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JOHN DORNBERG; JOHN DORNBERG IS A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT AND AUTHOR WHO
HAS WRITTEN FROM GERMANY FOR MORE THAN 25 YEARS.
name ''Black Forest'' - West Germany's Schwarzwald - suggests a formidable
wilderness of dark woods and twisted growth, obscured from sunlight by
the dense foliage of the trees; an inhospitable region haunted by lurking
witches, howling wolves and hooting owls. The picture is wrong.
lumber towns with their sawmills are quaint; the small cities seem to
burst with clockmaking, precision instruments and -nowadays - electronics
plants; there are resort villages and spas with hotels and inns, and farming
The Black Forest is most popular and, some would complain, overpopulated in summer. It was discovered as a vacationland in the 19th century when Germany's new industrial bourgeoisie began enjoying what had previously been the exclusive privilege of the aristocracy - travel. And the region's appeal to the Germans, who have a deep affection for trees, forests and other matters sylvan, remains unabated.
But from around mid-December and usually through March the Black Forest is not even dark. It is dazzlingly, brilliantly white with snow. The heaths and meadows turn into Arctic landscapes, the trees seem to wear cloaks of ermine, and the woods appear light azure as they reflect the color of the sky. That is when the Black Forest is at its best.
Best of all, it is a skier's paradise, if by skiing you mean mostly Nordic and cross-country, and the gangly bit of downhill in which you engage does not entail schussing down powdery, perpendicular scarps or turning into an icicle while waiting your turn in a lift line. Slopes are gentle and uncrowded. Temperatures are not as cold as in the Alps and, according to the boasts of Schwarzwalders, there are more days of winter sun than anywhere else in West Germany.
be sure, there are downhill and Alpine ski areas, and for what it's worth,
the world's first ski lift was patented and built in the Black Forest
in 1908, which should come as no suprise, given the Schwarzwalders' reputation
as clockmakers and tinkerers. The ingenious inventor and builder was Robert
Winterhalder, a mountain farmer and owner of the Gasthaus zum Schnecken,
an inn in the village of Schollach where to this day you can get a double
room (albeit without private bath) for as little as about $16 a night,
None of the Black Forest downhill areas are dramatic or demanding, which makes for very manageable lift prices. No one-day pass costs more than about $10.50 and one-week tickets run between $33 and $58. Most runs are short and gentle. One of the longest uninterrupted ones, at Baiersbronn, is little more than half a mile, and the steepest, with a vertical drop of around 1,400 feet, is on a slope of the Feldberg.
The Feldberg is the largest and busiest Alpine skiing area in the Black Forest, with a chairlift and nearly 40 T-bars, if you include the facilities at nearby Todtnau and the town of Menzenschwand. There is also a ski jump and a toboggan track. Hinterzarten, one of the most popular resorts, has three major lifts as well as two competition-quality ski jumps and a toboggan run. Five lifts, including a floodlit area for night skiing, operate at Todtmoos. A cable car reminiscent of an old tram goes up from Freiburg, the main town and southern gateway of the forest, to Schauinsland Mountain (4,247 feet), where there are nine surface lifts. There's downhill skiing, too, around Enzklosterle and in the villages in the Baiersbronn area.
But the winter sport for which the Black Forest is best known and best suited is cross-country skiing and, with the exception of the Nordic countries, there is no region in Europe that quite matches it. There are hundreds of miles of well-marked, well-maintained trails, called loipen, from which to choose.
