The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep?
In retrospect, we fully empathised with Mr. Frost; we knew just how he must’ve felt. You see, we too were out on the darkest evening of the year (a bitterly cold one in January actually) driving between a sheer rock-face and a steep free-fall, trundling down a torturously curved, narrow ribbon of a road that was going almost steadily down-hill. Then again, it wasn’t as if we were reciting Frost to each other back then; when it’s that late in the day, and you’re that deep in the heart of the Black Forest (south-western Germany), you’re usually in the mood for prayers, not poetry.
Of course, you might wonder why we were wandering about dense, dark hills when we clearly lacked the adventurous spirit? The thing is, we weren’t out there pretending to be big, beefy explorers; we were, thanks to our beloved GPS system (which kept assuring us that we were on the right track, that it was taking us back by the “fastest route”), slightly lost. All we had set out to accomplish early that afternoon was to follow the “Schwarzwaldhochstrasse”, otherwise known as the Black-forest high-altitude panorama road. Winding its way from chic Baden-Baden, all the way to a neat little town called Freudenstadt, high on the hills, these 65 picturesque kilometres came highly recommended in just about every black-forest forum. And so, bolting down a not-insubstantial brunch, we plugged-in the GPS and set out in our trusty Toyota.
As soon as we hit the road, we realised that the guidebooks were all wrong — this route wasn’t simply stunning; it was of a variety that simply defied description. The route swiftly climbs to a little over 1,000 m in altitude, past picture-postcard views, through magnificent forests, all cloaked in a layer of pearly-white snow, back-lit by a low buttery-white wintry sun. Naturally, your senses get a bit-skewed; you forget your adjectives, your verses (Frost? Who?), and when you were last this moved by a bunch of trees, some undulations in the landscape and a thick blanket of snow?.
Talking about snow, there was plenty to do in it as well. As we drove along, we saw one dazzlingly-bright stretch of mountainside, with colourful blobs whizzing downhill; on closer inspection, we found that it was a flood-lit ski-slope, and the blobs were actually people on skis. We parked the car, hurried into the sharp, cold air, only to realise, belatedly, that none of us could ski.
So we rented toboggans. Initially, it was exhilarating, dragging that little wooden sled uphill, sitting on it, and hurtling down the snowy hillside. After a few go-s however, we were puffing, panting, and quickly unbuttoning bulky jackets? Still, we gamely tobogganed until our aching legs and throbbing arms begged us to stop. After which we dragged our sweaty, somewhat exhausted selves back to the car.
The rest of the ride was, to put it succinctly, superb. We reached Freudenstadt at about 4 p.m., just as the wintry sun — by then an orange-gold ball — was fast heading west. After a few minutes, well spent admiring the grand marketplace, we chose a cosy little café for a well-deserved coffee and cake break (the cake in this case being the Black-forest pastry, fluffy-soft, moist and sinfully delicious). A quick peep outside warned us that we had better get going — the sky had turned a nasty shade of grey — and we left almost immediately. We told our GPS to take us “home” (to our rented lodgings in Baden-Baden), and then, well, everything went downhill from there. But, you know about that already, don’t you?
The Black-forest is easily accessible by air (nearby airports: Strasbourg or Basel), by train (Baden-Baden) and of course, by road.
You can stay in Baden-Baden and get a taste of the celebrated spa-city, before you head-off into the hills (check the Baden-Baden city website for self-catering options as well as regular hotels). Or else, opt for any of the picturesque villages that dot the region. Expect to pay a premium during winter (ski season) and the touristy summer months.
The Black Forest is famous for its cuckoo clocks and the cake that is named after the region. The former is not cheap, but there’s no reason to come away without feasting on the pastries!