Black forest highlands comprise of a range of low mountains, rising from 700 to 1500 meters and are good for adventure, nature or just relaxation.
The forest itself is pine green, rather than black. But thick spread of trees creates a continuous dark shadow. Many of the mountains are untouched, while the rest have beautiful countryside of 13 tranquil villages with sloped roof wood houses, ethnic cuisine, craft and costumes that make them romantic. Being at the intersection of the long-distance, well signposted hiking trails of European makes it a paradise for both hikers and trekkers.
Panoramic Swiss Alps to the South and Vosges mountains to the West surround Feldberg peak as one breathes-in fresh air from the 11 storied watch-tower situated at the tip of the highest peak (1448 meters) in black forest. This treeless peak is a welcome change from the regular Black forest landscape of thick blanket of fur trees. In the panorama, forests, cliffs, gorges, valleys, high moors, lakes, grasslands, orchard meadows and deep ravines dot the landscape in between. At more than 11,000 square kilometers, Black forest highlands in southwestern Germany have more to offer than postcard clichés.
Getting to the summit and to the Feldberg tower is an exciting trip with many options. The hike starting in the town of Feldberg, near nature center is about two kilometers up-hill through a panoramic path. A gondola ride takes a few minutes and offers a good view through its glass cabin. Open cable cars are a good option for ski jumps during winters, when the whole summit is covered with snow.
A few yards from the gondola drop off area at the top is a 120 year old stone monument of Bismarck, the man responsible for transforming a collection of small German states into the German empire, and was its first chancellor. It is a good place to view some beautiful panorama including Shulchsee, the region’s biggest lake and a big house built along the mountain slope. It probably belonged to a one time high ranking nobleman, who could drive his horses straight into the first floor of his house. Shlushsee is a playground for water sports and has lakeside path for walking and cycling. The Feldberg rise experience is of a few hours. It is one of more than 70 such activities that come complimentary with a Red Pass that can be earned by staying for two nights at any one of the hotel, resort or apartments in the Black Forest.
Hofgut Sternen at Hells valley in the Black Forest village is a historic hotel with cuckoo clock and glass blowing workshops. The complex is situated close to the highway but is set in beautiful Ravenna valley with an impressive high, stone arch bridge as a backdrop. A train passing through the green ravine every 15 minutes is a photographer’s delight. The 600 year old place is proud to have served Princess Mary Antoinette’s entourage. The lady was supposedly on her way to marry the prince of France. A commemorative picture can be seen on the black wood exteriors of the boutique hotel. It is not known if the lady tasted the pastry from here, but any visitor here should not miss to savour the rich and tasty black forest gateau and also an opportunity to learn how to make it. Coffee with cake at 3 is a tradition here.
Abundance of wood and singing of birds have naturally inspired creative wood craftsmen here to make cuckoo clocks. Antique clocks’ history and mechanics can be learnt at the workshop here. A Black forest highlands heritage trail introduces visitors to traditional crafts and trades. The three and half hour hike starts from Hinterzarten train station and passes through Ravenna Viaduct and the romantic gorge that have some old sawmills.
A few traditional craftsmen continue to practice wood craft in the region. Romantic Christmas Market in Ravenna ravine, in the natural stone bridge setting on all four Advent weekends is a good place to witness and buy these local arts and crafts. More than 40 vendors present their art, creative gift ideas, and regional products.
It’s a feast to the eyes to see different traditional dresses worn by locals during festivals celebrated from early summer to late autumn. As at any traditional place, legends and fairytales abound the region.
Titisee, the lake formed from Feldberg glacier, is a high altitude lake. According to legend, it is a bottomless lake which was saved from breaking, by an old lady. The hood she spread is guarding the lake and one thread from it rots every year. Another tale warns anyone from trying to measure the depth of the lake or be consumed by it. Yet another legend says that there existed a city and a monastery at the place. The opulence and eventual waste created by people angered gods, who sank the town. Titisee appeared above the city. Mummelsee, another lake in Black Forest is believed to be the legendary home of water sprite (Nix), just like the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland.
The lake has an average depth of 20 meters and waters of Titisee eventually drain into the Upper Rhine. If time permits, a two kilometer stroll around the pristine lake set amidst unspoiled forest and mountains is refreshing. Otherwise, the 25 minute cruise on a big electric boat, a fun donut boat or on a small peddle boat is good enough to learn about the surrounding area from the captain or just to relax and inhale fresh air on serene Titisee.
Cycling is a popular way to explore long, open valleys. Many hotels in the Black forest offer E-bikes (electric) bikes. It makes a long excursion across the beautiful forest easier.
There is a typical tourist district with shopping, eating and hotels area on the banks of Titisee. Bollen hut hat comprising of 14 woolen pom-poms are typical to Black forest. Red pom-poms are for unmarried and black are for married women. Popular black forest ham is prepared using traditional methods and smoked over a local fur-wood fire. Black forest Highlands are popular with neighboring French and Swiss tourists. Advance booking is advised, especially during summers to enjoy its beautiful nature.
Hochschwarzwald (Black Forest) card is your ticket to more than 70 summer and winter attractions in the region. Free gondola rides at Feldberg, boat trips on Titisee, golf games, a ride on e-bike or an electric car, swimming and wellness, skiing rentals and many hiking trips are included. A two night stay at a hotel in the region will qualify you for a complimentary card.
Text & photos by Anand & Madhura Katti