy an indoor-outdoor water wonderland of pools, waterfalls, showers, saunas, tanning lights, cold plunges, and sunbathing. (8 am-10 pm, last entry 8 pm.)

Closed to traffic, Baden-Baden's Old Town, nestled below the collegiate church, is a wonderful place for shopping. The stores display their elegant wares artistically, competing with the smells from the nearby pastry shops that summon you to an afternoon tea break. Baden-Baden is also a sportsman's paradise-golf, riding, tennis, fishing, and hiking are all available in the vicinity. Race week is held each year in August when Baden-Baden becomes a sophisticated meeting place for the wealthy "horsey set." One of the town's traditional attractions is the Merkur Mountain Railway. Built in 1913, it reopened after repairs in the spring of 1979, and you can now travel up the incline and enjoy sweeping vistas from the observation tower at its summit.

Leaving Baden-Baden, you can take the autobahn to Heidelberg (to join The Romantic Road & the Neckar Valley, 1 hour), the Frankfurt airport (2½ hours), or join the Castles of the Rhine & Mosel just outside Wiesbaden (3 hours).

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A Few Nearby Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts:   List Them All

A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Hotel Le Columbier
Colmar, Alsace, France
A Karen Brown Recommended Hotel / Inn Hostellerie des Seigneurs de Ribeaupierre
Ribeauvillé, Alsace, France
€ 155
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery La Haute Grange
Freland, Alsace, France
€ 100-140
A Karen Brown Reader Discovery Ketschauer Hof
Deidesheim, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany
€ 190-250
A Schlosshotels & Herrenhäuser Property Das Lamm Heidelberg
Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
€ 158

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[ icon ] Stuttgart Tourist-Information i-Punkt
Stuttgart, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
Tourist Offices
[ icon ] Lucerne Tourist Office
Lucerne, Lucerne, Switzerland
Tourist Offices
[ icon ]
Baden-Baden, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
Tourist Offices
[ icon ] Triberg Tourist Information
Triberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
Tourist Offices
[ icon ] „i-Punkt“ at the B500
Baden-Baden, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
Tourist Offices

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[ icon ] Bergheim
Alsace, France
[ icon ] Kaysersberg
Alsace, France
[ icon ] Hunawihr
Alsace, France
[ icon ] Wolfach
Baden-Württemberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
[ icon ] Schönwald
Baden-Württemberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany

A Few Nearby Restaurants:   List Them All

[ icon ] Restaurant Schwarzer Hahn
Deidesheim, Rhineland Palatinate, Germany
German Cuisine
[ icon ] Nagasui, A Taste of Asia
Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Asian Cuisine
[ icon ] Oberkirch’s Weinstuben
Freiburg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
German Cuisine
[ icon ] Gasthaus Backmulde
Heidelberg, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany
German Cuisine
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  Switzerland - Geneva to Zurich via Medieval Jewels

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