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Black Forest

Located in the southwestern part of Germany, the Black Forest is one of several low mountain ranges found in the country. Its highest point, the Feldberg, reaches 1493 meters (4898 feet), which makes it the highest German summit outside of the Alps. The forest, which covers a total of some 12,000 square kilometers (4600 square miles), derives its name from the fact that the densely growing conifers that cover most of the area lend the mountains a dark appearance if looked upon from a distance. The Black Forest is popular for its beautiful scenery, its mountains, lakes and small rivers as well as for its distinct and carefully cultivated traditions which are famously reflected in the craftwork from here, for example the wooden cuckoo clocks which have been built in the area for more than 200 years. The Black Forest is one of Germany’s most important tourist destinations, registering more than 30 million overnight stays per year.

Black Forest

Most of these visitors will take the opportunity and sample traditional examples of the regional cuisine. Black Forest ham, a smoked pork ham variety, is a copyrighted trademark appellation and may only be produced in this region. For the sweet-toothed, there is Black Forest cake (or gateau), a rich cake consisting of the mandatory ingredients of whipped cream, cherries and chocolate shavings (and usually some Kirschwasser, a liquor made from cherries). Incidentally, there is a surprisingly high concentration of starred restaurants in the area, continuing the region’s tradition of fine dining.

Black Forest is entirely located within in German state of Baden-Württemberg. The largest city to start an excursion from is Freiburg, a town of 224,000 near the French and Swiss borders with a large choice of hotels. While Freiburg itself is an attractive city to visit, there are quite a number of interesting villages and smaller towns in the Black Forest areas where you will often find quaint little hotels or charming Bed & Breakfasts.

To explore the area, travelling by car is a good option. The autobahn A5 runs right through the region but won’t afford good views. Exiting from A5 will lead you on many scenic roads, the most famous of which is the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse (follow signs to Bundesstrasse 500). This road begins in Baden-Baden, famous for its internationally recognized springs and spas, and travels over some 60 kilometers through the Northern part of the Black Forest including many great views and reaching heights of more than 1000 meters above sea level. Along the route, you will find the Mummelsee, a pretty, almost circular lake which according to legends is home to a nixie. Remember to take a picture if you come across her. Another scenic road, the Badische Weinstrasse, also starts in Baden-Baden and leads visitors to a number of wineries and villages. A nice alternative to driving is going on one of the many heritage railways that can be found in the area, for example at Freudenstadt, Bad Krozingen or Villingen.

The Black Forest is at its most beautiful when you travel along its waterways. There are more than 15 rivers and streams running through the forest, but there are also several pretty lakes, some of which derive from the glacial ages. The Titisee with its depth of up to 39 meters is one of the most popular recreation areas in the region, the nearby town of the same name serves as a winter sports centre during the cold season and as a spa town with opportunities for diving and windsurfing for the rest of the year.

While tourism today is the most important economic factor for the region, up until 1954 the Black Forest was also an important mining area. Silver, iron ore, cobalt and fluorite are among the commodities found here. Some of the mines are today accessible by guided tour. Other tourist destinations are the quaint historic city centers of Gengenbach and Schiltach, both featuring many historic houses, some as old as 400 years, the Sankt Blasien cathedral and the Alpirsbach Abbey, which was founded as early as 1095. If you’re interested in the history of the Black Forest, try one of the museums in the region. There is an open air museum called Vogtsbauernhof near Hausach, which has six farmhouses, with the oldest one dating back to 1599. There is a daily program for visitors, often including craft shows. In Furtwangen, you will find the German Clock Museum which tells the history of traditional clockmaking and the Trachtenmuseum in Haslach has historic costumes from many different eras.