BLACK FOREST HIGHS
Layered with mountains and rippled with mysterious woods, the Black Forest High Road is a drive with altitude, serious curves and scenery straight from a Grimm’s fairy tale.
Uncover icy waterfalls, woodland hikes and Michelin-star menus as you thread through the wilds of Germany’s snow-dusted Black Forest
It’s like a Christmas card come to life: overnight a fresh layer of snow has blanketed the highest peaks of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), some topping out at around the 1400m mark. Frosted fir trees glitter in the morning sun, some bent under the weight of ice-laden branches. Down in the valleys, toy-town villages huddle below slender-spired churches and smoke curls from the chimneys of farmhouses, their steep-pitched roofs shingled with wooden tiles. The Schwarzwaldhochstrasse (Black Forest High Road) is quiet at this early hour but, this being Germany, still drivable, natürlich – it has been groomed by a snowplough while the world was still fast asleep. Of all the roads that carve up the Black Forest, the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse, otherwise known as the B500, is regularly touted as being the most beautiful – and with good reason. This is a road with spirit-soaring views and more twists and turns than a pretzel. One of Germany’s oldest panoramic drives, the road climbs steeply from the swish little spa town of Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt, 37 miles (60km) distant, running right through the densely forested heart of the Black Forest National Park. At elevations of between 600m and 1000m, the road opens up the landscapes of the Schwarzwald like a popup book. Every gear-crunching bend reveals glorious spruce forest on repeat and landscapes plucked from a bedtime story: a gingerbread village, a castle-crowned hillside or a cuckoo clock that’s the size of a house. On clear days, the views stretch to the Upper Rhine Plain and the Vosges Mountains over in neighbouring France. And thankfully, this is one of them. I’ve chosen a crisp winter day for the road trip and the contrast to the traffic-clogged autobahn is striking. Up here the cars are
few and far between and the silence is near total. Viewpoints on the road abound, as do trails; within a couple of minutes’ walk of the car, I can find myself alone in a forest of tall firs and pines, which sprinkle me with blizzards of snow at the slightest touch. Listening carefully, the only sound I can decipher is the tentative hammering of woodpeckers. The Black Forest might be easily accessible and family-friendly, but it is also a pocket of true wilderness that can feel properly remote. Some liken the region to Canada in miniature – minus the bears – and they’ve got a point. The Schwarzwald is lovely at any time of year: in spring when in bud, in summer when the heather flowers up on the high moors and in autumn when the forest goldens and mushrooms pop up in mossy glades. But it is never lovelier than in the monochrome midwinter, when the first snow cloaks the hills that roll west to France and south almost to the border with Switzerland. For it is only really in winter that you can see how the forest earned its name, its dark hills plumed with trees standing out in bold relief, looking black and impenetrable. Stretching 100 miles (160km) from top to toe and 37 miles (60km) east to west, the Schwarzwald is not only the Germany of your wildest childhood dreams, it’s also blessed with some darn fine road trips, many of which are short enough to squeeze into a weekend of leisurely cruising. The major attractions on the Black Forest High Road are of the natural kind, such as my first stop: the Geroldsauer Wasserfall, now encrusted with icicles. Beyond the falls, a trail picks its way through the woods to the Waldgaststätte Bütthof, which is a tavern full of woody warmth and local characters sipping spiced Glühwein (mulled wine) and devouring thick-cut bread topped with smoky Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest ham). It’s a great stop for a snack before easing back into the drive, which weaves through a delicate fretwork of forest, high moors and gently rounded hills. I crank up the Volkmusik on the radio and drive on to Mummelsee, a forest-rimmed glacial cirque lake full of local legend; the myth goes that an underwater king and nymphs dwell in its inky depths. From the lake, it’s just a short hike up to Hornisgrinde, the highest peak in the Northern Black Forest at 1164m. The plateau is quiet but for the occasional swish of a passing cross-country skier disappearing into the twinkling white woods. Daylight is fading swiftly as I crest the summit and gaze across overlapping hills, silhouetted in a sunset that’s like the embers of a dying fire. After a night at the rustic-chic Berghotel Mummelsee on the lakeshore, dawn lifts a curtain on another bright day. The morning’s itinerary is an easygoing one: a visit to the Allerheiligen falls, which stagger over cliffs in a series of cascades. Here a short trail leads through a wooded gorge to a ruined Gothic abbey, its nave exposed to the sky. The onward road takes me past an area that was reforested in the wake of Hurricane Lothar in 1999, a fierce windstorm that