The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

‘I was forest bathing without even realising it’

On a cycle ride through the fairy-tale Black Forest, Simon Parker connects with nature in a corner of Germany where few British tourists tread


The green was sucking me in, like a moth drawn to a flickering flame. I had only stopped to spend a penny, but as I surveyed the vast expanse of woodland before me, I found myself hypnotised, walking on autopilot deeper, then deeper still, into an enchanted world of incomprehe­nsible natural splendour.

Soon I was lying down on a thick mattress of crisp leaves, surrounded by toadstools with bulbous grey caps, branches dripping in beard-like lichen, and broken twigs that resembled witches’ brooms. I had a mossy tree stump as a memory-foam pillow while a dozen pinecones served as lumbar support.

As my heartbeat slowed, the silence grew deafening. A thousand trills, chirps and whistles from the tits, finches and flycatcher­s flitting between the swaying trunks above me. I was forest bathing, without even realising it, revitalisi­ng body and mind with rich, cool air that tasted of succulent watercress.

Stretching for 100 miles from north to south, and 25 miles across at its widest point, south-west Germany’s Black Forest is steeped in folklore. The Brothers Grimm set many of their early 19th-century fairy tales in this undulating region. Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Snow White and Rumpelstil­tskin have all – in a literary sense, at least – wandered beneath the gloomy “black” canopy that gives the forest its name.

Two hundred years on, however, today’s woodcutter­s use chainsaws instead of axes. Anyone lost – small girls in red capes or grown men on electric bicycles – should find a tiny sliver of 3G phone signal. And what about talking to total strangers? As I traversed the forest’s empty trails, with only kestrels, red squirrels and the occasional roe deer for company, it seemed rude not to.

“We come here for the nature, the beauty and the hiking,” said Claudia from Nuremberg, on holiday in the Black Forest with her partner Andreas. I had bumped into them on a deserted gravel track somewhere between Enzklöster­le and Loßburg. “This is our second vacation here,” she added, “and we love the peace and quiet. It is a hiking paradise.”

This sense of awe was shared by their compatriot Alexander, a touring cyclist from Stuttgart, who stopped to take a rest beside us – a traffic jam, by local standards. “There are many special places to cycle in Germany, but there is nothing quite like the Black Forest,” he said. “There is a special combinatio­n of pine and beech trees which you can’t really find anywhere else. The air is so clean and healthy, and when I come here, I feel alive.”

Around six million domestic tourists visit the Black Forest each year, plus 2.2 million more from overseas. Of that number, however, just 54,000 (2.5 per cent) come from Britain.

Indeed, mention the Black Forest to most people in this country and their first (and perhaps only) thought will be for the chocolate, cream and cherry gateau that has graced many a buffet table since the 1970s.

Why then, do we head to France in such vast numbers, yet seldom cross the border into a national park that is eight times bigger than any woodland we have in the UK?

“It is probably because our climates are quite similar,” said tour guide Petra Beeharry, who has shown tourists around the forest-fringed town of Freudensta­dt for 15 years, but confessed that I was her very first British holidaymak­er. “But it’s the same for many Germans. I don’t know anyone who has ever gone to England on holiday, apart from to London on a city break. I think people are just naturally drawn to the good weather of southern Europe.”

Perhaps there was some truth in this observatio­n. South-west Germany’s climate felt positively British. The altitude, often around 2,500ft above sea level, left a fresh nip in the air, even in mid-May. On day three of my cycle ride along the Black Forest Panorama Cycling Route – a 150-mile trail from north to south – I finally caved in and bought myself a pair of thermal gloves.

It is, on the one hand, a travesty that more Britons don’t visit this lush corner of Germany. The forest is an adventure playground, crisscross­ed by easy-tonavigate hiking trails and dotted with remote ski lodges and small towns.

On the other hand, the sense of being off the well-worn British tourist trail is surely its biggest appeal. And those who do decide to make this their next holiday destinatio­n would probably choose to keep one of Europe’s bestkept secrets to themselves.

Each day I would enjoy lunch stops in cosy restaurant­s, with beech fires crackling and fresh tulips on the tables. English was seldom spoken, and I had to rely on Google to translate the intricacie­s of hearty schnitzel, bratwurst, and dumpling dishes, nearly always slathered in a rich beer-based gravy. And this was, honestly, refreshing­ly marvellous. In a world where English has become the lingua franca of travel, it is nice to find places close to home where, as a tourist, you can feel wondrously, culturally lost.

In the north of the forest, I stayed in simple but comfortabl­e guesthouse­s

‘There is nothing quite like the Black Forest. The air is so clean and healthy, and when I am here, I feel alive’ which seemed dated by British standards. But that is not to say a higher end of hostelry can’t be found elsewhere.

In the south especially, closer to the borders of France and Switzerlan­d, there are some good four- and five-star hotels, with restaurant­s that strive to give local ingredient­s a fresher, often Gallic or Iberian twist.

At Romantik Hotel Rindenmühl­e, on the outskirts of the walled town of Villingen-Schwenning­en, the menu drifted from consommé to beef tartare, via Burgundy jus and Delice du Pommard with Roquefort.

Meanwhile, at Parkhotel Adler in Hinterzart­en, they served up a delicate afternoon tea of which the Ritz would have been proud, followed by an evening menu featuring Iberico sausages, pastis foams and lemon gremolata. Add a bottle of Rhine Valley Riesling or a Black Forest Pinot Noir, and here – in one little corner of Germany, barely known to the British – I experience­d Europe at its very best.

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 ?? ?? Simon Parker rides the Black Forest Panorama Cycling Route…
and falls under the spell of trees in ‘an enchanted world of natural splendour’
Simon Parker rides the Black Forest Panorama Cycling Route… and falls under the spell of trees in ‘an enchanted world of natural splendour’
 ?? ?? Take the long view: the scenery around Münstertal with the Kloster St Trudpert – a former Benedictin­e monastery– in the background
Take the long view: the scenery around Münstertal with the Kloster St Trudpert – a former Benedictin­e monastery– in the background

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