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Bavarian Alps/Black Forest, Germany

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Did You Know…?

  • The unique Black Forest cuckoo clock originated around Triberg in the 18th century.
  • The Romans, who were first to tap the area’s thermal springs, gave the Black Forest its name: Silva Nigra.
  • In Baden-Baden, 211,400 gallons of 156F waters rise daily from 12 thermal springs.
  • The Oberammergau Passion Play was first presented in 1634; only villagers may perform.
  • Hilter’s home and southern headquarters were in the Bavarian Alps at Obersalzberg.

Of beer gardens and cuckoo clocks

The two popular regions in southern Germany, the Bavarian Alps and the Black Forest, share a number of attractive features. Both boast mountains, lakes and scenic vistas, idyllic villages, spa towns, skiing in winter and biking or hiking in summer, plus plenty of chances to sample German beers and typical foods, perhaps with hosts attired in traditional lederhosen and dirndls.

The Bavarian Alps, which dominate an area called the Allgau, are an extension of the same range that touches several countries, but with a German accent. The region is particularly known for Bavarian beer, which locals will insist is the best in the country — and there certainly is plenty of it in the German state that claims a high density of breweries. In addition, the typical gateway city to Germany’s Alps is Munich, host to a huge annual Oktoberfest.

The Alps are home to the castles built by Bavaria’s 19th century King Ludwig II, aka Mad Ludwig. One, the Neuschwanstein Castle, located near Fussen, is said to be the most photographed building in Germany. Cinderella’s fairytale castle as interpreted by the Disney folks was based on it.

Oberammergau, site of the once-per-decade staging of the Oberammergau Passion Play, sits in the Alps’ western foothills. The town is worth a visit in the other nine years, too, for the art on its buildings and the wood carving for which Oberammergau is noted.

The Black Forest, at 4,400 square miles, is in Germany’s far southwest bordering on France and Switzerland. Much of the territory comprises the country’s largest nature park.

There are spa towns in the Alps, but the Black Forest boasts more of them including Germany’s best known: Baden-Baden. The Alps are taller, but the Black Forest claims to be the birthplace of skiing in central Europe. In addition, the forest has more than 14,000 miles of walking trails and almost 5,000 miles of trails signposted for mountain bikers.

The Black Forest claims a high density of top-rated restaurants, and one of Germany’s wine regions is there, as well. The area also is home to Black Forest cake, Black Forest ham and the cuckoo clock.

Things to do for Venturers

  • The state of Baden-Wurttemberg, where the Black Forest is located, maintains almost 5,000 miles of trails signposted for mountain bikers. You can cover a lot of territory!
  • Sample several of Bavaria’s much-vaunted beers in its beer gardens and at its beer festivals.
  • Spend a few days with the monks at Andechs Abbey beside Lake Ammersee. It is a former castle and noted for the beer made in its own brewery.
  • Head to the glacier ski slopes on the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain at 9,718 feet. Or, in another season, hike on and around the mountain and through gorges like the Hollental, which means Hell Valley.
  • If your love is hiking, the Black Forest is prepared. The Black Forest Association has signposted more than 14,000 miles of walking trails.
  • You have to work to see one of King Ludwig’s creations, the plain-looking Konigshaus am Schachen, described as a hunting lodge. It is accessible only via a steep climb, either on foot (three to four hours) or on a mountain bike. You will be surprised at the opulence on the upper level, in the Turkish Room.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Ski in the Bavarian Alps at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Or ski in the Black Forest on Feldberg Mountain, the starting point for skiing in central Europe.
  • There are several wine regions in the Black Forest, such as the Kaiserstuhl and Markgraflerland. Choose the wine route that suits your tastes.
  • Attend the Christmas market in Freudenstadt, a town dating from 1599 and boasting Germany’s largest market square.
  • Ulm, birthplace of Albert Einstein, is in an area called the Swabian Alb, between the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. However, stop by to see the window in the Ulm Cathedral that depicts Einstein as well as other giants in science, Galileo, Kepler and Newton. The cathedral has the world’s tallest steeple.
  • Tour the salt mine at Berchtesgaden riding on the salt mine railway and decked out in miner’s clothing. Also, take the lift up to see the view from the Eagle’s Nest, remembering that this was a teahouse built for Adolf Hitler and that his home, now destroyed, was at nearby Obersalzberg.
  • Attend a concert at the medieval Burghausen Castle, which is Europe’s longest castle at 3,422 feet. In the town of the same name, ride down the Salzach River on a traditional salt barge.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Baden-Baden is merely the best known of the spa resorts in the Black Forest, but you can find a place to be pampered in any of numerous towns and spa facilities.
  • See the Oberammergau Passion Play. If the performance is not on in the year of your visit, you can still watch wood carvers at work and buy their goods.
  • In the Black Forest, take a guided tour of the Vogtsbauernhof Open-Air Museum to see farm buildings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
  • Take a cruise aboard the reconstructed Roman galley Titus on Lake Titisee, the largest natural lake in the Black Forest.
  • See as many of King Ludwig’s fantastic building projects as possible, most especially the much-photographed Neuschwanstein Castle. Another is the Herrenchiemsee Palace on an island in Lake Chiemsee; it was modeled on Versailles.
  • Sample Black Forest ham and Black Forest cake on their home turf.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the German National Tourist Office at