If you go down to the woods today… discover brilliant Baiersbronn. Driving through the dark depths of Germany’s Black Forest, I was winding through sleepy villages of the little-known Murg Valley. The twisting roads here lead through the thickest part of these massive woods between Baden-Baden and Freudenstadt.
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To be honest, I was a little lost. I’d been driving all morning and I needed to stop for a meal. Normally, in such a remote spot in rural Germany, this could mean finding a cheery rosy-cheeked host dolloping out a big bowl of some hearty rustic classic like sausages and sauerkraut or a steaming bowl of eintopf ‘one-pot’ stew. Perhaps it would be served on a plastic tablecloth in an over-heated, brightly lit room with plastic pot plants and a framed portrait of Franz Beckenbauer. I was expecting that if I got lucky round here I’d be served a gargantuan chunk of Black Forest gateau too.
But this time I was in for a shock. I happened to have pulled over in a small place called Baiersbronn. I’d never heard of it, and I suspect most of you reading this haven’t heard of it either. It’s a smart and well-kept community, but not one of those chocolate-box ultra-pretty German fairy-tale hamlets. I found that this sprawling collection of nine villages deep in the northern hills of the Black Forest is actually the world’s least-likely gastronomic paradise.
The whole area totals just 16,000 people but now has a collection of fabulous restaurants that boast a total of eight Michelin stars between them. And this includes two restaurants with three of the prestigious stars each (the results of the efforts of little-known chefs Harold Wohlfahrt at the Traube Tonbach and Claus-Peter Lumpp at the Bareiss). Food at a three-star restaurant is rated as good as you can get anywhere in the world.
To put that into context, Baiersbronn has the same number of three-star restaurants as you can find across the whole of the city of London and twice as many as there are in Chicago. And consider that the whole country of Poland can offer just two Michelin stars, while Bulgaria has none at all.
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And there are plenty of other excellent quality eateries in the Baiersbronn. It seems that the competition between the two top chefs has raised standards everywhere, so that no average restaurant could survive here. All these restaurants alone should have made little Baiersbronn famous around the world – but to the rest of Europe it remains a little-known spot in Southern Germany’s Black Forest. That has left tourist officials scratching their head, because I found that in many ways, Baiersbronn is a fantastic place to visit.
Apart from the amazing choice of gourmet food, Baiersbronn stands almost in the geographical centre of Europe. This means it’s within a day’s drive of almost everywhere on the continental mainland. Okay, I was lost when I went there on a crisp autumn day, but when I looked at a map I realised I was actually within easy reach of the main roads and the borders with France and Switzerland.
I left feeling like I’d unearthed a fantastic village hidden among the Swabian trees and mountains. But why am I reminiscing about Baiersbronn now? It’s because I’ve realised it’s almost a perfect winter destination.
A Little Something Extra
Firstly, there’s the sensational choice of food. But also, anyone visiting the village during the snowy months would find there are seven uncrowded ski lifts here giving access to 50 miles of ski pistes. Want to try something different? There’s a village ski jump and an ice rink for skating and curling.
All around the village are a variety of slopes for all abilities, ranging from 450m up to 1,100m above sea level and all with wonderful views across the surrounding hills and forests. Seven of the local slopes are floodlit and there are 12 cross-country ski trails from Baiersbronn, some with lighting too.
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Apres ski? Okay, you might struggle to find a chic nightclub – but you’ll be too busy trying each of the brilliant restaurants anyway.
Many of the less daring German visitors take snowshoe hikes through the hills here. I noticed that some Baiersbronn hotels provide free snowshoes to guests. These winter adventures in the woods can easily be punctuated with warming stops at traditional inns along the way.
An All Year Round Destination
Thinking of a good place to propose? Other options here include an ultra-romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides through the snowy forest ending at one of the exquisite local restaurants.
Meanwhile, in the summer, Baiersbronn is popular among Germans because of its walking trails through the beautiful hills and forests laced with mountain streams and glacial lakes. It’s much less well known among other nationalities. The normally understated German tourist board describes the walking paths at Baiersbronn as ‘Europe’s most extensive network of hiking trails’.
And anyone who does visit the village will find there’s an elegant medieval abbey to explore and one of Germany’s most spectacular waterfalls too. The Sankenback cascade plunges 40m down a cliff surrounded by trees. It has a unique feature that visitors can alter the flow of the water using an old wooden sluice gate further up the river.
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At any time of year it’s a place with plenty of boutique spas where you can lounge around in hot tubs or have traditional therapies and luxurious treatments. Check out both the five-star Hotel Bareiss and Hotel Traube Tonbach for the best health spa centres in the region (which seem to compete to be best just like their highly-rated chefs).
As a final winter feature I discovered that Baiersbronn also has three highly rated toboggan runs. I fantasised that using one of the runs would surely make the strangest way to arrive for a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. There can’t be many places in the world where you can tackle a quarter of a mile long floodlit sledge run at night, dust yourself off and step into a three-star Michelin restaurant for dinner.