I’d say my first knowledge of the Black Forest was less than it was a place and more that it was a type of delicious cake (it is…and also quite booze-y). It wasn’t until I was in Munich with Rebecca back in 2012 that I became intrigued and realized it’s a real, legitimate forest. Why the interest? Well, according to our new German friends, my ancestors hail from somewhere between the Black Forest (Schwartzwald) and Munich AND it’s the home of the Brothers Grimm of Grimms’ Fairy Tales fame AND it’s also where the best, most authentic cuckoo clocks are made (more on that later).
Imagine my delight when I discovered the Black Forest was a quick train ride (or drive) away from Strasbourg. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer to tack on The Black Forest to our Strasbourg trip. Originally, I had thought we might rent a car and drive the Schwarzwaldhochstraße (a famous panoramic ride through the Black Forest/Schwartzwald), but after I started reading up on the area, I decided it the region was worth more than a day-trip, and I’m so glad I did. This area is absolutely stunning!
We’ll call this my marathon travel day. I caught a train close to 7am, which took me to Offenburg and then a connection to Freiburg. From Freiburg I quickly caught the 727 Hell’s Valley train out to Lake Titisee. (If you’re planning to do this, I’d recommend purchasing the Regio 24 ticket – it’ll allow you to ride any train/bus/tram within all the zones within the region making it MUCH easier for you to NOT worry about train times and explore more at your own leisure). The Hell’s Valley train is a pretty quick ride. In Freiburg it’s green and the valley is somewhat wide, but as you approach Lake Titisee the valley shortens with each station while also gaining considerable altitude (I believe I read this is one of the highest train routes in Germany). You can see this (a little) in the bottom three photos below. With that said, one of the first “sights” you can see is the Hirschsprung or Deer Jump. If you sit on the right hand side of the train, you can see the below deer after the second tunnel, it’ll be just over your shoulder. Apparently this is a spot where deer would make quite the leap to escape hunters and is commemorated with a deer.
I knew we were gaining altitude, but the snow was somewhat of a surprise. Both Hinterzerten and Lake Titisee were covered in snow and considerably colder than Freiburg or Strasbourg. I excited the train station, put on my beret (pretty successful French camouflage) and started to make my way toward Lake Titisee – the main attraction at this stop. From what I read, this is a HUGE tourist destination in the summer months…a spot where all the tour buses go. The town is listed as cute, but touristy and a spot you should leave off your list. In the winter, none of that holds true. There are definitely tons of souvenir shops, but I was the ONLY tourist wandering the streets and as you can see from the photos below it was just me and the ducks at the lake.
I’d read there was a pretty lake not too far from the main town called Eisweiher just outside of Brugger Park. The photos had all been taken in the spring/summer, but I’d read it could also be a popular ice-skating spot in the winter. Loving the cold air and solitude, I decided to check it out. This ended up being the best decision I made all day. I walked into the park and quickly found myself IN the forest. It was quiet, clean, and gorgeous. I followed the signs to Eisweiher, taking some photos along the way (that tripod really comes in handy when traveling alone) and marveling at the peaceful beauty. When I reached Eisweiher I found it completely covered in snow (like feet) and my phone died (good thing I had my power block). A little disappointed the lake wasn’t visible, I looked back up at the trail signs and saw “Hinterzarten – 3.5 kilometers.” I’d read you could hike from Hinterzarten to Lake Titisee and that it was relatively flat and pretty. Then I looked at the walk back to the Lake Titisee train station and saw it was 1.4 kilometers. I decided I’d make the walk to Hinterzarten…and it was the absolute most enjoyable walk I’ve ever taken. Just me, the forest, falling snow, and some peanut m&ms.
I’d read walking in the cold in this area is thought to be highly therapeutic, and I can see why. In my coat, hat, scarf and walking at a rather brisk pace, it wasn’t that cold and the views were amazing. Every so often I’d just stop and do a 360 twirl, reminding myself that this was real.
After a bit I found myself approaching the Adler Ski Jump in Hinterzarten. Things I’d read said this was a spot to visit, but in winter it doesn’t look like anything is set up or happening in that area. It also mentioned Lake Adlerweiher with some fake swans in it (if you squint, you can see them), and having a slice of black forest cake and coffee at Cafe Diva, overlooking the lake. Unfortunately, none of these spots were open….though walking through was beautiful. Also, if you’re planning to stay in a hotel, the Hotel Adler in Hinterzarten looked gorgeous AND provides exclusive access to a park (it sorta looks like the whole town is owned by Adler, really).
