It’s all too easy to encounter forests and vast open spaces across the world that have been manipulated by man to provide easier access for mass traffic and gimmicky tourist attractions. Yet the Black Forest in Southwestern Germany prides itself on maintaining a pristine and natural landscape, as if it has only just been discovered.
The timeless presence is down to ‘Bannwald’ – a philosophy that translates into ‘letting the forest be’; its never-ending vistas and endless valleys preserved in such a way that ensures the harmonious coexistence of humans and nature, all year round.
Here, the Black Forest dominates and we, the curious hikers and dwellers, are at the mercy of its vast open plains and dominating plateaus.
To traverse the endless landscapes here would take a lifetime, yet it’s still accessible to roam free or take on one of the recommended routes (guides are also available) and feel as if the patch of land you conquer with only your footsteps is all yours.
Exploration In All Seasons
I only had one full day to trek the Black Forest as part of a ‘Winter Wonderland’ trip in the region set up by the Baden-Württemberg region and Hochschwarzwald / Black Forest Highlands tourism offices, in order to get a taster of its wild woodland before heading off to the nearby Europa Park for a different kind of adrenalin boost.‘Zimmermann’ on the way to my trekking starting point. These guys are travelling craftsman, practicing an age-old tradition of travelling and working.
Getting here is as simple as a two-hour drive or short train ride from Stuttgart airport, which lands you right in the heart of this enormous outdoors haven. With my local guide, Sabrina, in tow we set off for the area of Feldberg – home to the highest peak (1493m) in the Baden-Württemberg region.
Put off by the shoulder season, choosing to visit either in the summer or in the snow drenched ski season, many are unaware that the Black Forest is inviting whatever the weather. It may have been deep into autumn when I arrived, where distant views are more obscured, but it is at this time of the year that the colours of the forest pop in hues of orange, green, and yellow. Summer may bring with it a better sky and a burst of flora, but autumn has its own delectable palette of colours that emerge on the breathtaking pathways.
Peaks may be hidden behind the line of mist that hovers across the top of the hilly forest, and the Feldsee lake may be clocked in drizzle during this time, but there is no denying that this is a fun mini adventure through a dense and mysterious land.
The Lure of The Black Forest
The Black Forest has a life of its own. Fallen trees are never moved, greenery dominates every rocky terrace and narrow paths snake through the canvas in a mysterious pattern that eventually leads you to traditional candy coloured, thatched roofed houses and farm inns.
The most famous of these is The Sawyer Häusle Raimartihop – the oldest inn in the state of Baden-Württemberg, which first opened in 1892 – where we stopped for a hearty lunch.
The day, of course, ended with a slice of Black Forest gateau and a coffee in the famous Café Schnapshausle (also a Schnapps distillery and museum) run by the local Bizenberger family. It doesn’t taste as mild as it does at home!
While not overrun, the Black Forest has enough to attract visitors aside from its top class hiking trails, including countless mountain biking trails, but it is in winter where the age-old traditions and history come to life. Germany’s first skiing club was establish on the Feldberg in 1891, and Schollach, in Eisenbach was home to the world’s first ski lift in 1908. Skiing remains a popular choice here by tradition, with the modern addition of the Feldberg cable car able to get you up to dizzying heights for panoramic views.
Winter Hiking is possible with blue signposts marking out over 400km of snow-covered trails, and pink signs for snowshoeing walks. With the Alps in the distance, and the opportunity to reach altitudes of 1,200m, this is an unspoiled winter landscape, maintained by volunteers on a daily basis and ensuring visitors keep on paths so as not to disturb the wildlife in the forest.
An endless expanse of lovingly protected land, it’s no wonder the Black Forest has been listed as one of the most beautiful landscapes in the entire country. Allowed to develop in a sustainable and ecologically sound way, it’s quite possibly one of the most untouched places in Germany to explore, no matter what the season.
I’m just itching to get back for a longer term trekking experience, taking in a whole other side to the country I never knew existed.
Where to Stay
While many opt to stay in a traditional Black Forest German guesthouse, there’ a new offering set up by the Hochschwarzwald / Black Forest Highlands tourism arm called ‘Kuckucksnester’ / Cuckoos Nest (the Cuckoo Clock being native to this region). These funky design apartments are decked out with all modern amenities, affordable (at 89 Euros a night) and furnished throughout in a modern design with a wooden twist, to keep with the traditional forest home feel. One of its key offerings is the view of the mountains and valleys in the distance. You first look out of the window in the morning is all the inspiration you need to get pumped up for a day of exploration.
Things to Note:
- A mobile trail guide / ‘tourenplaner’ is available, listing more than 50 recommended routes in the area: www.hochschwarzwald.de/Apps. You can also find a trail based on your needs and desired challenges
- Guided hiking tours are available Monday-Friday, of varying length and difficulty. Specialist guides are available for themed tours or off-track routes
- A Hochschwarzwald Card is recommended during your stay in the Black Forest Highlands, giving you access to 50 attractions for free throughout your entire stay, including a ski pass and toboggan run. You will receive the card from over 280 hosts if you stay for two or more nights
- All visitors have access to the ‘Best of Wandern-Testcenter’ – a one of a kind test-centre service, where various hiking gear is available free of charge
- Located in the extreme south west of Germany at the three-country borders of Germany, France and Switzerland, the Black Forest Highlands are accessible by bus and rail links from Stuttgart airport, with cost-effective flight routes by Germanwings. Travel detail can be found here