Trips to the Black Forest with my parents are still some of my fondest early travel memories.
It is actually easy to see why the Black Forest is one of the most popular travel destinations in Germany, either for a day trip, an extended weekend or even spending a week or two in the area.
This beautiful region is home to large thick pine forests, lush green mountain ranges, mountain lakes, waterfalls, enchanting little villages, natural thermal spas, hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails along with cross country ski trails and slopes (in the winter).
The Black Forest is also famous for various delicious local food specialities. I am fairly sure, the first thing that pops up in your mind right now is the world-renowned delicious Black Forest Cake. There is more, however.
Let me take you on a culinary journey through the Black Forest and show you what else you can do and see in this enchanting area in the south of Germany.
There are truly so many reasons why you should put the Black Forest on your bucket list right away.
Regional flavours: What to eat and drink in the Black Forest
The Black Forest is an area that is rich on local seasonal produce. There are however some local specialities you should at least try once when visiting.
Whether you have ever been to the Black Forest or not, you will have at least heard about – and quite likely also sampled – the world-famous Black Forest Cake. It is a cake of pure indulgence, made of layers of chocolate sponge base soaked with cherry fruit brandy (locally called Kirschwasser or simply Kirsch), whipped cream and cherries.
Next to the classic Black Forest Cake, today there exists a nearly unlimited number of variations of this famous cake. Make it a Black Forest Bundt Cake, muffin, pie, brownies, or even Black Forest pudding or ice cream. In fact, all you need is chocolate, cherries, cream and Kirschwasser.
It might be that many variations springing up and all given similar names that prompted the German government to regulate what cakes can be officially called Black Forest Cake. They need to be made of cherry brandy that is distilled in the Black Forest region and must be filled with 30% fat whipped cream and needs at least 3% cocoa added to the sponge base.
Black Forest ham: This famous smoked local ham is perhaps the most eaten across Germany as a whole and you can buy it everywhere in the country. It takes it special flavour profile from curing the ham in salt for about two weeks, another two weeks of curing the ham without salt, followed by maturation which typically takes around three months.
Black Forest ham is protected by the EU, meaning only ham that is made in the Black Forest and following the strict production and maturing process can be called Black Forest ham. However, this protection ends outside of the EU borders, so you might occasionally be sold Black Forest ham elsewhere which might not be the original. Thus, be careful when you are looking to buy this speciality outside of Europe.
Black Forest trout is also a favourite local speciality. The local variety comes from the many fresh streams across the area, and many of the local restaurants will feature them on their menu. In addition, as a tourist you can get a day permit to fish in many of the local streams if you want to catch your own trout.
Maultaschen and Spätzle are originating in the wider Baden Württemberg area, so they do not come specifically from the Black Forest. However, you will find those two on many local menus and you should definitely have a go on them.
Maultaschen are by and large similar to ravioli, as they are pasta traditionally filled with minced or smoked meat, spinach, bread crumbs and onions and flavoured with herbs and spices.
Meanwhile, Spätzle, which are also a type of pasta, are favourite supplements especially for meat and game dishes.
Black Forest Honey: This is a very special honey. It is brownish-dark and has a strong, slightly sweet flavour. Unlike other types of honey, Black Forest honey is made of honey dew: Bees do not collect the nectar from flowers but from the dew fruit fly.
It’s not only about food, however. In fact, you can’t have a culinary trip (for real or virtually) to the Black Forest without having a local fruit brandy. Ending a meal without a shot (or two, mind you) of the local fruit brandies, locally called Obstwasser which literally means ‘fruit water’, is unthinkable.
There are more than 14,000 distilleries in the Black Forest – the area has the highest density of distilleries in the world – and whilst many are small and selling only locally, some of the best fruit brandies are made in the Black Forest.
Locally, the most favoured type of fruit brandy is the so-called Kirschwasser (cherry water). The same, in fact, that is used to soak the famous Black Forest Cake.
The best places to eat in the Black Forest
Honestly, you will struggle to find a bad place to eat in the Black Forest. Restaurants in the area put a strong focus on local, seasonal produce and menus typically offer traditional dishes along with a refined modern cuisine. Bordering both Switzerland and France, local food also takes a lot of inspiration from these neighbouring areas too.
Across the area, many places will offer the traditional and locally still much loved ‘vesper’, which refers to a meal eaten either late morning (kind of a brunch) or between lunch and dinner. It typically includes the famous local Black Forest ham, other hearty sausages and cured meats, smocked black forest trout and sourdough bread or other dark bread.
The Black Forest is home also to a good number of Michelin-starred restaurants any culinary traveller should be aware of. In fact, the area today has one of the highest numbers of Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Germany, and the small city of Baiersbronn, for example, has more three-star restaurants then most major cities elsewhere.
One of the most famous restaurants in the area, the renowned three-star Schwarzwaldstube located at Hotel Traube Tonbach in Baiersbronn has burned down last year – but has since reopened in a temporary location.
Meanwhile, other places worth putting on your bucket list are three-star Restaurant Bareiss at Hotel Bareiss in Baiersbronn, Restaurant Schwarzer Adler, which belongs to the renowned winery Franz Keller, Restaurant Ritter Durbach or Fritz & Felix in the well-known Brenner’s Park Hotel in Baden-Baden.
What you should know when planning a trip to the Black Forest
Located in the south-western part of Germany, the Black Forest is a small 40-kilometre-wide area that starts just south of Karlsruhe and ends some 150 kilometres further south right at the German/Swiss border.
How to get to the Black Forest
The closest airport to reach the Black Forest is Basel, just on the other side of the border in Switzerland. There is a direct bus connection to Freiburg im Breisgau, the secret capital of the Black Forest.
