The Black Forest is Germany’s largest and most beautiful forest and a bit of a show-stealer within the immensely prosperous southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. And that’s saying something, as there’s serious competition here. Its landscapes also include a huge stretch of the Rhine – replete with vineyards – which bulges into the vast Lake Constance (Bodensee) to bask in a near sub-tropical climate and form a border with the Austrian and Swiss Alps. Then, the province has an immense number of well-preserved and venerable old cities. The most internationally famous is Heidelberg, but Freiburg, Baden-Baden, Konstanz and Ulm are just as impressive in their different ways.
To compliment its unusual landscapes, the region also has its own distinct culture – local’s identify themselves as Swabians and specialise in their own versions of pizza (Flammkuchen) and pasta (Spätzle and Maultaschen), and most famously have a tradition of hard work and modest living.
These provide a couple of reasons for Baden-Württemberg’s great economic success, but inventiveness is key too. It was here that the motorcar was invented in the late 19th-century by, not one, but two, engineers working entirely separately. The legacy company Daimler (Mercedes) is still headquartered in the state’s relaxed capital Stuttgart, as is Porsche and several other major engineering companies that help make it a key European industrial powerhouse. Yet most of Stuttgart bears little trace of heavy industry and is a leafy and relaxed place with some good museums and parks, and a pleasant pedestrian centre.
The Black Forest is just a short drive from Stuttgart but a surprisingly difficult place to get a handle on. Its sights are diffuse and the premier attractions are often simply hills darkened by endless pine trees. Your best bet is to first do one or two scenic drives and drop in on a couple of key touristy sights such as the Vogsbauernhof, a beautifully preserved traditional farmstead, and Triberg, a town that’s sold its soul to the cuckoo-clock. Then home in on the attractive and lively university town of Freiburg and use that as a hub for walking and biking the surrounding countryside – which is both immensely attractive and accessible in these parts.
An alternative hub lies north along the Rhine in Baden-Baden, a place “so pretty they named it twice” as former US president Bill Clinton quipped. Yet its appeal is of a gentile and refined nature, its rarefied air one that comes from an elegant spa heritage that made it a premier playground for Europe’s aristocrats in its 19th-century heyday. But the casino and therapeutic hot springs (first developed by Romans) remain real draws, as they were when American writer Mark Twain visited and enjoyed the town.
Twain also enthused about Heidelberg, as many American’s have done ever since, which is one reason why the city was spared war-time bombing – a symbiotic relationship that’s been encouraged since thanks to the presence of a US military base here. But the key draw for visitors is the venerable feel of Germany’s oldest university city. The semi-ruined castle, which looms over town and the adjacent swift-flowing Neckar river form the perfect romantic backdrop for a collection of pretty cobbled streets, cafes, bistros and student pubs which always hum with students or with visitors – depending on the time of year.
All these high-profile landscapes and cities tend to distract foreign visitors from exploring the rest of Baden-Württemberg, but those that are prepared to strike out will find Tübingen to be another attractive and happening university town; Ulm the lively home to an amazing cathedral with an impossibly high spire (that’s climbable); Konstanz, a well preserved town lodged between the Swiss border, and Lake Constance which itself provides a great destination for an itinerary that takes in sub-tropical islands, attractive lakeside towns – and is just as easy to do by boat as by car.
We will start to add Baden-Württemberg itineraries and attractions shortly, so why not drop us a line now to tell us what you’d like to see covered?