The Black Forest

Black Forest panorama

The Schwarzwald or Black For­est is known inter­na­tion­al­ly for its nat­ur­al beau­ty and out­door recre­ation. Hik­ing and bik­ing trails weave through the for­est to qui­et vil­lages and amaz­ing panora­mas. Tra­di­tion­al hand­i­craft such as cuck­oo clock con­struc­tion and glass­blow­ing are prac­ticed there to this day. Deli­cious local spe­cial­ties like Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black For­est cher­ry cake), cher­ry schnapps, and Black For­est ham are export­ed inter­na­tion­al­ly but always taste bet­ter local­ly. Although you can vis­it year-round, the best time to enjoy the beau­ti­ful land­scapes is from May to Sep­tem­ber or for win­ter sports and activ­i­ties from Decem­ber to Feb­ru­ary.

Geography

The Black For­est is a sub-Alpine moun­tain­ous region in south­west­ern Ger­many. The region gets its name from the den­si­ty of the for­est block­ing much of the day­light – when the Romans first arrived, they called it “Sil­va nigra.”

It is an area about 120 km (75 mi) long and 60 km (37 mi) wide with two dis­tinct parts char­ac­ter­ized by dif­fer­ent weath­er pat­terns. The North is cov­ered with dense forests thanks to high lev­els of rain, but it is also exposed to west­ern winds. The ter­rain is char­ac­ter­ized by steep changes in ele­va­tion and nar­row val­leys. The South is high­er on aver­age, but it has gen­tler slopes and is shel­tered by the Vos­ges (a low moun­tain range along the bor­der with France), which makes it dri­er.

In com­par­i­son to oth­er places in Ger­many, the Black For­est has much low­er pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty. As you explore the region, you will find most­ly small towns and vil­lages or even just farm­hous­es stand­ing alone.

Getting There

From Stuttgart, it is easy to reach the Black For­est by car using the sur­round­ing high­ways: the A8 (Stuttgart-Karl­sruhe), A81 (Stuttgart-Sin­gen) and A5 (Karl­sruhe-Basel). Have a look at this map.

Alter­na­tive­ly, it is pos­si­ble to vis­it the Black For­est using pub­lic trans­porta­tion. The whole region has quite a good rail­way net­work and bus con­nec­tions. Bikes and dogs are usu­al­ly per­mit­ted on the trains, and some bus­es even have trail­ers for bikes. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the more touristy an area, the bet­ter the pub­lic trans­port is. Some of the rail­way routes are also very inter­est­ing and scenic.

Most local hotels or hol­i­day apart­ments offer their guests the KONUS Guest Card which allows you to ride region­al trains and bus­es for free.

Culture

Traditional Dress

The Bol­len­hut has become a trade­mark of the Black For­est in the same way the Dirndl and Leder­hose rep­re­sent Bavaria, although this strange wide straw hat with red or black pom-poms (depend­ing on the rela­tion­ship sta­tus of the woman) has been part of the tra­di­tion­al cos­tume of only three com­mu­ni­ties in the Cen­tral Black For­est. You can find them at many sou­venir shops. The region oth­er­wise has a great vari­ety of tra­di­tion­al out­fits, because each com­mu­ni­ty had their own unique way of dress­ing. You can see exam­ples in the Schwarzwald­mu­se­um (Black For­est Muse­um) in Triberg.

Historical farm life

The open-air muse­um Schwarzwälder Freilicht­mu­se­um Vogts­bauern­hof intends to give vis­i­tors a his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence of how peo­ple used to live in the Black For­est. It was found­ed in 1964 with the restora­tion of the orig­i­nal farm­stead. Since then, many orig­i­nal struc­tures have been trans­port­ed and recon­struct­ed there, includ­ing mills, store­hous­es, a day laborer’s cot­tage, and a chapel. The build­ings are dec­o­rat­ed, fur­nished, and equipped with authen­tic his­tor­i­cal items from the 16th through 19th cen­turies. Bet­ter yet, crafts­peo­ple in peri­od attire give demon­stra­tions, and in the sum­mer you can eat a local meal pre­pared at the cook­ing demon­stra­tion.

Close to the muse­um there is a 1‑km long moun­tain tobog­gan run which takes you on an excit­ing ride down the moun­tains, around bends and through tun­nels. There are also a num­ber of inter­est­ing hik­ing trails near­by.

Cuckoo Clocks (Kuckucksuhr)

These clocks are famous the world over, and they got their start in the Black For­est. You can buy all kinds of designs from local man­u­fac­tur­ers, from very tra­di­tion­al house designs to more mod­ern looks. Con­sid­er vis­it­ing Rom­bach & Haas, whose clock-mak­ing his­to­ry goes back 120 years.

