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Black Forest car rental

We will be arriving in Freiburg in mid October. We would like to rent a car for a few days to tour Black Forest towns. My first question is where is the best place to rent a car in Freiburg? I see there is a Sixt car rental but I’m not familiar with it (we have always gone with Avis or Hertz when renting in Europe). My next question is what are the best scenic places and towns we should see? I have watched Rick’s video on DVD and he toured out of Baden Baden from Frankfurt - we will be arriving up from Switzerland; any advice or suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

Posted by
5795 posts

It's a huge area that has little to do with Baden-Baden and Freiburg. Each traveler is different and what's "best" for you might be very different from what others find best. Are you hikers? Fans of fine food? I suggest you take a look at what's on offer at other resources including the pages of the Black Forest tourist authority to see what interests you since Rick Steves really struggles to do the area any justice. A couple sources for ideas below...

The railways in the Black Forest are extensive and you can ride them all for free if you stay in certain Black Forest towns...
Since you've always done cars in the past, and since gas and car rentals are astronomically pricey, you should probably try something new. Many RS forum members have had good experiences traveling by train and can share their tips.

Posted by
2669 posts

I stayed in Gengenbach for 4 nights and absolutely loved it - it's a charming and beautiful town with many half-timbered houses and is considered one of the prettiest towns in the Black Forest. I also especially enjoyed seeing the Vogtsbauerhof open-air museum, which is a short distance away in Gutach. I spent several hours there and consider it well worth seeing. it's in a beautiful setting, too, and there are several cafes/restaurants right across from it where you can have a meal or coffee. Schiltach is another charming village in the Black Forest that I stopped by, along with Haslach, which is part of the 'Deutsche Fachwerkstraße', the route linking Germany's medieval timber-framed houses..

You also might want to visit Strasbourg in France, which is right over the border and a beautiful city, with a breathtaking cathedral.

Posted by
2669 posts

I just saw Russ's post about trains. I was a recent traveler to the Schwarzwald and I used trains exclusively while there. The plus side is that train travel between the small towns is very inexpensive (free if you are staying there) and just about everyplace is available by train. It's very relaxing to travel by train and you get to enjoy the scenery as you pass through.

Having said that, I did have some problems while I was there with train travel. On the day that I had scheduled my visit to the Vogtsbauernhof museum and a few other towns, I wound up only being able to see the museum because several of the routes were canceled or severely delayed because of repairs and possibly other issues. It took me an extra hour and a half to get to the museum in the morning because of delays, and then coming back in the afternoon, I wound up having to take a bus from Hausach back to Gengenbach, since the afternoon train was cancelled and I would have had to wait several more hours.

Obviously, these things don't happen all the time but when they do, they affect travel plans. And in a place like the Black Forest, if one train is cancelled it can really shake things up because there isn't the quantity of routes that larger cities have.

I would never recommend that anyone not use train travel, because I love trains - but did want to make you aware of the cons of train travel in a more rural area.

Posted by
5795 posts

About delays...

  • German Railways (DB) data indicate that regional train routes (like the ones Mardee used in the Black Forest from her base town of Gengenbach) have an on-time performance rate of 94-95%. The delays Mardee experienced should probably be considered unusual. If your DB-sanctioned trip requires connecting from a regional train to a subsequent train, you can pretty much count on making the connection. And train day trips (like Mardee's from Gengenbach) can be done very punctually, even when you're based in a big city like Nuremberg, Munich or Frankfurt, because most short distances are done by regional train ("Don't try this by car...")

  • The long-distance trains (ICE, IC, EC, etc.) OTOH are significantly less timely - only 75% are on time. When a long-distance train journey is followed by another train connection, it's important for the traveler to have an alternative travel plan in mind in case the subsequent train is missed.

About cancellations...

  • Unexpected cancellations are quite unusual. I don't keep track of my individual trips with the passion that others (LEE??) do, but after nearly 5 decades of train trips in Germany, I can remember only two occasions when this happened. Planned cancellations are always announced by DB well in advance for specific periods of time, and special buses are sent out to cover the affected track segments. These changes are reflected in the DB scheduling system - so if you've planned a trip months in advance, have a look online at the journeys once again before arrival in Germany.

About car trips...

I've rented on 3-4 separate occasions; IME getting where I was going without delays was far less predictable - one very long delay as two wrecked cars were removed, rest stops due to driver fatigue, bottlenecks and slowdowns, parking space searches, a car availability issue... there are lots of variables that can get in the way. These and other car issues drove me to the railways for good a couple of decades ago.