Most of these are loop trails, laid out and regularly maintained by track-laying snowmobiles or Snowcats. Anything from a few to 15 miles long, they can be skied in a morning, an afternoon, or a day. The longer and more demanding ones are even checked at nightfall by the local foresters, ski school operators or ski club officials to make sure that no one had an accident or has been left on the trail. ''It rarely happens,'' says Reinhard Kern, host at the Plattig Hotel on the Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse (Black Forest High Road), ''but we prefer to play it safe up here. The weather can change dramatically within an hour or two, and we also get skiers who are just not in condition.''
of the loop trails are floodlit for nighttime cross-country skiing, a
mad innovation, in my opinion, that distorts and commercializes this otherwise
peaceful, exhilarating and lovely sport. At night I want to be (and every
other cross-country buff ought to be) in my favorite inn of the moment,
partaking some of the pleasures of Black Forest cuisine (the best in Germany),
sitting in front of the fire and sipping a glass of Baden wine from the
nearby Rhine, or simply snuggled into the featherbed and tucked under
that huge roof, safe from the wolves, the witches, the hooting owls and
the gnomes. Cross-country skiing is not only healthier, more peaceful
and closer to nature than the Alpine variety but also considerably less
expensive. Purchase or rental of cross-country skis, boots and poles costs
about half to two-thirds of downhill equipment ($4 to $6 a day, less on
a weekly basis). With some notable exceptions, use of the loipen is free:
no lift tickets, no entry fees.
The exceptions are floodlit trails and a few privately maintained ones where ski huts with snack bars, restrooms, sauna baths and other amenities have been established. The fees are usually a nominal 80 cents for one run and an even more symbolic $4 for a season pass. On a number of them collection boxes have simply been set up along the route and skiers are requested to deposit a contribution.
The subject of fees is highly controversial in the Black Forest these days, and as Wolf Hockenjos, a forester and president of the Thurner Ski Club, puts it: ''If the fee system spreads and cross-country becomes commercialized, we can kiss this wonderful sport goodbye.'' But even Mr. Hockenjos concedes that laying out and maintaining a good loipe, used by thousands of skiers during a winter, costs more money than some villages and hamlets have. A big track-packing vehicle, for example, costs about $31,000, and operating it, including driver, comes to around $83 a day. The 10-mile Thurner loipe, near the village of St. Margen, costs Mr. Hockenjos's club $12,500 a season to maintain.
For the more intrepid and experienced skiers, there are a number of long-distance trails. The most demanding is a 60-mile test of stamina from the town of Schonach, near Triberg, to the village of Multen on the eastern slope of Belchen Mountain (4,677 feet), the Black Forest's second-highest peak. A natural roller coaster, it requires nearly 8,300 feet of climbing and uphill scrambling en route. But the scenic rewards make the struggle memorable. From some spots, on a clear day, you get views of the Rhine, the Vosges mountains in Alsace, and the Alps of Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland and France -140 miles eastward to Bavaria's Zugspitze, 150 miles southwest to the summit of Mont Blanc.
Several such package arrangements are offered on the various long-distance trails. Prices range from $16 a night for a double room in such inns as the Kalte Herberge (which means cold hostel, though it's actually warm and cozy) near Furtwangen to $89 for a room in Triberg's 17th-century Parkhotel Wehrle, whose restaurant has a Michelin star. The cost of luggage transport varies according to distance, but the average is around $2.50 a suitcase for each leg of the trip.
Another piece of advice: to talk of the Black Forest is a bit of a misnomer, for the region is actually divided into three distinct areas. One is the Nordlicher Schwarzwald -the Northern Black Forest - whose northwest corner is Baden-Baden, the most fashionable of the German spas, and the northeastern one the town of Wildbad, another popular watering place. The southern extremity is Alpirsbach, a medieval town with one of the best preserved Romanesque churches in West Germany. Elevations range from 2,000 to 3,857 feet (on the Hornisgrinde, the area's highest mountain). Towns and villages tend to be a bit more spalike, combining winter joys with thermal baths and the mineral-water health cures so popular among Germans. But there are more than 500 miles of loipen and nearly 360 miles of long-distance cross-country trails, of which the longest is the 42-mile route between the hamlet of Schomberg and the little city of Freudenstadt.
At Triberg the terrain rises again, marking the start of the Hochschwarzwald, the southerly High Black Forest, which extends southward to the Swiss border, formed by the Rhine. Because the elevations are considerably higher, the winter season begins earlier, lasts longer and can become frigidly Arctic.
