Stretching from Karlsruhe in the north, down to the Swiss border in the south, this area of SouthWest Germany has attracted vacationers for well over a century. As for the name – that’s because from a distance, the trees in the Schwarzwald looked black – literally a Schwarz (black) wald (forest). But, this lovely region also includes orchards, meadows and farms, sparkling lakes and rushing streams. Best of all, this is the sunniest part of Germany!
Cities and villages in the Black Forest
Start with the cities. One of the most famous resorts in Europe is Baden-Baden. More than two thousand years ago, the Romans discovered the thermal springs that established the Black Forest as a spa destination. In the 19th and 20th centuries, royalty and nobility flocked here to “take the waters.” In fact, baden means bath or spa in German, and Baden-Baden’s hot mineral springs are known for soothing away the stresses of modern life. This elegant resort offers two thermal baths. Swim in the modern Caracalla Spa, with its indoor and outdoor pools; spend the afternoon at the traditional Roman-Irish Bath, the “Friedrichsbad,” that is one of Europe’s loveliest and most historic spa buildings.
Not surprisingly, there are luxury hotels, such as the legendary Brenners Park that has set the standard for grand hotels for over 135 years. Nowadays, as well as relaxing in the soothing waters, guests at Baden-Baden’s many five-star hotels can choose from a wide range of wellness treatments, from vinotherapy (using grapes) to Oriental massages.
But Baden-Baden is about more than just “taking the waters”. Think chic, one-of-a kind shops, elegant cafés for coffee and delicious cake, glorious parks, and manicured gardens. And the evenings are lively. Not only is the range of restaurants is amongst the best in Germany, there is live music virtually every night of the year. In fact, the “Festspielhaus” is Europe’s second largest concert and opera house. But that’s not all: if you are feeling lucky, head for what must be the world’s most beautiful casino.
Another fine base is Freiburg, the unofficial capital of the Black Forest and Germany's sunniest city. The old center is pedestrianized and the atmosphere is medieval, with cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings. Watch out for the “Bächle,” the tiny streams that flow beside the lanes. Legend has it that if you step in one, you will marry a local girl! Around the cathedral is a lively daily market where, in summer, stalls are piled high with locally-grown peaches, plums, and cherries. France and Switzerland are close by, and the French influence shows in the fine cuisine. It’s worth noting that many restaurants here, and throughout the Black Forest, serve delicious and varied vegetarian dishes based on fresh produce from nearby farms.
Known as the gateway to the Black Forest, Pforzheim has an even more intriguing nickname: the “City of Gold.” Despite its modern look, it has long been – and still is – an international center for jewelry and watch making. First stop for visitors has to be Schmuckwelten Pforzheim (Worlds of Jewelry). Under one roof, you can admire gemstones and piles of gold bars, see jewelry and watches being made, and then buy the perfect souvenir. Don’t miss the unique and stunning Pforzheim Jewelry Museum. This is one of the world’s great collections, with dazzling displays covering 5,000 years of superb artistry.
The Black Forest is also famous for its photogenic villages – and these offer the same high standards of accommodation and restaurants, deep in the countryside. Take Baiersbronn. This small community has a wide choice of family-oriented hotels, including the luxurious Hotel Bareiss and Hotel Traube-Tonbach. What’s more, Baiersbronn takes pride in its cuisine. Between them, Chefs Claus-Peter Lumpp, Torsten Michel and Jörg Sackmann have eight Michelin stars. Where else in the world can you eat so well – and in such beautiful surroundings?
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