After Switzerland, we set off for the Black Forest.
Okay, team. I know Ruth has been carrying the load around here. Let’s be honest. She has the brain, brawn, and beauty of this dynamic to be sure. I do, however, value my role as number two.
The Black Forest lies on the German side of the France-Germany southern border. If you’re not familiar with the Black Forest, it is the land of fairytales. No, really, fairytales. Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, and more, written by the Brothers Grimm, were the inspired tales from folk tales from the Black Forest. It’s not hard to understand the inspiration drawn from this beautifully eerie area.
Needless to say, we were pumped on exploring this mystical and legendary place. The Black Forest was an obvious choice for us to spend a day driving through between our time in Interlaken and Strasbourg. There are tour buses that route through the forest, but we loved the freedom and autonomy of having our own car.
I took the lead on researching and planning our short time in the Black Forest (we like to divide and conquer). Honestly, there is not a lot of great information on the Black Forest online, be it in forums, books, or blogs. On one hand, you really can’t go wrong with the Black Forest. But it can be a little overwhelming to navigate, so the lack of resources made it harder to plan (which we are mildly obsessive about).
So without further ado for my first official post, here are a few tips on how to spend your time chasing fairytales in the hills of the Black Forest:
Map out your drive through the Black Forest.
The most challenging thing to find in my research was which route to take with our car. Again, you can’t REALLY go wrong, but I recommend going off the beaten path. Faster routes are not always better in instances such as these. (Note to those prone to car sickness: sorry).
From Interlaken, we took the route in the picture below: passing through Bern, driving along the Swiss border until Highway 500, taking it on to Freiburg. This is a great route in the southern part of the Black Forest. We highly recommend stopping often to get outside and experience a walk in the forest or one of the small villages along the way.
We stayed one night in the town of Freiburg to break up our drive before moving on to Strasbourg, France, for the next stop on our trip. If you are driving through, this worked out to be a great strategy. If you’re spending more than a day or so in the Black Forest, Freiburg or Baden-Baden are good options for a base.
On our second day, we planned to drive through two great small towns, Triberg and Gengenbach, before heading on to France.
If you don’t go to a thermal bath, you’re just not Black Foresting.
One thing is clear, the Black Forest is great for some serious rest and relaxation. In fact, much of the local economy is fueled by health and wellness centers. Thermal baths are popular among vacationing Germans, and we felt compelled to partake.
A few disclaimers. Baden-Baden (literally “bath-bath”) is the most famous for thermal baths, but our hotel Dorint Resort An den Thermen Freiburg had a thermal bath and wellness spa connected to it, so we opted for this. Also, definitely do your research. Some baths are nude and some are separated by gender. The spa was co-ed and the main bathing area had clothing required. There are options for whatever your persuasion, so just do your research ahead of time to avoid surprises!
In short, the thermal bath was a really fun, unique experience. It was basically a fancy lazy river with different pools of varying temperatures. We took a break halfway through to have some Black Forest cuisine and beer at the cafe inside.
Take a break passing through Triberg and eat some Black Forest cake.
Black Forest cake. For me, I didn’t even care what it was. I needed it. You can get it pretty much anywhere in the Black Forest, but if you follow our route, you’ll pass right by Cafe Schafer in Triberg. Cafe Schafer claims to use the original recipe for Black Forest cake. After trying it, we don’t doubt it.
But, be warned, there is no small amount of liquor in this cherry-chocolately goodness, so maybe walk off the booze by walking up the street to visit the eccentric House of Clocks for a little Triberg culture. If you had an extra slice of cake, head across the street to the Triberg Waterfall. Right after being in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, this was slightly underwhelming, but it’s a nice walk nonetheless.
Visit Gengenbach, the perfect microcosm of the Black Forest.
If you visit one small town during your time in the Black Forest, stop in Gengenbach. This village epitomizes the Black Forest vibe and is a good place to spend an hour or two. If you’re there during the Christmas market, grab a bratwurst and some mulled wine and check out the stalls. Or, grab some food to-go and picnic by the river to soak up the views of the rolling Black Forest hills.
If we had one more day, we would’ve spent it driving further north on highway 500 ending in Baden-Baden in order to check out the famous baths and casino there. If you get the chance, let us know how it is there!