Another side of the Black Forest: Soft-adventure

By
|

HINTERZARTEN, Germany -- Although travel agents may think of Germany's Black Forest mainly as an overnight stop on motorcoach tours where clients can buy cuckoo clocks and cherry-covered chocolate cake, there is another side to the region -- one that is starting to catch on with some wholesalers.

The other side is outdoor activities, or soft adventure, which is moving higher on the list of attractions for visitors -especially younger ones -- to the Schwarzwald, as it is known in German.

Lake TitiseeIn winter, alpine and cross-country skiing are the highlights, the former on the slopes of mountains like the 4,900-foot Feldberg, the region's highest peak, and the latter along the many well-marked miles of trails through the forest. The Feldberg has a total of 26 ski lifts, all accessible with a single pass, as well as 36 runs totaling 30 miles.

In summer, the Black Forest is cycling, hiking and horseback-riding country, with visitors setting out from village to village on well-maintained paths through the trees in a climate that is "the sunniest and warmest in Germany," according to Ingrid Ronelt of the Tourist Information Office of Hinterzarten.

And that is not all. The Black Forest has more than a dozen 18-hole golf courses, seven snowboarding runs, seven ballooning venues, not to mention sailing, windsurfing and boating on several large lakes.

And wherever they go, tourists are never far from small, high-quality inns and country restaurants with excellent local wines and beers. Located in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, the Black Forest covers an area roughly 125 miles by 45 miles in Germany's southwest corner, located about 70 miles from Zurich, Switzerland, 75 miles from Strasbourg, France, and 110 miles from Stuttgart, Germany, and easily accessible by car or by rail.

Visitors have been coming here for centuries, as far back as the Romans, who marched an army through here under then-general, later-emperor Vespasian during the first century; local legend has it that Marie Antoinette overnighted in Hinterzarten during her honeymoon trip from Vienna, Austria, to Paris.

A key part of the Upper Black Forest, the area around the Feldberg, are two large, popular lakes called the Titisee and Schluchsee, and four towns -- Hinterzarten, Feldberg, Schluchsee and Titisee-Neustadt -- that have banded together to promote themselves as the "Beautiful Four in the Black Forest."

According to Ronelt, 80% of the four towns' visitors are German, and the three primary sources of foreign tourists are Switzerland, Britain and the U.S., in that order. Most U.S. visitors who come through the region are self-drive tourists.

Peak season here is in the summer -- "especially August and September," Ronelt said, and the slowest months are April and November. The region has a wealth of accommodations options that range from guesthouses and bed and breakfasts to four- and five-star hotels, mostly traditional, family-run places rather than modern chain properties.

For example, Hinterzarten's 100-room Parkhotel Adler (49-7652-1270) has been an inn since the 15th century; today, it is a luxury property with traditional, individually decorated rooms that still use big metal keys instead of key cards; it has a spacious lobby overlooking the hotel's own manicured private park and a large, excellent restaurant with outdoor seating next to windows lined with overflowing flower boxes.

Lodging prices in the Black Forest tend to be reasonable by European standards. A double room and breakfast can start at $25 a night in the off season, or $50 a night in peak season at local guesthouses, and can range up to $200 a night or more for top properties.

Hinterzarten is also home to the Schwarzwalder Ski Museum, a traditional farmhouse filled with antique skis, boots and related paraphernalia, along with photos of local ski heroes.

A dozen of the better hotels around the "Beautiful Four" towns region of the Black Forest cooperate on summer hiking packages they call Rambling Without Packs, in which clients' luggage is transported from one hotel to another so they can hike from village to village with only a day-pack.

A nine-night package, available from May through October, costs about $450 per person, double, including accommodations with breakfast, luggage transfers and taxes; three-day and five-day versions also are offered. Details on the hiking packages are available from the Tourist Information Office in Neustadt at (011) 49 7651-206251.

Besides serving as a popular downhill ski destination in winter, the Feldberg is also a popular summer spot, not only for hikers who climb to the top by foot but also for less athletic visitors who take the chair lifts to the summit for a great view of the surrounding countryside.

For details on the region, see the following Web sites: www.schwarzwald-tourist-info.de; www.upper-black-forest.de, or contact the German National Tourist Offices in Los Angeles at (310) 575-9799 or in New York at (212) 661-7200 or see its Web site at www.germany-tourism.de.

Packages to region debut

NEW YORK -- Some U.S. wholesalers are catching on to the soft-adventure tour possibilities in the Black Forest, and have created appropriate packages. For example:

  • Europe Express of Bothell, Wash., at (800) 927-3876 or www.europeexpress.com, has a seven-day, six-night, self-guided biking tour through the Schwarzwald from May through October with daily departures. It begins in Lossburg and ends in Kehl-Kork, an itinerary that permits a relatively easy 10 to 32 miles of riding per day and includes a visit to nearby Strasbourg. Priced at $735 per person, the trip includes meet-and-greet services, accommodations with private bath, daily breakfast and dinner, a 21-speed bicycle, a helmet, luggage transfers and maps.
  • Horizons Adventures of a Lifetime of Marietta, Ga., at (800) 246-3180 or www.horizadv.com, has a seven-day "easy to moderate" hiking and bicycling tour along the Rhine River and through the Black Forest, with departures on June 20 and 27. Priced at $1,795 per person, double, not including air, it goes from Rudesheim to Baden-Baden, then proceeds to Hinterzarten, with longer distances covered by train. The cost covers first class hotels, local guides, all dinners and breakfasts, a picnic lunch, German Railpass, bikes and equipment and luggage transfers.
  • Vancouver-based Hidden Trails. at (888) 987-2457 or www.hiddentrails.com, offers an eight-day horseback-riding package through the Black Forest, priced at $1,195 per person, double, with departures on April 18, May 9 and 23, June 13, Aug. 29, Sept. 26 and Oct. 10. Designed for intermediate-level riders, it anticipates four to six hours a day in the saddle over six riding days. The tour starts in Klettgau and proceeds to Birkendorf, Schluchsee, Lenzkirch, Feldberg and Mettenberg, winding up in Erzingen. Price includes hotels, daily breakfast and dinner, horses and guides.
  • Comments
    JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI