Baden-Württemberg is one of Germany’s most popular holiday regions, rivalled only by Bavaria in its natural landscapes and range of outdoor activities. Most of the state is covered by the fabled Black Forest (Schwarzwald), a vast nature playground whose peaks, lakes and cuckoo clocks are irresistible to hikers, cyclists, bathers, boaters and punctual people who find quarter-hourly mechanical bird calls charming rather than annoying.
One of the country’s most prosperous states, Baden-Württemberg was created in 1951 out of three historic regions: Baden, Württemberg and Hohenzollern. Further back in history, much of its southern reaches were part of Swabia (Schwaben) and many people here still speak Swabian (Schwäbisch), a melodic dialect that other Germans find largely incomprehensible.
In the centre, the capital Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, and a wealth of urban pleasures. A bit to the east are Schwäbisch Hall, a medieval gem, and, on the banks of the Danube, the architecturally audacious city of Ulm. The spas of Baden-Baden have been soothing the stresses of modern and ancient life since Roman times.
The state is also home to three famous and ancient university cities. In Heidelberg, students still gather in ancient beer halls while Tübingen, with its narrow lanes and hilltop fortress, positively oozes charm. Flowery Freiburg, not far from the Swiss border, makes an ideal base for exploring the Black Forest and the rolling vineyards of Breisach, on the French frontier.
Lake Constance (Bodensee), whose southern shore – overlooked by the Alps – is in Switzerland and Austria, is a huge draw, especially in summer.