The town of Schonach fea­tures one of the cuck­oo clocks that has been award­ed “World’s Largest” by the Guin­ness Book of World Records. It’s 50 times larg­er than a tra­di­tion­al clock and you can even walk inside to see the gears at work.

The Deutsches Uhren­mu­se­um (Ger­man Clock Muse­um) got start­ed more than 150 years ago as part of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Furt­wan­gen, which orig­i­nal­ly offered cours­es in clock­mak­ing. Today it’s an IT school, but the muse­um is still pop­u­lar. It fea­tures more than 8,000 authen­tic Ger­man cuck­oo clocks. Many of them are still func­tion­ing and delight view­ers when they strike the hour.

Glass-blowing

Mouth-blown glass has been an arti­sanal craft in the Black For­est for more than 1,000 years. Today only two glass­works remains open: Dorotheen­hütte in the town of Wol­fach and Glas­man­u­fak­tur Hofgut Ster­nen in Bre­it­nau. There you can vis­it the work­shops to learn about the glass­mak­ing process. You can actu­al­ly see the glass­grinders and glass­blow­ers at work.

At the Dorotheen­hütte, every vis­i­tor has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to blow their own glass vase (with pro­fes­sion­al assis­tance). They also have a muse­um on the his­to­ry of glass­mak­ing. It includes an exhib­it of glass more than 2,000 years old, as well as exhibits on mod­ern uses of glass. There is also an out­let store sell­ing pieces with slight (often near­ly inde­tectable) flaws, plus a ded­i­cat­ed Christ­mas shop full of beau­ti­ful­ly fes­tive dec­o­ra­tions.

Mining

The Muse­ums-Berg­w­erk Schauins­land (Min­ing Muse­um of Schauins­land), not far from Freiburg, offers an under­ground expe­ri­ence of three min­ing peri­ods. The Black For­est was a source of sil­ver as well as some oth­er met­als includ­ing iron, cop­per, and lead. Depend­ing on how much you want to learn about met­al ore min­ing and the his­to­ry of min­ing tech­nol­o­gy, you can choose guid­ed tours rang­ing from 45 min­utes to two and a half hours. The reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled tours are in Ger­man, but Eng­lish leaflets are avail­able and groups can book tours in advance in Eng­lish. You can also find infor­ma­tion about mines (no longer in pro­duc­tion) that are open to the pub­lic.

Food and Drink

Cake and Brandy

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black For­est cher­ry cake) is a deca­dent cake that tastes as good as it looks. Choco­late sponge cake is lay­ered in tiers with whipped cream and cher­ries between, doused in Kirschwass­er (cher­ry brandy), then topped with addi­tion­al cream, cher­ries, and choco­late shav­ings on top. The col­or­less, dou­ble-dis­tilled cher­ry brandy is also offered in restau­rants in a small shot after a nice din­ner and is sold in dec­o­ra­tive bot­tles as gifts. The foothills in the west and south are per­fect­ly suit­ed for orchards, which cul­ti­vate not only cher­ries but also plums, apples, and pears.

Ham

Black For­est ham is a bone­less ham, salt­ed and sea­soned with a vari­ety of spices includ­ing pep­per, gar­lic, corian­der, and juniper berries. It is dry cured, cold smoked till it achieves its dis­tinc­tive near­ly black col­or on the out­side, and final­ly air cured once again. If you’ve had Black For­est ham in the USA, you might nev­er have had the real thing – the pro­tect­ed des­ig­na­tion is not respect­ed in the States. Con­sid­er vis­it­ing the Black For­est Ham Muse­um in the Feld­berg Tow­er, open from May to Octo­ber.

Wine

Germany’s third largest wine region extends into the west­ern foothills of the Black For­est. The wine is sold every­where in local restau­rants. Wine lovers can trav­el the Badis­che Wein­straße (Baden Wine Street), a 160-km (100-mi) long tourist route con­nect­ing Baden-Baden and Weil am Rhein and ded­i­cat­ed to wine. You can taste wine and sim­ple local food at so-called ”Straußen­wirtschaft” or “Besen,” sim­ple wine tav­erns which are oper­at­ed by the wine grow­er and opened only for a few weeks in spring and autumn. In autumn there are many wine fes­ti­vals in the region. Müller-Thur­gau, Graubur­gun­der and Gut­edel are typ­i­cal white wines in the Black For­est, and Spät­bur­gun­der, Schwarzries­ling and Dorn­felder are com­mon reds.

