True confession: I haven't always associated Germany with great cuisine. And the Black Forest? Well, there's that famous cake.
But in fact, the Black Forest National Park region in southwest Germany is home to a whopping 11 Michelin stars and 11 Bib Gourmand awards.
For the record, the national park, the first in Baden-Wurttemberg, was founded in 2014 -- and as its name implies -- lies smack in the middle of the Black Forest.
It comprises about 25,000 acres and encompasses 27 towns in three districts.
The idea behind creating the park was to showcase the above-average number of noteworthy restaurants in a setting that also promotes some of the destination's most appealing natural beauty.
Travelers eager to sample the best of the park's culinary highlights can zero in on the town of Baiersbronn and its environs. Already known as a gourmet hot spot, Baiersbronn's reputation was solidified by the 2022 Michelin Guide.
Two of its top restaurants -- the Schwarzwaldstube in the Hotel Traube Tonbach, managed by Torsten Michel, and the Restaurant Bareiss in the hotel of the same name, with chef Claus-Peter Lumpp -- cemented their rarified status by retaining three Michelin stars this year.
To put that feat in perspective, only nine restaurants in all of Germany boast three Michelin stars.
But the foodies among us know that any Michelin star is an accomplishment, and with that in mind, other restaurants in Baiersbronn have their own accolades to brag about.
Restaurant 1789, for example, (formerly Kohlerstube) under the direction of Florian Stolte in the Hotel Traube Tonbach, and Jorg Sackmann's gourmet restaurant Schlossberg in the Hotel Sackmann, each have one star.
And fanning out a little into the greater Black Forest National Park region, Le Pavillon in the Hotel Dollenberg in Bad Peterstal-Griesbach has two Michelin stars, while Werner's Restaurant in the Hotel Schloss Eberstein in Gernsbach has one.
Meanwhile, Bib Gourmands -- a Michelin designation for restaurants that offer good food that is more accessible to everyday folks -- were awarded to 11 eateries in the Black Forest National Park region.
Aiding in digestion
Let's say you've managed to eat your way through the park, the good news is that there are plenty of ways to shake off that fine dining coma.
Park rangers are on hand to lead guided hikes through densely forested areas that alternate with wine-growing regions.
Or accompany chefs or experienced nature guides trained in herbs and wild plants, who can explain their uses in the kitchen.
Of course, you can also explore the park on your own after a visit to an interactive permanent exhibition, which introduces visitors to the lay of the land and its variety of species and habitats.
The exhibition touches on the mysterious notion that trees, plants and other creatures in the national park communicate in ways ecologists are just beginning to understand.