The Black Forest
As deep, dark and delicious as its famous cherry gateau, the Black Forest gets its name from its canopy of evergreens. With deeply carved valleys, thick woodlands, luscious meadows, stout timber farmhouses and wispy waterfalls, it looks freshly minted for a kids' bedtime story. Wandering on its many miles of forest trails, you half expect to bump into a wicked witch or huntsman, and might kick yourself for not bringing those breadcrumbs to retrace your tracks…
Measuring 160km from top to bottom, the Black Forest is a ludicrously lovely expanse of hills, lakes and forest, topping out at 1493m Feldberg. It reaches from the spa town of Baden-Baden to the Swiss border, and from the Rhine almost to Lake Constance. This corner of the country is made for slow touring: on foot, by bicycle or behind the wheel of a car on one of many twisty roads with sensational views.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Black Forest.
With its lacy spires, cheeky gargoyles and intricate entrance portal, Freiburg’s 11th-century minster cuts an impressive figure above the central market square. It has dazzling kaleidoscopic stained-glass windows that were mostly financed by medieval guilds and a high altar with a masterful triptych by Dürer protégé Hans Baldung Grien. Square at the base, the tower becomes an octagon higher up and is crowned by a filigreed 116m-high spire. On clear days you can spy the Vosges Mountains in France.
The Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum spirals around the Vogtsbauernhof, a self-contained early-17th-century farmstead. Farmhouses shifted from their original locations have been painstakingly reconstructed here, using techniques such as thatching and panelling, to create this authentic farming hamlet and preserve age-old Black Forest traditions. There are free guided tours at 2.30pm daily in German, and at 1pm daily in July and August in English.
From the baroque-meets-neoclassical Schloss, Karlsruhe’s 32 streets radiate like the spokes of a wheel. Karl Wilhelm, margrave of Baden-Durlach, named his epicentral palace Karlsruhe (Karl’s retreat) when founding the city in 1715. Destroyed during WWII, the grand palace was sensitively rebuilt. In warm weather, locals play pétanque on the fountain-strewn Schlossplatz parterre. The palace harbours the Badisches Landesmuseum. Edging north, the Schlossgarten is a popular student hang-out and a relaxed spot for walks and picnics.
A Joan Miró sculpture guards the front of this architecturally innovative gallery, designed by Richard Meier. The star-studded collection of modern and contemporary art features Picasso, Gerhard Richter and Jackson Pollock originals; these are complemented by temporary exhibitions. There are free short guided tours at noon, 2pm and 4pm on Saturdays.
Embracing the global craft gin craze, Monkey 47 has scooped awards for its batch-distilled, handcrafted dry gin, with piney, peppery notes. Distillery tours are free, but the early monkey gets the banana – it's by appointment only. See the website for details. The distillery is 11km north of Alpirsbach on the L408.
Sticking out above Rottweil like a sore thumb, the futuristic, environmentally progressive Testturm is the brainchild of steel-engineering giant Thyssenkrupp, who aims to speed up skyscraper construction. At a whopping 246m high, it's the tallest elevator test tower in the world. At the time of research, it was open to the public, with Germany's highest visitor platform (232m) commanding staggering 360° views of the Black Forest, Swabian Alps and – on clear days – the Swiss Alps .
Niagara they ain’t but Germany’s highest waterfalls do exude their own wild romanticism. The Gutach River feeds the seven-tiered falls, which drop a total of 163m and are illuminated until 10pm. A paved trail accesses the cascades. Pick up a bag of peanuts at the ticket counter to feed the tribes of inquisitive red squirrels. Entry is cheaper in winter. The falls are in central Triberg.
Looming above Freiburg, the Schauinsland peak (1284m) is topped by a lookout tower commanding fabulous views to the Rhine Valley and Alps, plus walking, cross-country and cycling trails that allow you to capture the scenery from many angles. A cable car glides to the top in a matter of 20 minutes.
Theatrically set against cave-riddled limestone cliffs, dappled with pine and beech woods that are burnished gold in autumn, and hugging the Danube's banks, this reserve bombards you with rugged splendour. Stick to the autobahn, however, and you'll be none the wiser. To fully explore the nature reserve, slip into a bicycle saddle or walking boots, and hit the trail.