There are a few regions in Germany that look as if they are right out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The Black Forest (Schwarzwald in German) is one of them. Every time I hike one of the many forest trails under the dense canopy of mostly spruce trees, so dense that sunlight often does not reach the forest floor, I expect one of the seven dwarfs to jump out from behind a tree, or to see Hansel and Gretel crossing my path in search of their way back.
Being a fan of history, legends, and tales, I love the Black Forest not only because of the enticing nature but also the many quaint villages with half-timbered houses, the cuckoo clocks, the legendary chocolate cake, and the elegance of the spa town Baden-Baden. Talking about fairy tales: Don’t miss a visit to magic Freiburg.
The Black Forest is located in Baden Wuerttemberg in southwest Germany. The entire 2,320-square-mile area, comprising mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and valleys with vineyards is a nature park. If you travel by car, the best route to get around is the Black Forest High Road. The nearest international airports are Zurich in Switzerland and Stuttgart. There are also many rail lines, some historical or themed.
Where ever you make your starting point in the Black Forest, you will soon be hooked by the beauty and mystery, which luckily persists despite it being a vastly popular tourist destination. You’ll find your special little spot; just get off the beaten path and look closely. You might still meet a gnome or wood spirit.
1. Explore Titisee, The Black Forest’s Highest Lake
Located in the southern Black Forest, the Titisee covers an area of 320 acres and lies at an altitude of 2,772 feet. Having been formed by the Feldberg Glacier, the lake has unusually clear — and rather cold — water. But it’s also in one of Germany’s sunniest regions, so swimming in the summer is refreshing. In about 90 minutes, you can walk around the entire lake and see it from all angles. For experiences on the water, just rent a boat and paddle along.
Titisee-Neustadt is a lovely town which you should make your starting point for your Titisee trip. You can rent your boat here or stroll along the Seepromenade where you can get your first impressions of cuckoo clocks or the tasty Black Forest ham.
Why not have a spot of pampering in some of the day spas dotted around the lake? The most lavish is no doubt Badeparadies Schwarzwald (which is temporarily closed due to the pandemic).
The Black Forest is an attractive destination all year round. Should you happen to visit in winter, you can watch a thrill at Titisee. Daredevils jump off Hochfirstschanze, a natural ski jump, just for fun! Don’t even think about it. Stick to more moderate skiing if you wish. There is plenty of opportunity around Titisee.
2. Indulge In Belle Epoque Glamour In Baden-Baden
Just over half an hour from Karlsruhe you enter another world in Baden-Baden. Already appreciated and used by the Romans because of its healing waters and beautiful landscape and woods, Baden-Baden became Europe’s most fashionable spa in the 19th century. Luxury hotels, expensive mansions, concert halls, baths, and a casino, which is not unlike the one in Monte Carlo, sprang up to accommodate the tastes of affluent visitors.
Such luxury and splendor are still in evidence for you to enjoy today. Stroll along the Lichtentaler Allee, which is not a street but an arboretum and park. Marvel at the jeweled Easter Eggs at the Faberge Museum. Listen to a concert in the Festspielhaus and “take the water,” as they used to say, in the Kurhaus. If you fancy a spin of the wheel, why not try your luck at roulette in the casino? And finally, of course, a visit to the Caracalla Spa. The name reflects the area’s Roman past. You can also drive around in horse-drawn carriages. In short, a visit to Baden-Baden evokes the fairy tale atmosphere of times gone by.
3. Marvel At The World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock In Triberg
Triberg is located in the Central Black Forest not far from Offenburg. The town is famous for two things: Germany’s highest waterfall with seven cascades, the House of 1000 Clocks, and the world’s largest cuckoo clock. The constant chirping and chiming is a sound you’ll hear nowhere else in the world, as the clocks are all set on different times.
