Black Forest

We are planning to spend about 1 week between the Alsace region & the Black Forest. We don't particularly love big cities. When we went to Bavaria & Austria a few years back we tried to stay in smaller towns, although we did spend 3 nights in Munich.. Where would you make home base in Alsace? Both Colmar & Strassbourg look like big cities..Is there a more quaint, scenic ,smaller town you migh recommend?

The same question for the Black Forest. Rick says to stay in Staufen and use that as a base to explore the region. He praises Baden-Baden but that looks like a big city (with casinos, etc...which does nothing for us). Is there another spa town that we might like better?

If we stay in Staufen, is there a good day trip into Switzerland you might recommend?

We will have a car so I was also thinking that a day/night in Luxembourg might be worth it (on our way north to Bastogne and the Huertgen Forest). Any ideas where we should stay and explore? Luxembourg CIty for example??

Thanks folks for your help.

Posted by TC
916 posts

To me Colmar is a small to medium size place. We found it to be small enough to walk everywhere. Definitely did not have a big city feel. Same with Baden-Baden. Guess your choice will depend on how much / little activity or quaintness and idleness you want. Both of the above have enough to do without being bored, but they can also be relaxing and laid back. Nice day trips to nearby areas are possible from both.

Posted by Chris F
Basel, Switzerland
1760 posts

Strasbourg is a big city, Colmar isn't, it is a medium sized town.
Baden-Baden isn't big, but is is nothing but a spa and a casino. Don't think of it as Las Vegas, it has been a casino town since the 17th century. But is is not one of my favourites.
One of the great features of the Black Forest is each village has a hotel or B+B built using the local wooden "Cuckoo-clock" archtiectural style. If you have a car, this is the place to stay. Otherwise Staufen is nice. See:

Freiburg-im-Breisgau is large, but the centre is compact and deserves a day trip.

"good day trip into Switzerland" - Basel off course. It is accessable by rail from both Alsace (Colmar) and Baden (Freiburg, Staufen) sides of the Rhine.

Posted by Alexandra
West Coast, California, USA
368 posts

My husband and I toured the BF region last year and made our home base in Gengenbach, a small quaint town that others on this site had recommended. We stayed at a charming B&B called Gasthof Hirsch. Because our accommodations were in the BF the inn gave us each a special pass that allowed us to ride the train for free to other towns. Each morning we took a short walk to the station and headed to a different town: Colmar, Strasbourg, Triberg. When we grew tired of the limitations of the train we used our rental car to discover other fun things: The Vogtsbauernhof Museum (an outdoor museum or original farmhouses through the centuries, some dating back to the 1500's), the quaint town of Schilltach, and just exploring. We were only in the BF a week but my husband feels that wasn't enough time to see everything he wanted to see.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12859 posts

Baden Baden is in no way a city - it is a town and not a particularly big one. A bit pricey, yes, but not big.

No high rises, only has one 400 year old or so casino, like many other spas, a couple of shopping streets, and a fine walk along the river and into the surrounding woods.

Luxembourg City? I thought you were averse to cities? It is the capital city for the whole country, and a fair amount of European activity takes place there.

It is somewhat larger than Baden Baden but both are, IMHO very nice places.

My favourite spa, so far, BTW, is just south of Freiburg im Breisgau, in the south of the Black Forest.

That said, the trip this summer I will try Erdigg south of Munich.

Posted by Russ
2431 posts

I think Gengenbach is great too.

I recently spend several days in a 2-bedroom apartment on a farm in Steinach, a bit further east on the scenic Black Forest Railway line from Gengenbach. You might enjoy it too. Cozy place, nice deck with a view of fields, orchards, and mountains, just 10 minutes walk to the train station. German-language page below has pictures:
Schöner farm

Both above towns are close to all, including the Gutach Vogtsbauernhof and Schiltach as mentioned above.

"When we grew tired of the limitations of the train we used our rental car to discover other fun things: The Vogtsbauernhof Museum (an outdoor museum or original farmhouses through the centuries, some dating back to the 1500's), the quaint town of Schilltach..."