Posted by
271 posts

Russ, I happen to agree that train is better for this trip, but just wanted to comment on this:

German Railways (DB) data indicate that regional train routes (like
the ones Mardee used in the Black Forest from her base town of
Gengenbach) have an on-time performance rate of 94-95%. The delays
Mardee experienced should probably be considered unusual.

This statistic is true on a network level across Germany, but only covers part of the overall regional transportation system (it covers, I would assume, the regional trains run by DB directly, not by local contract providers, of which there are a great many). The more local statistics for the trains running in and through the Black Forest and nearby are quite a bit worse, with some lines (like the one I take daily from my village to work which serves many hub cities along the north-south Rhine route) having an on-time ratio of around 75 %. Here is one site that provides some more local detail for one of the major train companies in the larger region, including trains running on the Schwarzwald lines.

This is not simply a case of Germans complaining about the trains (a national pastime)--there are some real issues with regional transportation, and the overall DB statistics just do not capture that story.

I don't really think that any of this speaks against using the trains, however, and I do agree that major work is usually quite well announced ahead of time, so big problems can be planned around. I just wanted to contextualise the delays that Mardee notes.

Posted by
5795 posts

That is indeed some serious data keeping and intense transparency, Azra, probably the grounds for Germany's high expectations of public transport. It's hard to imagine transport agencies here at home putting together or putting out such detail for the public. What doesn't get measured doesn't fly back in your face...

Anyway, I appreciate your posting that. Because Gengenbach is a popular base town on this forum, I was curious about performance data there... For the Ortenau and Schwarzwaldbahn zones that travelers out of a Gengenbach base might be using in the Black Forest, the punctuality scores in the two most recent 6-month periods available average around 90%, so yes, a bit lower than average compared with regional trains countrywide. The dependability rating - which focuses on whether the trains ran at all - runs upwards of 99% for the same two zones (with pre-scheduled and announced construction periods and stuff like winter storms or floods being excluded from the data; personnel and equipment failures were included.)

So it still sounds like Mardee's days in the Black Forest were mostly atypical, a bit of bad luck. Her delay of 30 minutes sounds like unusually bad luck. My own use of German trains is only occasional of course. And if I were a commuter, I'm sure any delays would be more salient in my memories. I do recall several IC/ICE train delays that were 30 minutes long or longer, but I honestly can't remember a regional train being that late, ever.

Posted by
271 posts

Russ, yes: the trains serving Gengenbach directly do fairly well right now--much better than much else in the region, to be honest. And, for context about data transparency, I was actually quite annoyed when I went searching for this data, because it took me longer to find than I think it should have (and the portal on the state website doesn't function anywhere near as well as it should). So, yes: I think we do expect this data to be readily available.

I do recall several IC/ICE train delays that were 30 minutes long or
longer, but I honestly can't remember a regional train being that
late, ever.

I can only say that I wish I had your experiences! :)

Posted by
51 posts

A car is essential to capture the joys of touring the Schwarzwald, which is to wend one's way through the fields, stop for a nice lunch or a hike, or by a stream or a view whenever you feel like it. Driving is easy and places along the way very accessible. You will be sharing the road with cyclists and motorcycles (this is touring-bike mecca). I have rented cars out of Freiburg or Strasbourg.

I have not had good experience with Sixt, either in Europe or in the US. Their cars tend to have unrepaired cosmetic damage that is undocumented and that they brush off as inconsequential when you rent the car out, but then very carefully review upon your return. I much prefer Avis, Hertz or Europcar and now go out of my way to avoid Sixt.

The Schwarzwald is compact enough that you can base out of one place if you like. Again, the joy is driving the roads here. We like the Jagerstuble near Aitern very much, but there are many many options throughout the area, randing from simple little Zimmer Frei Gast hauses to ultra-luxe hotels such as the Dollenberg. You may want to consider half board as most of the upper end places (like the Jagerstuble) offer excellent meals.

We find the "lower half" of the Wald , south and east of Freiburg, to be a bit more picturesque... Sankt Blasien, Todtmoos, Hausern etc, as well as the Schluttertal area, across from Marckholsheim, France. But really, all of it is gorgeous. Try to avoid the bigger towns such as emmedingen etc and the busy A5 corridor in general as these areas are becoming increasingly suburbanized. You may also want to consider sneaking into Alsace, around Colmar or Ribeauville as these, and the Rhine, are charming as well.

Enjoy and, Gute Reise.