My husband and I are planning a trip mid-April specifically to see the Black Forest. We are flying into Munich and returning home from Frankfurt (which is how our free tickets using miles worked out. My questions: 1. Not sure if we should drive the whole trip or use trains. My thought was maybe take train from Munich to a town in the BF where we could rent a car for the 10 days or so that we will be there so we can drive around and explore. Or... should we use trains exclusively? My husband likes the convenience of having a car and not having to carry suitcases for every train trip. 2. Should we base ourselves in one town and then explore others from there? I'm thinking we start in the south and head north and from there on to Frankfurt? 3. What are some charming towns to look for B&B's and Pensions? What towns are 'must-see'? I've started my search with Gegenbach. 4. Since we are in the BF region for 10 days or so I'm thinking we may want to visit other areas perhaps not in the BF that will be unique and different. Thoughts? Lots of questions; thanks in advance :)
I like the convenience of going by public transportation and not having to be bothered with driving, parking, etc. The roads in the Black Forest are just windy country roads, nothing special. It's the towns that make the trip worth while. If you purchase your tickets from the Bahn website far enough in advance (up to 92 days), you can get discounted fares from Munich to Freiburg im Breisgau for as low as 49€ for two. From Freiburg, go to Titisee, then to Donaueschingen and take the Black Forest Railroad up to Hausach, then by train via Alpirsbach to Freudenstadt, then via Calw to Pforzheim and from there to Frankfurt. While you are staying in the Black Forest, you'll get a Konus Card, which gives you unlimited free use of the trains and buses in the area. No need to spend money there on a car.
"My thought was maybe take train from Munich to a town in the BF where we could rent a car for the 10 days or so that we will be there so we can drive around and explore." Why not explore the Black Forest by train? There are dozens and dozens of great Black Forest destinations you can easily visit by train, train service is frequent and dependable, and train travel in the BF costs you nothing - really - NOTHING - if you stay in Gengenbach or any of the 139 villages that participate in the KONUS program, which provides free use of trains (and buses too) throughout your stay. And NO, you don't have to sit through a timeshare presentation or do anything else. It's a genuine freebie. KONUS program: www.dreisamtal.de/en/service/konus.php?lang=en Black Forest is the green area on this map; check out the many rail lines. Gengenbach is on line #4 near Offenburg: Black Forest rail lines THIS is one of the double-decker trains used on the scenic Black Forest Railway line (#4 on map) that connects Offenburg with Villingen and runs through Gengenbach.
I would first use a train to get around the BF. I spent 8 days there last month using trains and buses - easy to do. If you want, you could rent a car for a couple of days to visit places that are too inconvenient to visit with public transportation. . Using advance tickets to get to the BF can save money, but be aware that the tickets are for a specific train. If you plan on making the trip on the day your flight lands, you risk missing your train if the plane is late (I know from experience - it happened to me last month!) Buying in advance to go from the BF to Frankfurt will be no problem, since you will already be in your originating point. . If you stay in places for several days, there will be little traveling with luggage. . Gengenbach is a great place to base in the northern section. It is also an easy day trip to Strasburg, France and an easy train connection to Frankfurt. . Besides personal recommendations, the best way to find out about places to stay is to look at the town websites - usually www.(town nname).de. Sometimes is is slightly different - such as www.stadt-gengenbach.de. .
Bavaria Ben's website - www.bensbauernhof.com is a wealth of information on the Black Forest (he should be called Black Forest Ben!). The trip report of my trip last month will be on the site soon.
Alexandra, We just spent last week in Gengenbach & can't wait to visit again. The other posters are spot on re the KONUS card - public transportation is free & easy by bus & train with the card. If you like to hike, it is easy to walk from one village to another & bus/train back. Andrea in the tourist office in Gengenbach is very helpful & speaks English very well. Check out
www.kinzigtal.com for info on things to do & how to get there. We chose Gengenbach based on recommendations on this board & didn't realize until we got there how convenient it was & how much there is to see/do in the area. We loved it. If you want to see a little something different, Strasborg France is nearby. You can also reach Konstanz, & Basel Bad Switzerland in ~ 2 hrs on the train. We also saw a Baden-Wurtenburg regional ticket which included St Gallen (35 euro from Gengenbach for 2) & we may try that next time as my husband's family is from that area of Switzerland & we like it there too. Baden Baden is only a 36 min direct train ride from Gengenbach & city buses are included on the KONUS card. A day at the baths was heavenly. We moved from Gengenbach to St Goar on the Rhine - 3 hrs, 38 euro/for 2, early purchase. We fly from Frankfurt on Wed - 1 hr train ride from here to the airport. Happy planning! Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions.
