Saturday, 27 February 2010

Black Forest, Over the Mountains to Schiltach

We had selected the Rammersweier Hoff hotel ( because it was inexpensive and because of its location about half way between the main cities of Baden-Baden and Freiburg and on the western edge of the forest in the Rhine Valley. Also because last year when we had to cancel at the last minute they were really good about it and didn’t charge a cancellation fee even though they were entitled to. It also had excellent guest reviews and these were entirely correct. It was a homely place and very traditional with Teutonic décor and a collection of Black Forest ornaments. In the morning we had breakfast in the brightly coloured restaurant and there was a good selection of hot and cold food so we filled ourselves up on the basis that this would last us through until evening meal.

We hadn’t made any firm plans because we were waiting to see what the weather would bring and this morning it was dull and overcast so we decided to drive into the forest and visit some traditional towns and villages. We drove out of Offenburg through a string of places all squeezed into the narrow strip of flat land of the Rhine Valley on the German side of the river. We were right on the edge of the forest and to our left thickly wooded hills with a sprinkling of snow rose up dramatically towards the mountains beyond.

As we drove through Gengenbach, Haslach and Hausach there was a bit of snow in the wind but not a great deal of it and we began to wonder again about being ripped off for the winter tyres. It was a bit grey and dull and driving conditions presented no real challenges at all. We were heading for the tourist town of Triberg but really wanted some excitement so in need of snow and scenery we turned off the main road and into the mountains and started to go up.

The car climbed steeply and negotiated a succession of hair pin bends first through deciduous trees surrounded by the remains of last year’s autumn leaf fall and then into dense conifer forest and as it did so we quite quickly found ourselves above the snow line. Suddenly the Black Forest was completely transformed into the White Forest. There had been a substantial fall of snow a day or so before and the conifer trees were heavily laden with crisp white snow fixed in place by a stiff frost and it was as though we had been transported into a Christmas card world of snow and ice, frozen lakes and winter sports.

After a short distance we found the snow we had been chasing. Rather too much snow as it happened because from out of nowhere there came a blizzard that wiped out the road and left only the snow marker poles at the sides of the road to guide us. The little car kept climbing, through twisting bends and sharp turns, climbing to a thousand metres where the fresh snow was building up all the time on the road and it was about now that I had to concede that I was glad of the winter tyres because the conditions here would have tested the driving skills of the World Rally Champion Sébastien Loeb. The car was sliding and skidding and we passed some vehicles that had given up and ground to a halt and Kim’s contribution was by now restricted to the very unhelpful ‘I’m frightened, I’m very frightened, I’m very, very frightened’.

Finally we reached the top of the climb and we started to descend and conditions began to ease except that going downhill was still rather precarious and I was reluctant to use the brakes in case we skidded on the wet snow. Eventually we reached the town of Schonach where the heavy snowfall seemed to have surprised a lot of people and there was a lot of traffic disruption on the main street. About half way through there was a lorry that even with snow chains had run out of traction and was slipping and sliding and causing mayhem. Unwittingly I added to this because as I passed I brought another smaller lorry to a stop and then he couldn’t get going again. The driver wasn’t too pleased and flashed me some hand signals that can’t be found in the official German Highway Code.

Only a few Kilometres from Schonach we reached our first destination, the Black Forest tourist town of Triberg and in a region that has more than its fair share of tourist attractions, there is none that compares to this small town in the middle of the Schwarzwald because it has just about everything, the tallest waterfall in Germany, souvenir shops with the largest collection of Black Forest-related souvenirs and wood products for sale, and the world’s biggest cuckoo clock. Nearly every restaurant and café offers ‘authentic‘ Black Forest Cake, and tour groups arrive here by the busload.

Luckily for us it wasn’t too busy today and a lot of the car parks were under too much snow to be useable but the snow ploughs had kept the road open, there was lots of path clearing activity and a short stay car park in the main square was just about open so we literally slid in found a vacant spot and parked the car.

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