Rothaus Brewery Black Forest

Beer

Of course the Black For­est has its own brew­eries. Among oth­ers, two well-known brew­eries are the Rothaus Brew­ery – Germany’s only state-owned brew­ery – with its beer “Tan­nen­zäpfle” in the south and the Alpirs­bach­er Brew­ery – found­ed by monks – in Alpirs­bach in the cen­tral Black For­est. Both brew­eries offer brew­ery tours, beer tast­ings and have restau­rants.

Gin

One of the world’s best gins, Mon­key 47, is pro­duced in the north­ern Black For­est near Alpirs­bach. The name comes from the tav­ern “The Wild Mon­key” opened by a for­mer com­man­der of the British Roy­al Air­force who relo­cat­ed to the region and col­lab­o­rat­ed with a local dis­tillery to pro­duce the first Black For­est gin. Today there are sev­er­al local dis­til­leries that pro­duce gin of var­i­ous qual­i­ties.

Beef

At one time, the Hin­ter­wälder was only com­mon in a small area around the Feld­berg in the south­ern Black For­est. The Hin­ter­wälder is the small­est Cen­tral Euro­pean cat­tle breed and since it feeds on trees like a goat, it pre­serves the typ­i­cal graz­ing land of the south­ern Black For­est. More­over, it pro­duces a very tasty, ten­der, low-fat meat which is a spe­cial­ty avail­able in many restau­rants in the region.

Fish

Less well known is the Black Forest’s abun­dance of fresh­wa­ter fish, espe­cial­ly brown trout. The cli­mate and the water qual­i­ty pro­vide ide­al con­di­tions for trout and fresh­wa­ter fish farm­ing. At some fish farms you can fish for trout or have a taste in the farm’s restau­rant. Vis­it for exam­ple the Hotel & Restau­rant Zur Alten Müh­le in Neuen­bürg, the Forel­len­hof in Baiers­bronn-Buhlbach, or the Schwarzwaldgasthof Hotel Tan­nen­müh­le in Grafen­hausen.

Scenic Outdoors

By Car

You don’t have to be ath­let­ic to enjoy the beau­ti­ful scenery of the Black For­est. Go for a dri­ve on the Schwarzwald­hochstraße (Black For­est High Street), a road through the south­ern part of the Black For­est. It offers unmatched panoram­ic views.

You might also enjoy dri­ving on the Schwarzwald­bahn (Black For­est Rail­way). It has noth­ing to do with trains, but is a feat of engi­neer­ing. It was designed by Robert Ger­wig, also the founder of the Ger­man Clock Muse­um, to give a com­fort­able ride with­out caus­ing road­sick­ness – in spite of the many hair­pin turns.

Hiking

The Schwarzwald­vere­in, or Black For­est Club, has been pro­mot­ing hik­ing in the Black For­est since 1864. They are respon­si­ble for sign­post­ing trails as well as car­ing for the needs of nature in the area.

There are more than 100 Ves­per­stuben, or snack spots, along the trails of the Black For­est. They make for excel­lent hik­ing des­ti­na­tions. There are Ves­per­stuben that have a long his­to­ry, impres­sive scenic out­looks, or overnight stay options. All of them serve a tasty rus­tic snack to refu­el hik­ers.

Vis­it the Club’s web­site for maps, tips, and a guide to plan­ning your hike, walk, or bike ride!

Cities

Freiburg

Freiburg is a well-known Ger­man uni­ver­si­ty town: while it’s famous for its Renais­sance uni­ver­si­ty, it is a favorite of stu­dents to this day. The old town dates back as far as the 12th cen­tu­ry and fea­tures an impres­sive medieval min­ster and cob­ble­stone streets. Today Freiburg is respect­ed for its future-focused envi­ron­men­tal poli­cies and high stan­dard of liv­ing.

Freiburg is the per­fect place to start your explo­ration of the Black For­est region. It is the sun­ni­est and warmest town in Ger­many, locat­ed in the heart of wine coun­try. There are fre­quent fes­ti­vals, par­tic­u­lar­ly in sum­mer or around hol­i­days. And of course, there are count­less excur­sion oppor­tu­ni­ties into the beau­ti­ful nat­ur­al region all around the town, includ­ing to the Schauins­land, or the beau­ti­ful Raven­na Gorge.

Baden-Baden

The name says it all: Baden-Baden is famous for its baths and min­er­al spas. There are 29 nat­ur­al springs in the region, bring­ing forth water rich in salt and oth­er min­er­als. The town was found­ed by the Romans, who appre­ci­at­ed its heal­ing waters.

Baden-Baden offers a wide vari­ety of enter­tain­ment. Sports enthu­si­asts can enjoy ten­nis and golf in the sum­mer and ski­ing in the win­ter. Sum­mer also brings the Baden-Baden Sum­mer Nights, with open-air music con­certs in the spa gar­dens. In May, August, and Octo­ber near­by Iffezheim hosts horse races. Year-round, vis­i­tors can enjoy var­i­ous muse­ums, the local casi­no, and tours of the his­toric old town along the Oos Riv­er.