Wonderful suggestions! Thank you! Since we're starting out in Munich, I thought of heading to the southern BF first, then working our way north. Should we do that? (spending 2 days or so in different little towns until we need to be near Frankfurt) Or, should we stay in one town and take day trips to other towns? What towns do you suggest staying in overnight? Any favorite B&B's? If we take the train everywhere we'd want to lodge near the station (or at least have taxi service available). I've noticed there are inns in the country and in the town center. I'm thinking those in the countryside may not work for us.
Alexandra, I think it depends on your preference. We do not like to move around much & so chose to base in one village & take day trips. With the KONUS card it was easy & the train ride from Baden Baden in the north to Basel Bad in the south took ~ 2.5 - 3 hrs so the area itself is not so large as to necessitate moving south to north unless you just want to.
I found that the best planning information was available on the town/village websites as mentioned in an earlier post. You can check out accommodation & contact the tourist office to find out how far it is from the train station/town center, etc.
"Since we're starting out in Munich, I thought of heading to the southern BF first, then working our way north. Should we do that? (spending 2 days or so in different little towns until we need to be near Frankfurt) Or, should we stay in one town and take day trips to other towns?" Not much time and a lot of ground to cover. This may depend on how you pack - if you're traveling very light you can get off the train here and there to explore with your stuff on your back, but generally, smaller towns lack the locker facilities most folks would want. I suggest getting from Munich to the Black Forest quickly using the high-speed trains where possible (4 hours however you slice it) and daytripping on the KONUS card from there. Gengenbach would be a very good base. The 8:48 (or the 6:48) train from Munich gets you there in just over 4 hours with only one connection to make in Karlsruhe. If you buy the advance-purchase savings fare tickets (available 92 days in advance, train-specific, penalties for refunds) two adults can make this trip for 49€ (if you snap up the best price promptly.) The trip is 100€ more if you buy at the normal price: DB schedules From Gengenbach it's about 2 hours to Frankfurt by high speed train. I'd look again for the savings fare tickets. In G'bach, find a place within walking distance of the station. This Fe-wo (vacation apartment) is not a recommendation, just a place I've had my eye on for a future visit; 41€/night for 2 with short-stay supplement: Fewo Moser Check Bavaria Ben's suggestions for G'bach. There's also an online accommodations brochure with English text: www.regio360.com/books/gengenbach/
A car will give you much more flexibility than geographically-limited train and crappy bus services if you interests are the non-built parts of the Black Forest, and not merely the cities and towns served by train lines.
We stayed at Fewo Moser last week & I can recommend it. Frau Moser does not speak English but we managed. Her daughter, Monika, lives nearby & speaks English well - she left her mobile phone # with us in case we needed anything (which we didn't). The apt is about 5 min walk from town, just over the river. It is small but very well equipped. Frau Moser provided a folder with train schedules for frequently visited places which was a big help. There is a lot of local information available, mostly in German. Be aware that the main living area is more like a studio apt. There is separate kitchen, entry, bath but the beds are pull down "Murphy" beds which take up a lot of space when opened. It wasn't a problem for us & we actually just left them down after a day or so, but if you're there for a longer stay it may seem a bit small.
My reply saying how town websites are names got messed up with the update to this website. It should read www.(town name).de
Not sure why Russ is saying "not much time and a lot of ground to cover" - 10 days in the Black Forest is a LOT. It's pretty, and contains some charming towns, but the scenery is not amazing compared to scenery we have in the U.S. Depending on what you're after in this trip, I'd consider adding a few days to Bavaria to enjoy alpine culture and scenery before heading to the Black Forest, but that's me. I don't really think there's enough to do/see in the BF proper that requires more than 4 days, and even that is at a leisurely pace.
In terms of transit, I'd train from Munich to Freiburg in the Southern Black Forest. At that point whether you pick up a car or not is entirely up to you. You can do the Black Forest by train. It is more convenient to get to off-the-beaten path places with a car, but in general buses in Germany are excellent and can get you anywhere, but the schedule may be infrequent enough to be frustrating. The gentlemen who've previously responded all have their biases - two of them are known for being very pro-train and anti-car, and Andre is known for being the opposite. ;) My own bias is that I'm pro train myself BUT the Black Forest is one of those areas that I would consider getting a car.