The Black Forest High Road, also designated as Federal Highway B500, twists, turns, curves and snakes its way almost the entire length of the Black Forest from Baden-Baden to Waldshut on the Swiss border, following the highland forests, ridges and heaths as if it were the region's spine. Laid out after World War II, it is considered one of the most scenic motor routes in Europe.
The highway also parallels one of the most attractive long-distance cross-country trails. Purists will say that you should start skiing it at the hamlet of Rote Lache, near Forbach. But the Buhlerhohe, five miles along the route, will do. The main attraction at Buhlerhohe, besides the view of the Rhine Valley far below, is the Kurhaus Schloss Buhlerhohe, a grand hotel built for royalty and princes of industry just before World War I. Presidents, prime ministers and chancellors are its guests today. A few hundred yards along is the more modest Plattig Hotel, where the trail becomes serious, running like a roller coaster through the woods and over the plateaus for 51 miles to Freudenstadt.
Every two or three miles along the route there are inns and hotels, all far from any other sign of habitation, and some are renowned. The Hotel Kurhaus Sand, for example, was a favorite of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who made it her perennial spot in the early decades of this century. The Untersmatt, some five miles farther on the trail, has a restaurant with a Michelin star, a floodlit loipe and four ski lifts nearby for downhill skiers. From the cross-country trail there, on a clear day, you get a panoramic view of the Upper Rhine Valley, Strasbourg, the vineyards of Alsace and the Vosges Mountains in France. Nine looped loipen with nearly 50 miles of additional skiing intersect the long-distance route, and if you're really huffing and puffing, feeling you cannot ski uphill another foot, there are spots along the way where rope tows can be used to overcome the steepest climbs.
Baiersbronn, which is actually a hodgepodge of formerly independent villages that, over the protests of the local burghers, were incorporated as boroughs, marks a change of pace. Though the most outlying of these hamlets, Schliffkopf, is merely a mountaintop hotel and a few farmhouses astride the long-distance trail, the rest of Baibersbronn's communities nestle in the Murg River valley. Some 50 miles of marked and well-maintained loipen and 11 lifts make it popular with both Nordic and Alpine skiers.
community's accommodations range from simple inns and pensions to two
of the most luxurious and expensive hotels in the Black Forest -the Kurhotel
Mitteltal and the Kurhotel Traube, each of which has a restaurant given
two stars by Michelin and double rooms that range from $76 to $145 a night.
Moving south to the Hochschwarzwald, the obvious place to start is in Triberg where, if you reserve early enough, you can be assured an antique-filled room in the 480-year-old main house of the Parkhotel Wehrle. Even if skiing the long-distance trail from nearby Schonach to Belchen mountain is not for you, there are several interesting loipen near Triberg. One of the most scenic trails, a six-mile run, leads past isolated Schwarzwald farmhouses with their distinctive roofs to the Brend mountain (3,797 feet) on whose northern slope is a spring that is said to be the source of the Danube. Triberg's chief scenic attraction, even more dramatic in winter than in summer, is the waterfall just above the main street. With a height of 539 feet, it is the biggest in Germany.
Hinterzarten, some 28 automobile miles south of Triberg via the Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse, or 34 tough but rewarding miles if you do it on skis along the Schonach-to-Belchen Fern-Ski Wanderweg, is one of the Black Forest's most popular resort towns. Those who ski to it will find their luggage waiting and a fire burning in the hearth at the Hotel Weisses Rossle, which has a pedigree as an inn going back some 600 years. The town's other famed hostelery is the 540-year-old Parkhotel Adler, where 15-year-old Marie Antoinette spent a night on her arduous journey from Austria to France to marry the dauphin who became King Louis XVI.