Cuckoo clocks have been handcrafted in the Black Forest since the 1700s and are known for their precision and craftsmanship. The world’s largest cuckoo clock is not a part of the House of 1000 Clocks but takes up an entire house on its own. It stands in Schonachbach/Triberg and took masters Ewald and Ralf Eble five years to make. It’s crafted of wood and hand-painted and of such gigantic proportions that you can walk in it. The cuckoo calls every half hour.
At the House of 1000 Clocks, you can enjoy a guided tour to learn all about the tradition and history. There are actually more than 1,000 clocks of all sizes in this unique shop/museum. If you decide to buy a clock, it will be shipped to you anywhere in the world.
4. Hike The Triberg Waterfall
Whilst in Triberg and after (or before) you have admired the cuckoo clocks, hike one of Germany’s highest waterfalls. Above the town, the River Gutach cascades down 535 feet in seven roaring cascades. Access to the main entrance is via an easy walk from town. There are three special trails: the Naturweg, Kuliturweg, and Kaskadenweg. Stroll through the rich woods and laugh at the antics of the many squirrels. It’s a magic sight at night when the cascades are illuminated until 10 p.m. and in winter when snow and ice form natural sculptures.
Another surprise: If you happen to have a cold or suffer from bronchitis, the ionization caused by the crashing water can bring you relief.
5. Ride The Summer Toboggan In Gutach
Super fun for the whole family is to be had riding the summer toboggan in Gutach. Bobs for up to three people run down a 0.7-mile-long grass trail which includes jumps and tunnels. Shrieks and shouts included.
Gutach is a small village in the Gutach valley near St. Georgen. Apart from the toboggan, another highlight is the open-air museum, which features Black Forest traditions, a typical farmhouse, and animals. Combine the two for a great day out.
6. Try Your Hand At Glassblowing
Maybe you have already admired the ancient craft of glassblowing in other parts of the world, but have you ever dared trying your hand (or rather, your mouth) yourself? You have this unique opportunity at the Dorotheenhuette in Wolfach, the last working glassblowers in the Black Forest. Not only can you watch the glassblowers and engravers at work, but there is also a glass museum and an exhibition and shop of the most exquisite decorations and glass tableware. It’s Christmas all year round.
Wolfach is a small village some 30 miles southeast of Offenburg located on the confluence of the rivers Wolf and Kinzig. The town center is car-free, which makes walking around comfortable. Apart from the Glasshuette, there is the Fuerstenberg castle and shops that manufacture and sell traditional Bollenhut hats for unmarried women, which are topped with big, red pompons.
7. Explore The Upper Danube Nature Park
Even a river as mighty as the Danube flows through some narrower stretches and can seem to disappear underground. The Upper Danube Nature Park is one such place where the Danube gets smaller and even “disappears.” Opened in 1980, the vast park in the south of the Black Forest is formed by rugged limestone cliffs dating from the Jurassic period. Between Immendingen and Tuttlingen, the water flows through the limestone underground whilst the riverbed itself remains mostly dry for 200 days a year. With 617 square miles of mixed woodland and the Alp plateau, the nature park is home to some rare flora and fauna. The lynx has been an inhabitant for a long time.
You have a unique opportunity to explore the park with a native during a 2.5-hour tour.
On the upper cliffs above the river valley, stand some fabulous castles, most notably Sigmaringen. The home castle of the Hohenzollern royal family stands atop a 115-foot chalk cliff in the Swabian Alps and reflects 1,000 years of history.
The entrance to the nature park lies in Beuron, which is dominated by the St. Martin Abbey, founded in 1077 as an Augustinian monastery.
If you want to explore the nature park without a guide, there are plenty of trails to follow, and you can also kayak. The walks are easy but may not be suitable for those with limited mobility. The nature park is best visited from spring to fall.
Food is always important on any trip, and the Black Forest has particularly delicious choices to offer. You may have heard of the Black Forest Gateau, a layered chocolate and cream concoction for visitors with a sweet tooth. The long matured ham is another delicacy as is grilled spicy sausage, a “native” to Freiburg, as is honey. Digestion is helped by a great variety of potent fruit schnapps, the most famous being Zwetschgenschnaps, which is made from plums.