In Hinterzarten I had a panoramic bus I needed to catch, which only picked up every two hours. I walked to the bus stop and discovered my bus was picking up at 12:49pm. I had an additional hour or so to explore the area. At noon the church bells went off…and let me say you haven’t heard church bells until you’re in a near empty valley, covered in snow. Then it is the absolute most majestic, echoing sound you’ve ever heard. I literally stopped in my tracks to turn and listen. A few minutes past the hour I heard MORE bells, but I wasn’t sure where they were coming from until I made my way to a cafe for lunch and found this bell down the street. I want to say these chimed gorgeous melodies for close to 15 minutes. I could’ve listened to them in that spot all day. This might be my new happy place.
From there I boarded a standard city bus #7216 with stops in St. Margen and St. Peter. It had been recommended to walk around in both towns, but it was snowing and cold, so I decided I’d just enjoy the ride and spend more time exploring Freiburg later that afternoon. In the photos below you can see some of the countryside. I’d read many of the buildings are rentable chalet style homes (for future reference). For much of the ride it was MY bus, as I was the only person on it (which was also sort of fun).
After my bus ride, I took another train back to Freiburg and began exploring. This is a gorgeous little city about 30km from France and 60km from Switzerland. My initial thoughts are that it is both quaint and totally livable.
I walked from the train station into Altstadt, the old town center. Around the town hall is their Christmas market. This is also the spot where I tried my first mulled white wine. While I’d like to say I enjoyed it…hot wine simply isn’t for me…it’s just too sweet, even with all those tasty autumnal/wintery spices. What’s worth it, though, is collecting the mug!
From there I wandered over to the Münster, another gorgeous gothic style Catholic church. This is defined as THE thing to see in Freiburg. Both the inside and outside are impressive and beautiful. Normally there is a tower tour you can take, but I think I read that is not running until sometime in 2018 due to construction. The gargoyles on this building are some of my favorite, though I wasn’t able to get the best photographs of any of them.
The square surrounding the Cathedral is also lovely – as you can walk fully around the cathedral and on certain days of the week it also serves as a farmer’s market/market.
It took more than 300 years to build the cathedral from 1200 to 1513. Then it was the highest tower in the world, until the cathedral in nearby Strasbourg was built. In Freiburg the cathedral is called Münster (from monastery) There is a law that no building in Freiburg can be higher than the Münster.
The bright red building (below) is the Historical Merchant House (Kaufhaus) and dates back to 1532. It used to be the customs building in the 16th century. I think it’s one of the prettiest buildings in the whole city.
Bächle (beck-la). These little canals can be seen all around Altstadt Freiburg. You will notice these small water-filled gutters running along most streets and alleyways in the Altstadt. This is one of the city’s most unique and famous features. The water is supplied by diverted water from the Dreisam river. Originally they were used for the provisioning of water, firefighting, sewage and even fish-farming. The word Bächle comes from the German Bach, meaning stream, with the Almanac diminutive ending –le meaning little (little streams). It is said that visitors who come to Freiburg and who step into one of the canals by accident will soon marry someone from Freiburg.
I spent most of the day wandering around and began to take photos of all the mosaics on the sidewalks. Back in the old day, these mosaics indicated the profession of the house it is in front of. So, a pretzel means a bakery, a pair of scissors for hairdresser, a beer mug for brewery, an owl perched on a book in front of the university, etc. I think my favorite might be the goat or the jeweler or maybe even the sewing machine.
When I reached the gate in the photo a couple groupings above, I saw a bridge that went up to a mountain and discovered it is Schlossberg Mountain. The sun was starting to set, so I made my way up the mountain and saw an amazing sunset along with capturing some pretty amazing views of the Münster as well as the rest of the city. It’s a “hike” up, but really I’d say just about anyone can do it, no problem.
I stayed up there enjoying the views and sunset until it got to be almost dark then I started exploring more of the city and wandered down the main shopping street. I came to a fancy chocolate/pastry shop that also offered sit-down food. I sat down, but unfortunately had missed the dinner cutoff. So, I pulled out my phone and googled to find Drexler’s, not too far from the train station. I walked in and found most of the tables were reserved, but asked the hostess if they had room for a table of one. The stars must’ve been aligned, as they had one table that wasn’t reserved that night, and I was able to nab it!
Drexler’s is an amazingly tasty restaurant. I had a little pinot noir and opted for their set menu which consisted of a veal salad (spicy mache with thinly sliced veal and a horseradish dressing), a venison and roasted vegetable main (I REALLY love game-y meats), and a deconstructed cappuccino ice-cream black forest cake for dessert (along with a dessert wine the waiter convinced me I should try). It was the best meal I had the whole trip. In fact, every bit of everything was perfect. If I lived in Freiburg, this would be a regular staple in my going out to dinner plans. It was truly delicious and the perfect end to a perfect day.
From there I caught the train back to Offenburg and ultimately to Strasbourg, where I was able to see even more of the city lit up at night. Black Forest day one did not disappoint, and made me even more excited about my cuckoo clock excursion the following day.