Black Forest by rail

The bucolic splendour of the surrounding Black Forest bursts with enchanting exploration options. The Black Forest railway lines pass through some of the most romantic scenery in Europe. Think thick pine and fir forests, vertical rock faces, graceful watermills and Hansel and Gretel-style villages, straight out of a fairytale. The German autobahn maybe the stuff of legend, but travelling by train through the Black Forest region, or the Schwarzwald as the locals call it, offers an incomparably intimate encounter. It was the Romans who gave the forest its name, in deference to its darkness. Arm yourself with a Eurail pass from www.raileurope.co.nz and you’re good to go on those slick and sleek German trains.

What I particularly love about Deutsche Bahn is reservations aren’t required on any of their trains, whether you’re hop-scotching between the villages on a regional train, or zipping cross-country on these whip-smart, lightning-fast and roomy ICE trains. In first class, you’re treated to free newspapers, café-standard coffee served at your seat and free chocolate bars. My seat was equipped with power points and the free WiFi was resolutely reliable. I based myself in atmospheric Freiburg, the ideal launch-pad for a feast of Black Forest excursions, effortlessly accessed by the trusty train tracks.
Frequently associated with the setting of countless Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, the Black Forest happily plays up to its image as a land of cuckoo clocks, cherry gâteaux, colourful traditional attire, hefty half-timbered farmhouses with incredibly low-slung roofs, and hill upon hill of dark evergreen forest. I half expected to run into Hansel & Gretel. (If you’re a serious Brothers Grimm aficionado, there’s a designated Fairy Tale route, north of the Schwarzwald, linking many of the towns with literary connections to the Grimms’, including their birthplace, Hanau, just east of Frankfurt.)

A riveting excursion from Freiburg is the fifty minute train ride, cutting through storybook Black Forest scenery to Lake Titisee. After ogling the impressive Höllental (“Hell Valley”) I basked in the spectacle of Titisee’s mirror-like waters, reflecting the dense and calm forest bracketing the lake. This gorgeous lakefront resort town is just the place to go positively cuckoo in the gift shops, before surrendering to a slice or two of gateaux and perhaps a shot of kirschwasser schnaps.

Another effortless little jaunt by train whisks you to Gutach, home to the Black Forest Open Air Museum. Not only is it a ravishing romp on the rails through the undulating bucolic folds of the Black Forest country, but there is a palpable sense of walking back in time at Vogtsbauernhof Open-Air Museum. Culture and history comes alive as you get a flavour for traditional farm life, with a clutch of historic structures including the Schwarzwald’s oldest house, the 16th century Vogtsbauernhof. If you’re up for more cuckoos, head to the German Clock Museum in Furtwangen, housing Germany’s largest clock collection and giving you a crash course in its origins.

If you’re travelling with kids, particularly, a day out at Europa Park should be added to the agenda. Its only thirty minutes north of Freiburg and a none too subtle imitation of Disneyland, to the point that the theme park’s mascot is Ed the Euromouse. But Europe’s biggest theme park is surprisingly good, a giddy celebration of all things Europe with 14 themed nation-by-nation zones. And despite Brexit, they haven’t disbanded the delights of the British zone. It actually feels much like a whimsical World Expo, with cheerfully designed pavilions, celebrating Europe’s architectural splendour, from the white-washed houses of Greece to the Tudor-style pubs of Britain. But the star attraction which instantly enraptured my inner-child was Grimm’s Enchanted Forest, lustily bringing all those fairytales to life with animatronic wizardry. It’s like walking into a mega-sized Macy’s Christmas window display. Snow White, Rapunzel, Mother Goose and yes, Hansel & Gretel – they’re all there. Plus the park is festooned in thrill rides galore, including Europe’s most daring roller coasters.

German rail is a masterclass in public transport. The regional train network across the Schwarzwald makes sightseeing a cinch. Sort your rail plans in advance, by booking tickets or a rail pass to suit with the experts on the tracks, Rail Europe. www.raileurope.co.nz
Wherever you choose to stay in the storybook Schwarzwald, lock in your accommodation through www.Hotels.com, which is packed with sizzling deals. Hotels.com Rewards gives you one free night after 10 nights booked– which you can store up. Rewards members and mobile app users also enjoy exclusive access to Secret Prices. Booking a perfect hotel on the go? I found the Hotels.com mobile app to be fast, simple and secure.

Flying direct from Singapore to 15 European cities, Singapore Airlines offers a salivating range of destinations for Kiwis dreaming of a grand tour in Europe. Operating international flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, I lapped up the award-winning inflight service, abundant entertainment selections on Krisworld and quality dining offerings. For best fares and seats to suit, head to www.singaporeair.com

By Mike Yardley. (September 1, 2018)

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