Freiburg and Surroundings Blend Historical, Natural Delights

By Joyce Dalton

FREIBURG, Germany -- This medieval town is close to the Black Forest, the Rhine Valley, vineyards of Baden-Wurttemberg, various spas and neighboring France and Switzerland. But before exploring the environs, visitors need time to enjoy Freiburg itself.

With a population approaching 190,000, plus some 30,000 university students, "city" should be the more appropriate term. "Town," however, better suits the ambience, especially of the historical center, where leisure clients will spend most of their time.

Sightseeing typically begins at the cathedral, whose spire has been extolled as the "most beautiful in Christendom." Construction began in 1200 and subsequent additions reflect various architectural periods. The west tower is considered a highlight of Gothic style. Filigree, stained glass and statues -- especially gargoyles designed to frighten evil spirits -- add to the grandeur.

Narrow lanes were meant to keep peddlers and their carts away from the cathedral. Today, however, flower, fruit and vegetable stands add literal and figurative local color to the square.

In June, an annual wine festival takes place here. After purchasing a glass, visitors sample from 110 offerings until that "special point" is reached, as a guide tactfully phrased it. Thirsty clients who cannot travel in June will be pleased to know that Freiburg hosts additional Wine Days during the summer.

Strolling the old section can occupy hours or days. Each turn leads to another picturesque structure, some medieval, others dating from the Renaissance. At least a dozen museums tempt the visitor. The largest is housed in a former monastery; others display collections of tin figures, dolls, toys and carnival exhibits.

Freiburg claims to be the sunniest city in Germany as well as the spot where every second German would most like to live. Superlatives do not come much higher than that.

As for lodging, the town has some 4,000 beds in all categories.

Farmhouses, their roofs sloping almost to the ground, dot the rolling countryside on the hour's drive from Freiburg to the Black Forest's Lake Titisee. Pretty villages, well supplied with restaurants and souvenir shops, belie the dark and forbidding forest of childhood fairy tales.

Well-marked hiking and biking trails await the energetic. The more sedentary can commune with nature from the verandas of Alpine-style hotels or while sipping sparkling wine aboard comfortable sightseeing boats.

Although only the most imaginative client might glimpse an elf shaping a bit of linden wood into a cuckoo clock, all can visit a workshop for a minilesson in this Black Forest craft. The first such clock was made in 1640 near the lakeside town of Titisee, where today the Black Forest Clock Center offers demonstrations of cuckoo creation plus a display of enough clocks to drive even ornithologists cuckoo.

The Alemannenhof and Sternen hotels make tasty lunch or dinner stops for day-trippers and feature attractive accommodations for overnighters. Located right on the lake, the Alemannenhof is built in typical Black Forest style, and the facade of the Sternen's handicraft center boasts a mammoth cuckoo clock. Four pairs of traditionally clad dancing figures announce the hour. A nearby, 850-year-old wooden chapel invites photos.

Clients who relish immersion in another culture could opt for a farm stay. In recent years, many area farmers have increased their income by adding rooms or a small apartment for tourists. Often, these are in homes dating back several centuries. A recent visit to one such farm proved that these homes can be charming, often featuring such authentic touches as ceramic tile stoves and old pictures. While plying us with six varieties of homemade cheese, our hostess shared stories of country customs, even opening the stove to display cherry pit-filled bags waiting to warm chilly beds.

Most Americans do not visit spas to "take the waters." Still, a few days at one of the thermal spas near Freiburg could leave clients relaxed and rejuvenated. Baden-Baden, one of the grandes dames of European spas, lies 69 miles north of Freiburg. Its baths and casinos were the playground of 19th century nobility. Today's clientele may be less grand, but an aura of bygone days remains.

Other spas, including Bad Krozingen, Badenweiler and Bad Bellingen, are situated even closer to Freiburg. Each is identified with treatment for specific medical problems. "True professional medical treatment is what we stand for," a spokesperson said.

If all this is not enough, Freiburg and its environs encompass one of Germany's largest wine-producing regions, so clients can enjoy wine cellar visits and, of course, wine tastings.

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