There is plenty else to do, aside from skiing. The German Clock Museum in Furtwangen, 15 minutes' driving and nearly two hours' skiing from Triberg, has a collection rich in old timepieces from around the world as well as many Black Forest clocks, including, of course, the cuckoo variety. The Black Forest Museum in Triberg, with its collection of clocks, handcrafts, folk costumes and blown-glass products, is alwo rewarding. Glass blowing, cutting and crystal-making were (and to a degree still are) as important an industry for the Black Forest as clockmaking, and some of the factories, such as the Glashutte in Wolfach, 14 miles north of Triberg, are open to the public.
For all its seeming remoteness as a sparsely populated, bucolic wilderness, the forest also has a few important cultural and architectural attractions. The Benedictine Monastery at St. Blasien, 25 miles south of Hinterzarten along the Schwarwald-Hochstrasse, was founded in the 9th century. Though the original abbey church was destroyed in an 18th-century fire, the new basilica, built in 1768 by the French architect Pierre d'Ixnard, is a masterpiece of the neo-classical style. A trip to the Black Forest should also include an excursion to its capital, Freiburg. The city's Gothic Minster has a lacework spire, paintings by Lucas Cranach, Hans Holbein the Younger and main altarpiece by Hans Baldung-Grien.
And if all that is not enough, the region's restaurants have something special to offer, for the Black Forest is the epicenter of Baden where, by dint of history and geography, four cuisines - French, Swiss, Austrian and Swabian - have blended. Besides the wines of Baden, which are grown on the lower hills between the Black Forest mountains and the Rhine, the region is famed for its smoke-cured Black Forest ham, cherries, plums, potent fruit brandies such as Kirschwasser, escargots, trout and game. Among the specialties served even in more moderately priced inns and hotels are Badische Schneckensuppe, a cream soup made with escargots; Geraeuchertes Forellenfilet, smoked filet of trout, and Mastkalbsrahmbraten, a roast of Madeira-marinated filet of veal in a white wine cream sauce. A popular local dessert is a frozen parfait made of pine honey.
Most restaurants offer a selection of wines by the carafe, all designated by vintage, grape variety, growing district, town and vineyard, and usually priced at $3 to $5 a half liter. Bottled wines from Baden range widely in price and according to restaurant but even the most expensive local vintages are unlikely to exceed $20.
The Black Forest - dark, inhospitable, fearsome? Never in any season, and certainly not when it wears its coat of snowy ermine.
Guide to inns, dining and trails Getting There Most towns and villages in both the northern and southern parts of the Black Forest are within three hours' drive of Frankfurt or Munich, one to two hours from Stuttgart, one from Basel and one from Strasbourg. The region, about 120 by 40 miles, in the southwest corner of West Germany, bordered by the Rhine and France and Switzerland, is flanked by two Autobahn freeways running in a north-south direction - A5, leading from Frankfurt via Baden-Baden and Freiburg to Basel; A81 from Stuttgart to Lake Constance.
The Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse (Black Forest High Road), numbered B500, is the most scenic route and runs some 100 miles, almost the entire length of the region. It leads from Baden-Baden to Freudenstadt, picks up again at Triberg and runs from there to Waldshut on the Rhine, a border crossing to Switzerland.
Skiing conditions are best in January and February and remain good in the higher regions, especially in the southern Black Forest, through March. Information Offices In addition to local tourist offices, there are two regional offices that provide weather information and assistance in making reservations. For the Northern Black Forest, contact Gebietsgemeinschaft Nordlicher Schwarzwald, 1 Marktplatz, D-7530 Pforzheim (telephone, 07231-17929). For the Southern Black Forest: Verkehrsgemeinschaft Hochschwarzwald, 2 Stadtstrasse, D-7800 Freiburg (0761-2187304 or 2187209), or 7 Goethe Strasse, D-7820 Titisee-Neustadt (07651-203231). City Hotels The following hotels (and ski areas and restaurants listed later) are listed from north to south. Prices given for hotels are for double rooms and include breakfast, taxes and service.