I want to point out that train travel in the Black Forest DOES NOT limit access the Vogtsbauernhof and Schiltach. Both places have train stops and you can easily get to both from either Gengenbach or Steinach. Also, train travel in the area is not only efficient and dependable, it is FREE if you stay in smaller towns like Gengenbach, Steinach, or Schiltach because of the KONUS plan - a promo deal whereby hosts issue you a free pass for train and bus travel in the Black Forest for the duration of your stay. Train travel is NOT free if you stay in Baden-Baden - no KONUS plan there. The KONUS plan is available from Staufen innkeepers, but Staufen's rail line position is weak for outings in the high Black Forest.

KONUS info
Black Forest Railway double-decker train - nice for sightseeing.
BF Railway map (dotted route is the scenic route)
Train passing through Hornberg

Both Staufen and Baden-Baden have drawbacks as base towns for day trips in the Black Forest as well as their own drawbacks, IMO.

Posted by Lee
Lakewood, Colorado
13452 posts

I would disagree with Nigel. At over 50,000 people, it's not huge, like Munich, but it's bigger than a town. About 85% of the places I've stayed at in Germany have been smaller. I didn't stay there - I came on a day trip from Bad Herrenalb (using my Konus card). I didn't particularly like it. It seemed very much like a city to me. One very glitzy pedestrian shopping street.

I've never been to Gengenbach, but it looks nice. If you wanted a spa, I would suggest Freudenstadt (pop 22,600), sometimes called the capital city of the northern Black Forest. It has a traditional (i.e. Kleiderfrei) German Therme and a huge town square.

I've spent over two weeks in the north B.F. and with the rail and bus system and the Konus card, never needed a car.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12859 posts

I think it is all perspective and conventions which vary around the world. When i lived outside New York, I lived in a place with a population of 32,000. It was called a village.

When I lived in Texas, I lived in a place with a population of 200,000 which called itself a town.


Posted by Fred
San Francisco
4425 posts

If places with 20,000 to 50,000 inhabitants are located near to big cities in Calif, they are called suburbs. Practically all of Silicon Valley aside from the city of San Jose is seen as suburbs, towns in the "burbs" True, it's relative in terms of comparison.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10760 posts

"My favourite spa, so far, BTW, is just south of Freiburg im Breisgau, in the south of the Black Forest.

That said, the trip this summer I will try Erdigg south of Munich. "

Actually, Therme Erding is north of Munich. I suspect this will probably become your favortie after your visit. I'm even headed back in a few weeks...

Posted by jcschindler
4 posts

I know my reply will veer off course, but my wife and I are taking the kids (12 and 9) to do the Bavaria/Austria trip. Do you have any advice to share from the trip you took there with your family. We are not too big into the big city thing either. Thanks.

Posted by ftmsb
10 posts

Following on your request for quaint, scenic, and smaller in the Alsace, I would recommend Eguishheim. It is ridiculously cute. Definitely a tourist destination, though. We stayed there a couple of nights in 2006 and found the crowds pretty well disappeared once the sun went down. It is only a few kilometers from Colmar, and with a car you could range pretty far and wide to other towns, castles, the Vosage mountains, etc. If looking for something with fewer tourists, the neighboring towns appeared more work-a-day Alsace, but were still peppered with half-timbered buildings (if less densely than Equishheim) and surrounded by vineyards.

Posted by OneBagTravel
5 posts

All I know is that if you're looking for a small city in the black forest, try Gengenbach. It's a small town in a valley surrounded by hiking trails. Locals say it's where Germans go to unwind and get out into nature. It's also a city that didn't speak a lot of English so using the little German I know was fun!

Posted by Susan
Prince George, BC, Canada
144 posts

We stayed in Ribeauville in the Alsace, and would highly recommend locating yourself here. It's a walled town and very popular with tourists. Lots of little b+b's and small hotels; restaurants are great. It's close to Colmar and nearby many wonderful villages on the wine road. In the BF, we stayed in Biberach, which is east of Gengenbach. It's a very small town, but close to many interesting towns and hiking trails.