The North

Kaltenbronn, Wildsee & the Grünhütte

Vis­it all three in a day on a love­ly short hik­ing trip. You can dri­ve or take pub­lic trans­porta­tion to Kaltenbronn. Fol­low signs for Trail No. 8 to Wild­see. You will hike through the Ban­nwald For­est to the scenic Wild­see (Wild Lake), the per­fect spot for a short break. Then you can con­tin­ue up to the Grün­hütte (Green Hut, appro­pri­ate­ly named) which is a for­est restau­rant. We rec­om­mend the blue­ber­ry pan­cakes!

Bad Wildbad

Bad Wild­bad is a small town in the Enz­tal (Enz Riv­er Val­ley) that attracts tourists for a vari­ety of rea­sons. Enjoy the beau­ti­ful bike park or head up into the trees along the canopy trail at the Som­mer­berg, a hill above the town. The Som­mer­berg Fur­nic­u­lar Rail­way takes you to the top. Spa enthu­si­asts should check out the 18th-cen­tu­ry ther­mal spa Palais Ther­mal.

Mummelsee & Hornisgrinde

The town and lake of Mum­melsee are found along the Schwarzwald­hochstraße scenic route. The nat­ur­al area is won­der­ful­ly unspoiled, mak­ing it a favorite for nature lovers. It’s a love­ly area for walk­ing, hik­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, and ped­a­lo rides on the lake. We def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend ascend­ing the local Hor­nisgrinde peak for incred­i­ble panoram­ic views – and paraglid­ing for the dar­ing! Kids will enjoy the adven­ture play­ground with all their favorite equip­ment, plus reg­u­lar sto­ry­telling ses­sions with leg­ends from the Mum­melsee.

The Murgtal

The Murg Val­ley is full of nat­ur­al beau­ty and is pop­u­lar for hik­ing and bik­ing. The Tour de Murg is a well-known bike trail that runs the length of the val­ley. If you vis­it the val­ley when the riv­er is low, you can do a riverbed hike near Raumün­zach. In sum­mer there are raft­ing tours on the riv­er. In win­ter there are snow­shoe­ing trails and group walks. Vis­i­tors can also check out Freuden­stadt for the largest mar­ket­place in Ger­many and the Eber­stein Cas­tle in Gern­bach.

The South

Feldberg

The high­est moun­tain of the Black For­est, the Feld­berg, ris­es 1493 m (4898 ft) above sea lev­el in the mid­dle of the South Black For­est region­al park. It is unsur­pris­ing­ly a favorite des­ti­na­tion in the region for both ski­ing and hik­ing. The moun­tain, town, and health & ski resort all share the name Feld­berg.

In win­ter, enjoy down­hill ski­ing, cross-coun­try ski­ing, snow­shoe­ing, or a fire­side meal with a great view. In sum­mer, explore the panoram­ic hik­ing trails criss­cross­ing the moun­tain. Your fam­i­ly will also love Fun­dore­na, an indoor/outdoor adven­ture park fea­tur­ing a tram­po­line gym, indoor and out­door climb­ing, ice skat­ing, and pony rides.

Badeparadies Schwarzwald

They don’t call it the “Black For­est Bathing Par­adise” for noth­ing! This enor­mous com­plex com­pris­es three delight­ful areas under one (most­ly glass!) roof. You can get a Caribbean vaca­tion feel­ing under the palm trees of the “Palm Oasis.” Vis­it the “Galaxy Schwarzwald” for an incred­i­ble adven­ture with 23 slides and a wave pool that’s active 25 times a day. Final­ly, relax all the way to your bones in the cloth­ing-free saunas and pools of the “Palais Vital.”

The Wutachschlucht

The name Wutach­schlucht means Great Canyon or Fury Canyon, depend­ing who you ask – either way, it’s the largest canyon in Ger­many. It’s pro­tect­ed in a nature reserve that offers unique scenic fea­tures. Hike along the Gauachach Gorge and mar­vel at its numer­ous water­falls. Explore the Three Gorges path for unusu­al rock for­ma­tions along with high cliffs and froth­ing water­falls. Walk the 13 km (8 mi) from Schat­ten­müh­le Hotel & Restau­rant up to the snack shop called Wutach­müh­le, then take the Wan­der­bus Lin­ie 7344 to return. For the hard­core hik­er, there are hik­ing trips that last a week! It is also pos­si­ble to canoe and kayak. Check out maps, tips, and actu­al con­di­tions here.