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Where biking becomes part of the Kur

“Why is there no Black Forest in South London?” Good question.

This heartfelt exclamation coming from a native South Londoner behind me while cycling on a sunny spring day in the northern part of the Black Forest near the spa resort of Bad Wildbad makes a strange kind of sense: blue skies above, lush green around you, clean air in your lungs, it is the sort of enjoyable experience that lingers on in the mind long after returning to London’s dust and grime.

Bad Wildbad, around 40 miles from Stuttgart, is perhaps best known for its stunning bath complex, the Palais Thermal, built in the 19th century in Moorish style and sometimes called ‘Germany’s Alhambra’, In recent years it has diversified into a range of saunas in addition to the original thermal water pools, but our bikes are evidence of the spa’s need to branch out even further.

Our seven-mile trip from the Sommerberg plateau, some 300 metres above Bad Wildbad’s Enztal valley, to nearby Kaltenbronn, proves to be particularly therapeutic, since we’re talking about e-bikes here. Bad Wildbad has, like so many other destinations in Germany, jumped on the electrical bikes wagon. After starting out at the end of 2009 with six bikes, visitors can currently rent from a selection of twelve with eight more on the way. The success is not just down to the general interest of cyclists tackling the Black Forest ups and downs whilst aided by a small engine.  Many users, so the local tourist office says, book a ride to decide if they might want to invest in an e-bike themselves. And at €9 for half a day and €16 for the entire day this is indeed a sensible option.

Initially sceptical about the e-bike craze in Germany, and as someone who likes to think their muscle power is still up to the task, I found the engine support rather pleasant, if not entirely necessary. The bikes let you choose from three levels and on level one there’s still enough cycling to be done by yourself while getting just that little bit of extra push for the hills.

There are good reasons for the emergence of e-bikes in Bad Wildbad. As a Kurbad, i.e. a spa resort in the German sense of the word with local mineral or thermal springs, it has traditionally attracted visitors since the 19th century. Germans take the power of healing waters very seriously, and in Bad Wildbad the water is known to improve and cure ailments of the neuromuscular system and rheumatism.  However, times are changing and the famously generous German health system that paid for Kuren is withdrawing its support. Being prescribed a Kur by your doctor (for which you didn’t necessarily have to be ill, prevention will do) is becoming less likely, and as a consequence communities like Bad Wildbad need to find other ways of attracting visitors.

Apart from the e-bikes initiative, the local tourist board has just set up ‘Geocaching’ together with two neighbouring communities. This treasure 21st century treasure hunt is carried out with a GPS device and its six different geocaching routes in the area are aimed at a younger visitor group.

As for us, we were very satisfied with our power-assisted bike trail, especially when it came to the stopover at the Grünhütte hut for some absolutely delicious (and gigantic!) pancakes with blueberries, enjoyed in the sunshine outside and located without the need for any GPS. Quality will always shine through.

For pictures of e-biking in Bad Wildbad, the Palais Thermal and – the pancake, click here.

Further information on Bad Wildbad

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