Baden-Baden. Brenners Parkhotel, Schiller Strasse, D-7570 Baden-Baden (07221-3530): from $87 to $166. Hotel Falkenhalde, 71 Hahnhof Strasse (close to Lichtentaler Strasse, which is Highway B500), D-7570 Baden-Baden (07221-3431: $58 to $64. Allee-Hotel Baren, 36 Hauptstrasse (close to Lichtentaler Strasse and Highway B500), D-7570 Baden-Baden (07221-71046): $69 to $83.
Freiburg. Colombi Hotel, 16 Rotteckring, D-7800 Freiburg-im-Breisgau (0761-31415): $79 to $91. Hotel restaurant has one Michelin star. Hotel Markgrafler Hof, 22 Gerberau, D-7800 Freiburg im Breisgau (0761-32540): $31 to $54. Country Hotels Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse. Kurhaus Schloss Buhlerhohe, Schwarzwald Hochstrasse, D-7580 Buhl, (07226-50): $75 to $116.
Plattig Hotel, Schwarzwald Hochstrasse, D-7580 Buhl (07226-226): $29 to $54.
Hohenhotel Rote Lache, D-7564 Forbach (07228-811): $31 to $41.
Berghotel Mummelsee, D-7591 Seebach (07842-1088): $26 to $34.
Schliffkopfhotel, D-7292 Baiersbronn-Schliffkopf (07449-205): $31 to $58.
All of the above, with the exception of the Kurhaus Schloss Buhlerhohe, participate in the transportation of luggage for long-distance skiing on the Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse and Northern Black Forest trails. The price is about $2 a bag.
Baiersbronn. Kurhotel Mitteltal, 14 Gartenbuhlweg, D-7292 Baiersbronn-Mitteltal (07442-471): $80 to $150. The hotel's Restaurant Bareis has two Michelin stars.
Kur-und Sporthotel Traube, 237 Tonbachstrasse, D-7292 Baiersbronn-Tonbach (07442-4920): $93 to $129. One of the restaurants has two Michelin stars, the other one star.
Enzklosterle. Hotel Waldhorn-Post, 1 Wildbader Strasse, D-7546 Enzklosterle (07085-711): $33 to $57.
Gastehaus Schwarzwaldschafer, Am Dietersberg, D-7546 Enzklosterle (07085-380): $37 to $41 This hotel participates in free transfer of baggage on the Enzklosterle-Seewald-Besenfeld leg of the Northern Black Forest long-distance trail.
Southern section: Triberg. Parkhotel-Wehrle, 24 Gartenstrasse, D-7740 Triberg (07722-4081): $55 to $89. The restaurant has a Michelin star. It arranges transport of luggage on the 60-mile Southern Black Forest ski trail from Schonach to Belchen or Schonach to Schluchsee at rates of up to $8 a piece for the entire run. In addition, it offers a package arrangement of skiing from Triberg to other towns along the route, with lunches or dinners, luggage transport included. Rates are$120 a person for 4 days to $329 a person for 10 days.
Schollach. Schneckenhof, D-7821 Eisenbach-Schollach (07657-1821): from about $16) a night, breakfast included, but without private bath.
Hinterzarten. Parkhotel Adler, Adlerplatz, D-7824 Hinterzarten (07652-711): double occupancy from $87 to $158.
Hotel Weisses Rossle, 38 Freiburger Strasse, D-7824 Hinterzarten (07652-1411): from $60 to $84.This hotel arranges luggage forwarding and is one of the way stations along the Schonach-Belchen or Schluchee long-distance trail. The 20-mile trail from Hinterzarten to Schluchsee starts at the front door.
Notschrei. Waldhotel am Notschrei, D-7801 Oberreid-Notschrei (07602-219): from $31 to $50. This hotel, a way station along the Schonach-Belchen long-distance runs, arranges baggage transportation.
Todtnau-Totnauberg. Hotel Sonnenalm, 21 Hornweg, D-7868 Todtnau (07671-1800): from $31 to $49.
