The Black Forest is steeped in mists and mystery and also, for us, memories.
We spent our last days in Germany touring the forest as it rapidly changed its colours with the cooling days and freezing nights. Blue-black in the shade and along its fir tree skyline, up close the mingled deciduous trees were bright oranges, yellows and golds, and creepers wound out vibrant reds.
Erbst means the fruit harvest. Everywhere farmers and families were gathering in their fresh crops of apples, plums, pears and quince.
The winding roads teemed with farmers, old and young, in caps driving tiny tractors pulling trailers piled high with fruit. They were bound for the local distilleries to turn, by alchemy, into the famous likors and schnapps. Kurbis (pumpkin) in different shapes, colours and sizes were arranged for sale at roadside stalls, and alongside allotments and houses.
Temperatures were freezing overnight as we reached Titisee at 845 meters and saw the first snows.
The lakeside was busy with Chinese tour groups who had been bussed in along the mountain roads. We had hoped to see Schluchsee in the High Black Forest but it was simply too cold to want to venture further up into the High Black Forest.
Keeping warm in the shops we enjoyed the packed shelves of Christmas decorations, for sale all year round, and the many dolls of witches, once burnt in the Schwarzwald, but now a nice money spinner. The Chinese were happily choosing their favourites to take home with them.
After a hot soup in Bertha we moved further west to lower altitudes where the day warmed up.
In the pretty wine village at Ebringen, which was celebrating its 1300 years as the oldest recorded viticulture in the region, we hiked up into to the vineyards and enjoyed views towards Kaiserstuhl and Freiburg before descending and discovering a local vintner open for tastings.
It seemed rude not to sample a Riesling and Pinot Noir and leave with a bottle of both!
Bathing again in the hot springs at Bad Krozingen we were pounded by water jets and falls, stand-up and sit-in jacuzzis and spun hilariously around a water propelled circular pool, much to the non-amusement of our sombre fellow bathers.
Since we were last here two years ago, the already prosperous klinik-based town seemed to be having a boom as spas, eateries and bars were all packed. Despite a wealth of designer clothes shops, and an expensive dry cleaners, sadly the town doesn’t have a launderette.
Using the free parking at nearby Emmendingen, we took our our overflowing laundry bags on the train to Freiburg. A gorgeous medieval town (flattened by the Allies in the Second World War) it has been painstakingly reconstructed and is today bustling with international visitors and its university’s students.
We hung around with them for a while as we did our washing in a jazzy launderette munching on onion quiche and sweet treats from the bakery next door.
Paying a tourist tax on top of nightly fees to stay over in the villages bought us the ‘konus card’ which allows free travel across all public transport in the Black Forest.
We stayed for three days in the pretty wine making village of Oberkirch and spent one of them on the train touring through the Kinzig valley area – home to Haslach and Gengenbach.
Heading into the heart of the forest, the train scaled twisting heights to Triberg where we found our way through the one street town of garish tourist shops featuring mechanical bears and what is officially Germany’s largest cuckoo clock. A curious service industry of Thai massage parlours and nail bars sat oddly alongside them.
We clambered up to the top of Germany’s highest waterfall where the green sylvan glades and cold clear waters were pretty, rather than spectacular. It made for a good hike out before returning to meet the DB train which was heading all the way south to Lake Constance.
However, a trip to Switzerland was not to be. We were dumped unceremoniously, together with all the other passengers, at Radofzell on the lake’s upper, German shores. Rail works had closed the line to Konstanz/Constance/Bodensee.
Still the town, named after a visiting Bishop from Italy in the middle ages, was tranquil and pretty and we had glimpses of Konstanz/Constance/Bodensee across the lake’s grey waters.
Back at Oberkirch, a cycle out to the Franz Fies distillery through the fruit orchards brought a glow to the cheeks, after a steep hill climb and a tasting of several cherry likors, courtesy of a charming young chap.
We were guided through 7 different varieties and chatted about local life in the town and rural area. We chose our favourite to take home for Christmas and even enjoyed a further tasting on the way back to Bertha at a smaller independent distillery!
It wasn’t hard to feel festive as together with Autumn’s bounty, shops were starting to pack their shelves with gingerbread and spicy treats, gluhwein and stollen cakes, and the open all year Weihnachten (Christmas) emporiums upped the lights on their vast displays of traditional wooden and glitzy decorations.
The romantic ruins of Schauenburg Castle are a symbol of Oberkirch and we puffed up the steep road and then a winding woodland path to enjoy the views back across the Black Forest and across to the Vosges in France.
The castle was built around 1000 and extended to form a family home by the 1700s. We couldn’t decipher why it was in ruins before 1800 but enjoyed its spectacular setting which seemed to be almost in the clouds.
There was just one final treat to enjoy in the Black Forest. And why not?