The closest major city in Germany is Stuttgart, home to a small national airport and well connected with a large number of other destinations via train. From here, you can also catch a train to the major cities within the Black Forest area.
In fact, it is possible to travel through the area via public transport. However, this will require a bit of planning and some connections will not run frequently during the day.
The best option travelling through the Black Forest will be indeed by car. This will allow you to also easily reach the further off smaller towns, more secluded hotels as well as driving some of the scenic routes running through the area.
The best time visiting the Black Forest
The area is gorgeous throughout the year, albeit it can get fairly cold in the winter. On the other hand, this means you can be almost sure of good skiing conditions as the region is known to be reliable for snow in the winter.
If you do not come to ski, Spring through Autumn will be your best bet. However, consider that in the higher parts of the Black Forest, Spring will not start prior to April, with hilltops still covered in snow sometimes to the end of March.
What to do and see visiting the Black Forest
Whilst the area is popular in the first place thanks to its stunning landscape of forest and verdant green rolling mountain range offering lots of opportunities for outdoor activities, there is a lot more to see and do.
Exploring the small cities and towns in the Black Forest
From north to south, there are a number of small cities and towns worth to stop and explore.
To say it in the words of Mark Twain: Here you lose track of time in ten minutes and the world in twenty. Today, Baden-Baden is famous not only for its many thermal spas but also its annual horse race, the beautiful town hall complex dating back to 1824 and its Versailles-inspired Casino.
The main draw, however, remain the local spas. The small city is home to 12 thermal spas offering lots of opportunities to get yourself pampered. The most famous is Friedrichsbad spa, looking back of a history of more than 140 years and offering a combination of Roman and Irish bathing traditions.
Also not be missed when visiting Baden-Baden is one of the city’s oldest attractions, the Hohenbaden Castle, built in 1102 and once the seat of the Margrave of Baden.
Triberg is another of the small Black Forest towns you should not miss. Indeed, this is the time I need to mention the famous cuckoo clocks as Triberg is where to find one of the centres of cuckoo clocks in the Black Forest (though they are sold all over the place and also everywhere else in Germany).
In addition, the town is also home to famous Café Schäfer where you will find one of the best Black Forest Cakes along with a large selection of other delicious cakes.
Bad Wildbad is another small spa town in the area. This lesser known location also offers a number of spas at significantly lower rates if compered to Baden-Baden. Located alongside the Enz river the little town is surrounded by thick forests and perfect as a base to explore the many hiking trails close by.
Freiburg im Breisgau, close to the Swiss border, is often considered the capital of the Black Forest. Thanks to the very specific local climate conditions, it is also said to be the sunniest city in Germany.
The small city was originally built between the 13th and 16th century, and today there is a beautiful historic core featuring a predominantly classic gothic architecture.
Despite the Middle-Ages look, the city has a lively, modern vibe to it thanks to being one of Germany’s major student cities.
Enjoying the Black Forest lakes
The vast majority of people living in Germany – whether they have been to the Black Forest or not – will at least have heard of Titisee Lake. It is by far the most famous lake in the Black Forest region and maybe in Germany as a whole.
Titisee is the largest natural lake in the Black Forest and it’s steeped in ancient legends. One of them talks about a sunken city and claims you still can hear the bells of the old monastery ringing from the bottom of the lake on early Sunday mornings.
Schluchsee is another popular location. This is actual the largest lake in the Black Forest, even though it is artificial and located at over 900 metres altitude, it offers a breath-taking setting.
There are many more lovely lakes of various sizes, surrounded by hiking trails offering you beautiful views of the lakes and the surrounding areas. Several are also open for swimming.
Visit a castle
Differently to other regions in Germany, the Black Forest is not home to many historic castles. An important one you should not miss when in the area, however, is Hohenzollern Castle (Burg Hohenzollern). Once the home of the Prussian kings, it is one of the most beautiful in Germany.
Driving some of the Black Forest’s scenic routes
Germany is known for its high number of scenic or themed routes criss-crossing the whole country. There are a few in the Black Forest area well worth exploring, some simply to enjoy beautiful views of the area, others giving you the opportunity to indulge in activities such as spa treatments or wine tasting.
Schwarzwaldhochstraße (Black Forest High Road) is the oldest route created in the area. It is aimed to let you admire the beautiful landscape.
Schwarzwald Panoramastraße (Black Forest scenic route) is another route created to offer you some of the most stunning views and landscapes of the area.
Schwarzwald Bäderstraße (Black Forest spa route) will lead you through numerous local spa towns when you can explore many of the natural thermal spas of the area.
Badische Weinstraße (Baden wine route) is leading through the wider Baden wine region. The route has a total length of around 450 kilometres but you can just cut it down to the areas located within the Black Forest region. This will still offer you many excellent wineries along the route where you can drop in for a wine tasting.
Touring vineyards and distilleries
The Black Forest is not predominantly known for its vineyards, but small parts of the Baden wine region, one of Germany’s 13 official wine regions, reaches into the Black Forest area.
If you want to do some wine tasting, the small town of Durbach, some 50 kilometres south of Baden Baden, is perhaps your best choice. Surrounded by endless rows of vines, there are more than ten wineries in the area.
Durbach is also well known to be home to various distilleries producing a large range of excellent fruit brandies.
The well known Kaiserstuhl area, another excellent wine-growing area within the Baden wine region is also located within the Black Forest, not far from Freiburg.
Have you been to the Black Forest? Or at least tried the famous Black Forest Cake? Let me know how you liked it.