A walk on the wild side in the Black Forest…
We went exploring through the Black Forest today (the place, not the cake) and it was AWESOME! Check it out…
Exploring the villages and valleys of the Black Forest.
The Schwarzwald (translation = Black Forest) is indubitably Germany’s best known wilderness area. Birthplace of so many childhood fairy tales, this is one woodland I have been excited about visiting for decades (because yes, I am THAT old). This is the background against which many popular legends and fables are set – stories like “Sleeping Beauty”, “Hansel & Gretel”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “Beauty & the Beast”. Walking under its dark canopy today we could can just imagine how foreboding the forest must have seemed centuries ago when bears and wolves roamed the hills, and children who ventured off the known paths got lost and were never found again…
The awesome Schwarzwald.
Don’t get lost in there, or you may never return…
It was amazingly green under the canopy of the Black Forest.
The Black Forest is in far South-Western Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg. This 10,000 square kilometre mountainous woodland was once home to lots of scary beasts and imagined horrors; today it has well and truly been tamed however and is even serviced by a train that brings happy little tourists like ourselves into its verdant embrace. Tourism is in fact the regions major industry and there are dozens of small villages spread throughout the forest that provide sustenance and shelter for hikers, campers and day trippers like us. So really the Black Forest is not that foreboding any more at all.
The Black Forest: home to farms and villages aplenty. Not that scary at all really.
There is a single train line servicing this area. It’s not much, but it was enough for us to get there today!
One of the many picturesque villages of the Schwarzwald.
There are hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails that criss-cross the Schwarzwald and since it’s been AGES since we did a good hike, we set off early this morning to trek the Kinzig Valley Trail. This 120km trail follows the Kinzig River through the centre of the Black Forest and is considered part of the Swabian Camino (i.e. the German component of the 2,500km Camino that cuts across Spain and France to Santiago de Compostella). Like the Camino in Spain, the Kinzig Valley hiking trail is sign posted with the yellow symbol of the St James mussel. The Kinzig Valley Trail is also part of the European E1 Long Distance Hiking Trail that runs from Sicily to the top of Norway. It goes without saying that we did not do the entire Kinzig Valley Trail today; we picked 15 of the most scenic kilometres to hike and just stuck with that.
The Kinzig Valley Trail follows along the Kinzig River, which was really more like a stream for most of the hike.
We picked what we thought would be the most scenic 15kms of the Kinzig Valley Trail to hike today.
We stopped for photos so often during our hike that it took us hours longer than it should have!
We caught the train from Heidelberg to Schenkenzell (a rather epic 2 hour journey in itself) and then set out to walk all the way to Wolfach, some 15kms away. The hiking trail itself was very smooth and flat and consisted of some paved pedestrian-only bits along the roadside, some country roads that we had to share with the occasional tractor and/or cow, and some sections of rocky forest paths that took us deep into the woods. It was an easy hike, especially compared to some of the very hilly treks we did in Japan!
We hiked this 15km section of the Kinzig Valley Trail today – from Schenkenzell to Wolfach.
Along the way we saw lots of rolling green fields full of fat happy dairy cows, cute little villages set beside the babbling Kinzig River, and, of course, trees (it is a forest after all). It was a wonderful day of hiking…
Loving the Kinzig Valley Trail!
It was just us and the cows for most of today.
A cool old farm shed we passed.
“Hey – come check this out,” says Shane. “There’s wild blackberries here!”
There were, in fact, heaps of wild blackberries everywhere. Shane wouldn’t let me eat any though coz he said the cows probably pee on them and they would give me the runs.
There were also lost of tiny, barely ripe wild apples everywhere. Shane wouldn’t let me eat those either because he said they were too green and would probably give me the runs. Seems the Black Forest is really out to cause a lot of people a lot of gastric disturbances.
Luckily we made it through the Black Forest with no tummy upsets, just lots of cool memories.
The highlights of the day were without a doubt the village of Schiltach and the ruins of Schenkenberg Castle. Schiltach is a small village, founded 1,000 years ago and now home to 4,000 residents. What made Schiltach so special is that the entire medieval town centre has been preserved. The central Marktplatz (translation = market square) is still cobbled and home to the old town well; the original Rathaus (translation = town hall) is still there too (it now houses the Tourist Information Centre); and there are dozens of timber-framed houses to enjoy. Even though it is late summer, most of the old houses still had planter-boxes full of flowers at their windows, making for a very pretty sight.
The village of Schiltach – a personal favourite for the day.
The old town hall of Schiltach, repainted to look at it once originally did.
The central market square in Schiltach.
The Main Street in Schiltach.
The other highlight of the day was Schenkenberg Castle. This 13th century fortress was once an administrative and defensive holding belonging to the local lordling, but has long since been abandoned and left to crumble. The ruins are perched up a hill, overlooking the valley below. All that’s left of the original fortress is part of a wall from the main keep and the fountains of the main guard tower. It’s all very eerie, perched up on that hill by itself, the vacant eyes of its empty windows looking blankly across the landscape..
With flowers at every window the timber-framed houses of Schiltach were just too cute.
Standing amongst the ruins of Schenkenberg Castle.
The view from the castle, across the valley, was fantastic.
Trying to peer into the ruins of the old watch tower….
…only to discover a small hole in the wall I could crawl through! I tried to get Shane to join me in there but he was too big to fit through the hole. It was just me and the critters in there.
Schenkenberg Castle, The Black Forest.
We stopped for lunch in a great little Italian trattoria beneath the castle’s ruins where a genuine Italian Mamma cooked us home-made gnocchi whilst the rest of the family regaled us with tales of life under the shadows of the Black Forest. It was great, especially because IT WASN’T SCHNITZEL. I mean, we love German schnitzel, don’t get me wrong, but every now and then it’s nice to eat something not so schnitzelly.
Lunch at the Italian trattoria we discovered was GREAT: home made gnocchi with a meaty Bolognese sauce to keep us fuelled for the rest of the hike.
Shane was thoroughly satisfied with his non-schnitzel lunch today. See how happy he looks?!
Around 4:00pm we arrived in Wolfach, our final destination. Wolfach is a vertiable bustling metropolis compared to the other villages we passed; with a permanent population of 6,000 people it is one of Germany’s most famous spa towns and plays host to about 130,000 tourists every year. One of the main attractions in Wolfach is the Dorotheenhütte glass blowing workshop – one of the last active glassworks using traditional methods in the Black Forest. By that stage of the afternoon we were not all that interested in glass blowing however and just hopped on our train and watched the mountains and forest of the Schwarzwald gradually peter out until we were once again just passing by rolling green farmland.
The bustling metropolis of Wolfach.
Tired but happy at the end of another great day in Germany. Heading home by train to Heidelberg for our final night in this fantastic country.
The Black Forest is a beautiful part of Germany – not quite as wild and foreboding as we thought it would be, but still a wonderful piece of wilderness in this very industrialised and populated country. We will definitely have to come back, if for nothing else than for some more of this…
Mmmmm…. Black Forest cake. Our reward after a long days’ hiking! (Shane actually let me eat this. I think THIS is more likely to give you the runs than the apples or blackberries, but we’ll see…)