THE FAIRY TALE version of Germany still exists, more than anywhere else, in the Black Forest. Villages of half-timbered houses dot deep valleys in the shadow of mountainsides thick with spruce and fir trees. Hilltop castles loom above sprawling vineyards and orchards. The traditional finery is ornate and the souvenir cuckoo clocks even more so. Then there’s the namesake cake, tempting enough to lure even the most resolute weight-watcher into a witch’s cottage. That’s the Black Forest most visitors come for. It’s the one I expected to indulge in when I tagged along with my wife, who was attending a springtime seminar in the region, at the Schwarzwälder Pilzlehrschau, Germany’s oldest mushroom school. Over the course of a week—a mix of day trips and overnights—we found great hikes, plenty of cake and unexpectedly, a clutch of local, young chefs, hoteliers and artists who are finding compelling new ways to build on old traditions.
The region covers the far southwest corner of Germany, spanning, in its most expansive interpretation, from the cities of Karlsruhe and Pforzheim, down about 100 miles to the Swiss border, and west from the A81 Autobahn to the Rhine river. While the heart of the region is marked by dense, dark forests, the Upper Rhine Plain in the west is wine and agriculture country, with a climate to match. The city of Freiburg im Breisgau is considered the sunniest in the country.
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