Feldberg. Hotel Adler, D-7821 Feldberg-Barental (07655-230): from $22.50 to $18.75. Skiing Fees Ski lift prices vary greatly from village to village, sometimes within a skiing area itself. On the average, figure about 40 cents for a single ride on a short lift and 80 cents on longer ones and for night skiing on floodlit slopes. Some communities offer day, week and season passes, good on most of the lifts in the area. Here are examples from two of the principal downhill areas:
Hinterzarten. A one-day ticket for the three surface lifts at the edge of town costs $8. A five-day pass is $33, a three-day pass, $23.
Feldberg. A one-day ticket for 14 lifts in the Feldberg area (1 chair lift, 13 T-bars, costs $10, a one-week pass for all lifts, $50.
Downhill and cross-country skis and boots can be rented in all resort towns at sporting goods stores. Daily rates vary from around $4 to $6 for cross-country skis, boots and poles. Downhill skis average $7.50, Cross-country and downhill skiing schools are run in most communities, with rates averaging around $50 a person for five days of instruction. Dining The region is noted for its dry white wines, a few roses (called Weissherbst) and some reds; the brandy called Kirschwasser; smoked Black Forest ham, trout, game and Black Forest cherry cake (creamy and calorific). In most hotels, inns and restaurants, dinner for two, including wine, costs from $37.50 to $54, service and tax included. The top-rated spots (one or more Michelin stars) will be more expensive, with dinner for two ranging up to $100 or so. A few of the notable spots:
Buhl. Burg Windeck, 104 Kappelwindeck Strasse, D-7580 Buhl (07223-23671); reservations essential. Two Michelin stars and 16 out of 20 Gault-Millau points. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Schwarzwald-Hochstrasse. Hotel Unterstmatt, D-7580 Buhl 13 (07226-209); reservations recommended. One Michelin star. Closed Monday. Dinner for two, about $60. Baiersbronn. Restaurant Bareiss in the Kurhotel Mitteltal, 14 Gartgenbuhlweg, D-7292 Baiersbronn-Mittel (07442-471); reservations essential. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Two Michelin stars and 17 out of 20 Gault-Millau points. Fixed-price menu is around $95 for two, plus wine. Schwarzwaldstube in the Kurhotel Traube-Tonbach, 237 Tonbachstrasse, D-7292 Baiersbronn-Tonbach (07442-4920); reservations essential. Closed Thursday and Friday noon. Two Michelin stars and 17 Gault-Millau points. Fixed price menu for two is about $87, plus wine. Kohlerstube, also in the Kurhotel Traube-Tonbach; reservations recommended. Open daily. One Michelin star and 13 Gault-Millau points. Dinner for two about $66, plus wine.
Triberg. Parkhotel Wehrle, Marktplatz, D-7740 Triberg (07722-4081); open daily, reservations recommended. One Michelin star, 13 Gault-Millau points. Dinner for two around $62, including wine. Renowned for its trout dishes.
Gutach im Breisgau. Hotel Adler, 6 Landstrasse, D-7809 Gutach im Breisgau (07681-7022), closed Sunday evening and all day Monday. One Michelin star, 14 Gault-Millau points. Dinner for two: about $83, plus wine. Wines The principal winegrowing districts are Ortenau, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl and Markgrafler Land. Each has dozens of wine towns whose names are given on the label or the wine card. For a dry white, rose or red look for the word Trocken on the wine list or label. Museums Furtwangen. German Clock Museum, 11 Gerwig Strasse, D-7743 Furtwangen, open daily from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. April 1 to Nov. 1; weekdays, 10 to noon and 2 to 4 P.M., Nov. 2 to March 31. Admission: $1.
Wolfach. Glashutte Wolfach (glass-blowing museum and workshop), 4 Glasshuttenweg, D-7620 Wolfach, open weekdays and Saturdays from 9 A.M. to 3:30 P.M., closed for lunch from noon to 12:30 P.M. Admission: $1.
Triberg. Black Forest Museum, Wallfahrt Strasse, D-7740 Triberg, open daily from 9 to 5. Admission: $1. J. D.