More than just cake and cuckoo clocks: there are plenty of other reasons for coming to the Black Forest.
It is a bit of a misnomer, the Black Forest, because it is neither black, even barely dark green, and not a lot of it is forest, at least compared to how it used to be. It’s a region of relatively low-lying, low-slung tree-covered mountains which gets a fair bit of snow in winter, and a fair bit of sun in summer. Its topography means that it has managed to avoid over-industrialisation, and to keep its crafts, costumes and traditions relatively intact, in part helped to do so by the tourist market.
It covers a mountainous part of Baden-Württenberg 200km long and 60km wide which runs close to the borders with France and Switzerland (and is therefore particularly attractive tourist destination for the Swiss and the French, too). The Romans were the first to refer to the region’s then dark and dense forest as ‘Silva Nigra’ (black forest), although deforestation, agriculture and mild urbanisation have thinned out the woods a lot since.
Famous for ham, for gateau, and for cuckoo clocks
The northern part, south of the spa resort of Baden-Baden, consists of high plateaus (usually between 800 and 1,000 metres), while the highest mountains are in the southern part, rising to the Feldberg at 1,493 metres. There are mineral spas and lakes regularly distributed at various levels, of which the most popular is the attractive-sounding Lake Titisee.
Famous for ham, for gateau, and for cuckoo clocks, it’s a region of striking scenery where the farmhouses are very handsomely maintained, villages are splendidly neat, old and clean, and traditional costumes are widely displayed. There’s a bit of skiing in winter, and lots of excellent driving, walking or hiking trails in the hills during spring and summer. Most trails are well supplied with places to rest and refresh, all in the name of good health. So what’s not to like? Well, some Germanophiles find it simply too popular, because the Black Forest is the British coach tour destination par excellence.
It is easy enough to avoid the crowds. Most tours schedule some of their journey along the Black Forest High Road (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse), which runs between Baden-Baden in the north and Freudenstadt in the south. There are magnificent views of the Black Forest valleys, the Rhine Valley and Alsace and the Vosges Mountains along the entire route.
But you can get equally good views on foot, for the region is criss-crossed by well-signposted trails that allow walkers to reach areas and vistas often inaccessible by car, including castle ruins and waterfalls. Of the long-distance hiking trails, the most celebrated is the Westweg, running the length of the forest from Pforzheim to Basel via Mummelsee, Hausach, Titisee and Feldbach. It covers 280km, and makes for a fine fortnight’s walk for a moderately fit person.
If you’d rather have your forest free of Brits, however, then consider the Bavarian Forest, which is almost as big, and in the same climactic zone, but this time over on Germany’s eastern border, next to the Czech Republic.
For airline tickets to Black Forest gateways (ie Stuttgart, Freiburg, Strasbourg, Basel) go to www.flighthub.com