Taking the train is the best way to get to, and explore, the Black Forest.
The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald, in southwest Germany’s Baden-Württemberg state, is one of Germany’s finest locations for walkers, skiers, cyclists and cake-eaters alike. Covering more than 6000km², the northern reaches of the Forest were given National Park status in 2014. The icing on the cake for train travellers is that it is very well connected by rail, its main gateway being the aptly named city of Freiburg. Because in the Black Forest, that is exactly what you will feel. Freedom.
Getting to the Black Forest by train
Given that the Black Forest is around 160km in length and 50km wide, there are plenty of places where you can access it by train. You can even reach the Black Forest in under 6 hours from London. As well as the main gateway city of Freiburg, stations within the bounds of the Forest area include Karlsruhe, Baden-Baden, and Offenburg. All of these towns and cities are accessible via high-speed rail connections.
As well as frequent high-speed services, a regional network of rail routes climb up and around the hills of the Black Forest. Many of these start in the Rhine Valley which surrounds the Black Forest from the west and south. You can also take a train to Strasbourg and hire a car right at the station, as the Black Forest is only 60km by train.
The Black Forest - home of hiking
Hiking maps and guidebooks have been promoting the area for well over 150 years. Indeed, Philipp Bussemer opened up the first tourist information centre in Baden-Baden to serve this purpose in the 19th century. Within the Forest, you’ll find over 24,000km of hiking and cycling trails.
The Black Forest’s Westweg is one of Germany’s most famous hiking routes, climbing from Lake Titisee to Feldberg Mountain, the Black Forest’s highest peak at 1,493m. It can take up to two weeks to complete the Westweg route but you can always take on smaller sections. It is advisable to complete the Westweg with a guide, and there are more than 500 certified hiking guides in the Black Forest. Take the train to Pforzheim for the Westweg’s trailhead, the entire trail covering 285km as far as Basel.
Cycling trails in the Black Forest
The range of high-speed trains to Freiburg makes the city an excellent base to explore the Black Forest by bike. The Southern Black Forest Cycle Route is a 250km circular from Freiburg, following mainly flat terrain through ancient woodland and farmland.
The river Danube’s source is in the Black Forest near Donaueschingen and you can pick up some of the world-famous Danube Cycling Trail between Donaueschingen and Ulm.
Cross-country skiing in the Black Forest
Cross-country skiing, or langlaufen, is at the core of Black Forest culture and, indeed, throughout the country. One of Germany’s most celebrated routes is the Black Forest High Road (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse) which runs over 60km from Freudenstadt to Baden-Baden. This route, as the name suggests, covers high-ground in the north section of the Forest and offers stunning views of the Black Forest valleys, Rhine Valley and Vosges Mountains. Easy to access, you can get to Baden-Baden by train in under 3 hrs 30 mins from Paris, with the same journey time from Munich.
Black Forest spa towns
The Black Forest’s Spa towns’ curative waters, restorative treatments and thermal baths have been fashionable places to visit since the 1800s. Any town with the word ‘bad’ refers to there being a bath or mineral spa tradition. Baden-Baden is its most celebrated spa town, but the best way to explore them is on the Black Forest Spa Route, a 270 km stretch between Pforzheim and Freudenstadt, taking in spa greats of Bad Herrenalb, Bad Rippoldsau, Bad Wildbad and Baden-Baden of course.
Photo credits top to bottom: Feldberg Mountain in Spring iStock, ©Andreas_Zerndi. Silent Forest in spring with beautiful bright sun rays iStock ©audioundwerbing, A woman cycling on an unpaved forest road on a cold winter day. The fresh snow is falling from the trees and the sun breaks through. This creates a fantastic atmosphere in the woods iStock ©Leamus, Backcountry Skiing ©CC0 Creative Commons Panoramic view on Baden-Baden church and the city iStock ©RomanBabakin.
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