Like many American tourists, I've traveled extensively in Germany over the years to popular places such as Munich, Heidelberg, and Berlin. I've also spent time in Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Leipzig, Dresden, and Bonn. Yet I had never traveled through the Black Forest region – until now.
The Black Forest is absolutely stunning. The mountain road must rank as one of Europe's most scenic car drives. I can't believe I hadn't come to the region before!
The easiest way to reach the Black Forest is to fly into Frankfurt, spend a day or so in Heidelberg (in the Baden-Wurtemburg region in southwest Germany), then continue on to Baden-Baden. After spending a few days there, the ideal next stop might be Baiersbronn and a stay at the Bareiss Hotel, as I myself did.
My journey began in Baden-Baden, a beautiful, postcard-perfect, totally manicured, upscale town that sits just outside the forest. Baden-Baden is known for its spa and wellness programs. In fact, its role in rejuvenating treatments and general relaxation dates back to La Belle Époque of the 19th century when many of the French and Russian upper class came for weeks on end.
Americans are very familiar with spas, of course, but "wellness" is not a common term. A wellness program in Germany means rest, spa treatments, healthy natural food, mineral baths, whirlpools (of various temperatures), saunas, and fresh air. It also usually means at least a week's stay of rejuvenation.
I stayed overnight at the Brenner's Park Hotel and Spa (www.brenners.com), a five-star luxury oasis perfectly situated near the city center. The hotel is top notch, classic, and elegant. Rooms are very spacious and contemporary comforts are plentiful – there’s Wi-Fi access and a modern gym (two of my key measures of a hotel’s modernity). My room, like many, looked out on gorgeous colorful gardens and a park. The hotel is grand but not stuffy. Finally, service is outstanding. If you need anything, a staff member is there to help. Two favorite public areas are the cigar club room and the grand salon and bar. Both are inviting, warm, and beautiful.
I spent time walking around the town center, jogging in the park and nearby hills, and at night, our group went for dinner and entertainment at the Casino Baden-Baden (www.casino-baden-baden.de). Apparently many French came to town years back when gambling was outlawed in France. In fact, the Baden-Baden Casino is styled much in the spirit of a grand 19th-century palace or the casino halls of Monaco. This is surely no Vegas – it's more formal (jacket and tie required) and also staid (meaning somewhat reserved verve here and few flashy, ringing slots). I had luck on my side and won 50 euros at the roulette table.
People come to Baden-Baden to enjoy the spas, outdoor activities, fresh air, fine dining, and casino. It’s also a great starting point to the Black Forest. My only regret was not having more time to luxuriate at the very special Brenner's Park Hotel.
For general trip-planning information, see our Germany Travel Guide.