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Over the years, I have traveled extensively in Germany to popular places such as Berlin, Munich, and Heidelberg, as well as less-touristy spots like Cologne, Hamburg, Leipzig, Dresden, and Bonn. Yet I had never visited the Black Forest region until last fall.

Bordering France and Switzerland, the Black Forest is a densely wooded area in the southwest corner of Germany, in the state of Baden-Württemberg. The region is known for its picturesque villages, rolling green hills, and intricately carved cuckoo clocks.

A leisurely way to reach the Black Forest is to fly into Frankfurt, rent a car, and drive an hour south to Heidelberg. Spend a couple of days there, then head southwest another hour to Baden-Baden. This postcard-perfect town sits just outside the Black Forest, making it an ideal starting point for exploring the area. Baden-Baden’s renown as a wellness destination dates back to the Belle Epoque of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when members of the French and Russian upper classes visited the region for weeks on end to relax and enjoy rejuvenating spa treatments.

We stayed overnight at Brenner’s Park Hotel & Spa ( www.brenners.com ), a five-star luxury oasis conveniently situated near Baden-Baden’s city center. The hotel is top-notch, with outstanding service, elegant décor, and 100 spacious rooms and suites. Contemporary comforts, like free Wi-Fi and an up-to-date gym (two of my key modernity measures for hotels), abound. My room, like many, looked out on manicured gardens and a verdant park. Brenner’s also has a cozy cigar lounge and a grand salon and bar – both great spots to unwind at the end of the day.

At night, our group went to the Casino Baden-Baden (www.casinobaden-baden.de) for dinner and entertainment. Styled much in the spirit of an ornate French palace or the gilded gambling halls of Monaco, this casino is certainly no Las Vegas – it’s more formal (jacket and tie required) and staid (no flashy, ringing slots).

An ideal next stop is the town of Baiersbronn. We traveled by bus about 45 minutes into the Black Forest along a steep mountain road, through thickets of trees and charming little towns straight from a fairy tale. This surely must rank as one of Europe’s most scenic drives. We paused at Mummelsee Lake for lunch. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic, or you can dine at the Berghotel Mummelsee (www.mummelsee.de), where 13 euros will get you a sumptuous spread of meats, cheeses, breads, and more. Don’t miss the Black Forest cake for dessert (yes, it really comes from the region).

In the afternoon, we made our way to the Bareiss Hotel (www.bareiss.com), in the village of Mitteltal, near Baiersbronn. The Bareiss is a lovely 99-room Relais & Châteaux property run by the same family for three generations. The staff is so welcoming and the setting so peaceful, it’s easy to see why guests return year after year.

The hotel has a trio of excellent restaurants (including the three Michelin-starred Restaurant Bareiss), nine indoor and outdoor pools and whirlpools, an extensive spa, and plenty of organized activities for adults (hiking, biking, and wine tasting) and kids (painting and treasure hunts). The winter brings sleigh rides and snowshoe hikes.

We ate dinner at Dorfstube, the hotel’s traditional Black Forest restaurant, filled with rustic wooden furniture. The female waitstaff wear dirndls and serve local Swabian dishes, such as spaetzle (small dumplings) and maultaschen (beef ravioli).

The next day, we carried on, driving to the Hohenzollern Castle (pictured above; www.burg-hohenzollern.com), formerly home to Prussian kings. Rising majestically into the sky from its prime hilltop perch, the castle is an easy and worthwhile stop before leaving the forest.

We ended our trip in Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg. Though the city was heavily damaged in World War II, it has been artfully rebuilt to preserve its historic character. While it did lose a lot of wonderful old structures, Stuttgart created several beautiful parks (all connected by a series of foot bridges) and painstakingly reconstructed many of its 18th- and 19th-century facades. Additionally, the city has multiple Bauhaus civic buildings and the longest pedestrian shopping zone in Germany.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum (www.mercedes-benz-classic.com/museum) and the Porsche Museum (www.porsche.com/international/aboutporsche/porschemuseum) are two must-sees for car aficionados. The sleek museums opened in 2006 and 2009, respectively; both attract design enthusiasts, but the Mercedes-Benz Museum garners special attention for its innovative architecture by UNStudio, a Dutch firm.

For dinner in town, we headed to Cube (www.cube-restaurant.de), a stylish eatery on the top floor of the Kunstmuseum, Stuttgart’s cube-shaped contemporary art museum. The city views are dazzling, and though I’m generally not a fan of pork, Cube’s fillet was superb.

Although underappreciated by the majority of Americans, Baden-Württemberg is definitely an area with much to offer.

From the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Smart Luxury Travel magazine by ShermansTravel.com.

For general trip-planning information, see our Germany Travel Guide.

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