If you were to play the game “Word Association” with anyone and started with “Black Forest” here are some likely answers:
“Cake. All of the cake.”
And they would all be correct! And we would want to be friends with the person who mentioned cake.
The Black Forest stretches 100 miles along Germany’s southwestern border with France. The region got its name because its forests are so dense the locals thought they looked black rather than green. The best way to see it all is truly by driving (yes, Rail Europe is advocating car travel. But we’ve got a solution for you. More on that in a bit.)
Coming for a visit doesn’t mean getting lost in a tangled web of woods — although we can’t guarantee you won’t lose track of time in this beautiful land. Should this happen to you, don’t fret: you’re bound to come across a clock sooner or later. A cuckoo clock, probably. In Schonach, in fact, you can stop to admire the world’s biggest cuckoo clock (measuring 12 feet x 10 feet!)
The region is also home to what is considered Europe’s best clock museum (yep, there’s more than one.) The German Clock Museum in Furtwangen is more than tick tocks and minute hands; it keeps a history of the development of time telling from the Dark Ages to the present.
You’ll want to start in the capital of the Black Forest – Freiburg. Known as the sunniest and warmest spot in Germany, Freiburg provides sweeping vistas of viticulture thanks to its grape-growing prowess. Come sit at a café with a glass of robust Riesling and a meal featuring the eponymous ham and cake.
Known as schwarzwalder schinken in German, Black Forest ham is a variety of smoked ham produced only in this region. In fact, they own a Protected Designation of Origin for the specific preparation. The stuff you get in your local supermarket? Baloney.
A true Black Forest ham can take up to three months to prepare. Traditionally, the ham was coated with beef blood, which gave it its black outer surface. Today, the raw ham is salted and seasoned with garlic, coriander, pepper and other spices and then cured for about two weeks. The salt is then removed and cured for an additional two weeks. Finally, the ham is cold smoked by burning fir brush and sawdust. According to the Germans, this last step gives the ham its rich (and dare we say, woodsy) flavor. Enjoy in a sandwich, biscuit, quiche or on its own.
Top off any meal with Schwarzwälderkirschtorte, or Black Forest Cherry Torte. This cake has multiple layers of chocolate sponge cake, cherries, and Kirschwasser-flavored whipped cream (psst, it’s schnapps.) The torte is then covered with chocolate shavings and a few cherries for decoration. Legend has it that the name was inspired by the traditional costume women wore in the Black Forest: Black dress, white blouse and a hat covered in red pom-poms. Sounds like the clothes make the cake.
From Freiburg, get in your car and drive to the chic resort town of Baden-Baden. Once a hot-spot for the rich, Baden-Baden now caters to a more middle-class crowd, wowing travelers with its aristocratic heritage, glamorous casino, elegant parks and gardens – and those muscle-pounding massages. Not to mention the famous thermal baths, known as “kur,” because you’ll need to relax after eating all of that cake.
Here’s where the train comes in. From Baden Baden, you can hop on the rails for the hour-long journey to Stuttgart, the cradle of the automobile and capital of Baden-Württemberg.
Get behind the wheel in Germany this summer. We think coupled with the train, it’s a great way to see the best of the Black Forest.
And that doesn’t sound the least bit cuckoo to us.