Germany's Black Forest

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Baden-Württemberg,
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hi everybody!
Germany's Black Forest is one of those places that we've driven through many times and have always said we should come back to visit. Well, with a long weekend after Queen's Day we finally decided to do just that! We got a late start on May 1 and didn't make it to the Black Forest until the next day, but we had a surprise treat because of this.

We have driven the road between Cologne and Basel many times and have often seen a beautiful yellow castle sitting on top of a hill along the way, but had never stopped. This time, since we were already running late and knew we wouldn't make it to the Black Forest, we decided to take a small detour and check out the castle. Guess what? It's a hotel! It turns out that the castle houses a school for German bankers but is also open to the public for accommodation. The rooms are very modern, mostly in newer surrounding buildings and the rate includes both a dinner buffet and a breakfast buffet of surprisingly healthy food. There's also a fitness center, a gorgeous pool and a full German sauna/steam room complex which guests are free to use. The rate was quite reasonable, so we decided to stay and have a relaxing evening enjoying the sauna and pool, strolling around the castle grounds and having a leisurely dinner.

The next morning we took a self-guided walking tour of the small town that sits below the castle. It's a cute little town, at least 1000 years old, with typical-looking German houses and just enough interest to start the day off nicely without taking too much time.

Meeting friends
Our destination was Baden-Baden, where there are many mineral baths and lots of German sauna/steam room complexes. When we arrived at the tourist information office in Baden-Baden we were told that there were no hotel rooms available. Apparently there was a convention, a big concert, and some other happenings going on such that everything was booked full. As we sat in the car trying to decide where to go next one of Melanie's colleagues, Rich, and his wife, Joey, pulled up beside us. Talk about coincidence! We each knew that the other was headed toward the Black Forest for the weekend and we'd said we would try to meet up, but to just happen to be in the same parking lot at the same time was quite a surprise. It was early afternoon so the 4 of us decided to take a scenic drive through the Black Forest to the town of Freundenstadt and see if there was a place to stay there.

The "Black Forest High Street" is a famous scenic drive in the area. The drive is 65 km long and follows a ridge line through the higher parts of the forest. The first part of it really is beautiful with narrow twisting roads surrounded by dense evergreen forest. However, the 2nd half is truly ugly. Much of the forest has been "clear-cut". We found ourselves driving on roads with nothing but leftover stumps on either side. Along the way we stopped at the Mummelsee - a lake located high in the forest at 1,030 meters. Here we had one of the worst pretzels ever and shared a beer before continuing on. There are lots of tourist shops surrounding the Mummelsee and not much else there.

At the end of the drive, in Freundenstadt, we were surprised to find a very quiet town with absolutely nothing happening! The town has a beautiful large market square and lots of cafes, but there didn't seem to be any people out and about - and this was a Friday night! After wandering around the square admiring the lovely flower plantings we decided to head to Oppenau, about 1/2 hour away. Upon arriving in Oppenau we found another town with nothing happening! There were a few hotels and restaurants, but it was so quiet that we drove another 1/2 hour to Offenburg, where we found a nice hotel and a cafe that was still open (it was about 9:30pm by now) to get a bite to eat.

The next morning, we discovered that Offenburg has a terrific market! There were lots of breads and pastries, lots of produce - especially the white asparagus that is currently in season, and even a small junk stand sponsored by the Red Cross - where Chris, of course, found a treasure! After exploring the market, Rich and Joey headed in the direction of Colmar , France, and Melanie and Chris headed into the watch region of the Black Forest. It was a lot of fun spending a day/evening with friends someplace outside of Amsterdam.

The Clock Route
Saturday was spent noodling our way around the clock-making region of the Black Forest. Much of this region is very rural with thatched-roof houses and lots of cuckoo clock stores. In the town of Triberg, we hiked to Germany's highest waterfall. Actually, our guidebook claimed it was an hour hike, but they must have opened a new path because we pretty much started the hike at the bottom of the falls and followed it up very quickly. Triberg is very touristy, with lots of Black Forest sausage and cheap cuckoo clocks for sale, but the falls are beautiful and we ate a really good bratwurst and beer from a street vendor there.

From Triberg we went to Furtwanger, where the German Clock Museum is located. This is a little town with nothing other than the museum and a clock making school next door. It was EXTREMELY quiet! The museum itself is very nice. It shows the history of clock making in Germany and has much more than just cuckoo clocks. Because there was a guided Italian tour in the museum at the same time as us we got to hear some of the musical clocks and automatons.

Determined to experience the Baden-Baden baths, we spent a couple hours Sunday morning at Caracalla Spa. Of the two large baths in Baden-Baden this is the more modern, with less nudity. On the ground floor there are many mineral pools with varying water temperatures, both indoors and out. We tried them all and definitely preferred the biggest indoor pool. There's also an aromatherapy room which is very steamy and filled with menthol. That felt good for a little bit, but became suffocating after awhile. The saunas and steam rooms are on the 2nd floor and are nude only. It's not even possible to sit in the saunas wrapped in a towel because the towel must fully underneath every part of your body, including your feet. For two Americans who aren't used to this it was a bit uncomfortable. Still, nobody else seemed too bothered so we took a "when in Rome..." approach to the whole thing. Again there were saunas of varying temperature and steam rooms as well. There were also showers of varying temperature including an ice-cold bucket that you could dump on yourself as a contrast to the heat of the saunas. We also tried a very cold dipping pool - which felt refreshing but was definitely just a dip in and out sort of thing. The Caracalla spa was a great place to spend the morning before driving back to Amsterdam.

As an alternative to Caracalla, the Friedrichsbad offers a 3-4 hour program of massages, sauna, steam and pool Rick Steves' has a good explanation of this program, which Melanie would have preferred, but we didn't have time to spend 4 hours there.

Germany's Black Forest was a nice, relaxing way to spend our last long weekend with the car. Although there are no major sites, it was still pretty to drive around and the baths were definitely relaxing!

Happy travels,
Melanie and Chris

Where we slept:
Montabaur: Schloss Montabaur - Very modern comfortable rooms on the castle grounds. Reasonable price, including buffet dinner and breakfast - both of which are perfectly fine, though not haute cuisine. Magnificent indoor pool and nice sauna complex.
Offenburg: Union Hotel - Perfectly functional, clean, well-located hotel at a fair price. Fairly large breakfast buffet including lots of cold sausages and a high demand for boiled eggs. Rich and Joey's dogs were allowed.
Buhlertal: Gasthof-Hotel Adler. Very quiet, clean rooms. WiFi access available from the restaurant terrace - which is also a nice place for a beer. Buhlertal, itself, is dominated by a Bosch factory so not exactly the most exciting town in which to stay. But, it's close to Baden-Baden and an easy stop if it's getting late.

Where we ate:
Generally, we didn't eat any place very memorable. The restaurant in Offenburg was chosen mainly because it was open and was mediocre at best. However, in Buhlertal, the Restaurant Gruner Baum was exceptional. They serve traditional German food of very high quality. The other patrons looked like local families who were out for a multi-generational Sunday evening dinner. We looked at the rooms here and they weren't as nice as a the Adler, but the restaurant was far better!

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