An immensity of vegetation surrounded by magical mountains
in the southwest corner of Germany, a gateway to Central
European history and legends… the Black Forest is all
of these things.
The Danube flows at its head and the Rhine babbles at its
feet, all set in a natural splendor that is veined by 3000
km of trails that climb over jagged mountains and between
majestic trees. This area forms one of the most beautiful
landscapes on the Old Continent.
With sectors that can be followed on foot, by mountain
bike, or in boats on its rivers and lakes, the Black Forest
is a true paradise for outdoorsmen and women. Although excellent
German routes also allow for the pleasure of exploring the
Black Forest by car, a more picturesque choice would be
to see it all by train, an option made simple with either
a Eurailpass, or the special “Black Forest Ticket.”
Travelling on the Nostalgic Train (the “Sauschwanzlebahn”),
constructed in 1887, is an unforgettable experience. It
departs from the city of Blumberg near the Swiss border,
and powered by its steam engine, takes visitors over bridges
so narrow and through curves so breathtaking that the scenery
seems to have been taken from the pages of a fairy-tale.
Cities and Clocks
Beginning in the east of this area, the 200km long trail
of spectacular scenery constituting “the Route of the Clocks”
is highly recommended in order to discover more about this
most German of traditions.
There are several museums that have recorded the history
of clock making, an industry that still thrives here. Since
the creation of the first wooden clock in the shape of a
scale, made in 1667, this zone has seen various changes
in the technology and fashion of timepieces, from the trumpet
clock to square-faced and double-bell clocks, right up to
modern quartz timepieces.
Resplendent with a landscape that recalls myths and legends,
this area is dotted with impressive castles and forts. The
Villigen is distinguished for its well-preserved state,
and KongÃ¯Â¿Â½sfeld is known as the little place with the “enchanted
forest” that sheltered the philanthropist Alfred Schweitzer
upon his return from Africa.
Arriving to Freiberg, numerous businesses selling enormous
clocks border the route, indicating, without a doubt, that
this is the birthplace of the famous cuckoo clock.
A natural highlight marks this area as well. The cascades
of the Gutach River, which, tumbling 162m over seven steps,
are the highest in all of Germany.
The typical and traditional architecture of the Black Forest
is a type of log-house construction, in which wooden beams
are placed symmetrically, and are sometimes painted.
Fine examples of this technique are found in the city of
Schiltach, at the end of the “Route of the Clocks.” This
antique centre of balsam wood constructions boasts a triangular
central plaza, constructed in two tiers, and is in itself
a work of art.
It is worth paying a visit to the pharmacy – museum in
front of this, which has preserved its original scales,
flasks and mortars over the past 150 years.
In the centre-northern area, we begin to descend west to
Freiburg. At this leg of the trip, the museum of diamonds
and jewels in Pforzheim, the famous casino, the theatre
and the ruins of the Roman baths in Baden-Baden are all
sights that should be seen, and in the town of Rottweil,
picturesque facades face the streets in a warm welcome to
tourists who come for its Carnival.
Acting as the “Capital of the Black Forest,” Freiburg (founded
in 1120) is the city that enjoys more sun and warm weather
than any other city in Germany.
With an urban epicentre flanked by two medieval entrances,
it is also the site of many historical buildings, including
a Cathedral that, with its 116m tall tower, is said to be
“the most beautiful in Christianity.”
Freiburg is also quite a cultured city, and has produced
no less than nine Nobel Prize winners.
The tradition of Carnival The Black Forest and its “Alemanniesche
Fasnet” are synonymous, and each February, each corner of
the place celebrates in its unique way.
The common denominators are parades and processions, in
which the majority of the population participates, wearing
bright colours and outrageous make-up. The “narro” is the
principal figure and his expensive disguise consists of
a painted suit, a wooden mask, and heavy bells crossing
his chest, which are rung by his twists and turns. Other
typical characters extracted from the oldest of German myths
are the witches and gnomes of the woods.
All of these wonderful costumes can be seen outside of
Carnival season in the Carnival museums in Gengebach and
Bad DÃ¯Â¿Â½rrheim. These two cities also offer much more: the
former offers great wines, and the latter boasts thermal
baths complete with saunas and solariums.
In the heart of the Black Forest, felt hats are still the
characteristic garb of this part of Germany. Tucked into
the valley of the Gutach River, this region is perhaps the
most representative of Black Forest tradition.
Here, in the “Vogtsbauernhol”, the small village acts as
an open-air museum, showing straw weavers and roof-shinglers
in action. The nearby constructions of beehives, bread-making
ovens, carpentry shops and stables also reflect the oldest
roots of German culture.
By train, it is possible to continue southward through
tunnels and past marvelous scenery before reaching Hornberg.
This little town possesses a castle with an interesting
The Duke of Wutemberg was about to visit, and the authorities
prepared to receive him with cannon fire to announce his
arrival. An official was put in charge of giving the signal
to shoot, and after giving various false alarms, several
shots were wasted. When the Duke finally arrived, the soldiers
had used all of their ammunition and were thus reduced to
having to make the “boom” of cannon fire with their own
voices. The Duke was so amused by this ridiculous attempt,
he burst out laughing, even more so when the reasons behind
it were explained.
This story has become part of the folklore of the region,
and is acted out on the grounds of this very castle every
Skiing in Winter
In the nearby valley between Schonach and Schonwald, varied
flora, wide plains and pronounced hills form the perfect
scene for outdoor activities in winter. Lush with commodities
and more than one hundred well-marked skiing trails (some
illuminated at night), its attractions are impossible for
sports buffs to resist.
The best place to alpine ski is in Feldberg, located 1493m
above the Black Forest. The neighbouring lake of Schluchesee
is more suited to summer activities like riding and mountain
biking. Close by, Lake Titisse is popular for swimming and
holds a musical festival and other forms of entertainment.
To top it off, this region developed a program 25 years
ago that is still very popular, which takes visitors through
the area by horseback, while their luggage is taken ahead
to the hotel, allowing for a day of riding without the burden
of carrying extra weight.
The Furstenberg Castle (1772) is found in Donaueschingen,
east of Feldberg, where the Brigach and Breg rivers meet
and give birth to the Danube, Europe’s longest river.
This witness to time’s passing can be visited, with its
delicate furniture and numerous art works, from April to
With old-growth trees and many creeks, this area is also
home to one of the most visited sites in the Black Forest:
the famous round fountain placed at the mouth of the Danube.
This picturesque location, enveloped by rich vegetation,
seems to symbolize the Germanic spirit of the Black Forest-a
spirit made beautiful through its traditions, people and
the mysteries of the woods.
In addition to its marvelous natural and cultural characteristics,
the Black Forest also offers rich delicacies for the palate.
Its wild blueberry jams and smoked hams accompanied by
warm pumpernickel are as famous as its game meats from the
forest, like deer or boar with SpÃ¯Â¿Â½tzile. Tiny gnocchi from
the zone are wonderful when served with fresh trout caught
from the creek behind the restaurant that serves it, poached
with parsley or pan fried with almonds and butter.
For dessert, a typical “Black Forest cake” with cherries,
chocolate, a touch of alcohol and loaded with cream is a
must. At the end of it all, nibbling on a few cherries and
plums is recommended to aid digestion.