I would also really suggest - if you do decide to get a car - to spend a couple days between Colmar and Strasbourg on the Route du Vin. The villages there are absolutely charming and Colmar and Strasbourg are well worth your time. With a car you could base out of either city or a village inbetween, the distances in this area aren't great (like the Black Forest).
And I know you said you're doing this trip specifically for the Black Forest, but honestly, there equally beautiful more 'undiscovered' areas to explore. I'd ask what's drawing you to the Black Forest specifically as a destination.
Sarah writes, "Not sure why Russ is saying "not much time and a lot of ground to cover"..."
10 days probably is a lot, Alexandra. I understood that the 500+-mile-trip that begins in Munich and ends in Frankfurt would involve some time in one or both of those places, and perhaps in between them and the BF. But perhaps you've allocated additional days for such places. I've been to the BF several times but haven't seen all there is to see yet - I could spend another 10 days there, surely - but for a more casual look around, I think a week would be enough
It's quite true that I'm "pro-train" in Germany, as a rule. I've done a lot of driving there, including the Black Forest. If I cared a lot about seeing some town that was very inconvenient or unreachable by public transport, or if I absolutely wanted to stay at some isolated farm or retreat, or if I were schlepping several bags of stuff - or a baby - or if I were in some fashion disabled, I might continue to rent cars for my trips there.
But in Germany, I travel alone or with my wife and adult daughter, and train travel, in my experience, has routinely been comprehensive, efficient, inexpensive, and comfortable (much better overall than in France, where I tend to be "anti-train,") whereas renting has always come with a lot of "baggage", including traffic delays, inconvenient pick-up and drop-off locations and hours, parking hassles and fees, concerns about radar zones, accidents, door dings, rental contracts, and shady rental agencies (there are LOTS of these guys) - not to mention the duties and routinely high cost of driving. In France, I've found that I need to put up with this stuff to get where I want to go. In Germany, I do not, thanks to the train system. Trains come with a few pluses as well... you can take your eyes off the route and enjoy the scenery more fully, pop a cork or open a brew, read, or snooze on the way. And there's no need for potty stops.
I don't see any "bias" in my pro-train position at all. I just can't find a solid REASON to drive right now. In the Black Forest, where transportation is FREE, it would take quite a bit to shoe-horn me back into a car.
Sarah correctly points out that there are other discoveries to be made. On your way from the BF north to Frankfurt, there are several small-town destinations you might target in/near the Neckar River Valley, if time permits. Bad Wimpfen or Heidelberg might serve as a good base town for visiting these places.
If considering Michelstadt, also don't miss nearby Erbach and Lindenfels. The latter is one of several locations that claims to be the setting for part of the Niebelungenlied and the former has a pretty cool Schloß that houses a museum partially devoted to medieval warfare. All of these towns are located within the geological and cultural region known as the Odenwald. Similar to a smaller version of the Black Forest- lots of old scenic towns, low rolling mountains, castles, medieval and Roman ruins and certain restrictions placed on heavy industry. And all within an hour's drive of where most North American travelers fly into Germany. But don't even try to explore it without a car.
Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions. Although we've been to Germany several times (I have family there, was born there), we've never been to the Black Forest. When we visit, sometimes we use trains, sometimes we rent a car.
Our trip will last 2 weeks. My thought was to arrive in Munich, spend 3 days or so there, then take the train to 'somewhere' in the BF. Gengenbach looks good right now but I'm researching the other towns suggested here. I'm thinking we should be in a town where we can easily rent a car (someone suggested Freiburg), drive where we want (Strasbourg and neighboring towns are definitely on the list!), return the car and take the train north to Frankfurt (or even further, should we decide to visit family). If we relied solely on trains to get us everywhere it seems we'd be limited to just things to do in that particular town, not the surrounding community.
I remember a family trip in 1999 when we rented a car and drove down the Rhine. Every time we saw one of those brown 'Schloss' or 'Burg' signs with an arrow along road we made a detour and had several 'adventures'. It was wonderful. That's sort of what I'm looking for this time... just turning down a road and seeing where it leads.
I've been through the Black Forest a couple of times, and it is somewhat pretty.
But the mountains of Bavaria and Western Austria are absolutely breathtaking.
And it's so easy to travel by auto in a circle SW of Munich, East to Innsbruck and up to Salzburg.
We love staying in one city 4-5 days doing day trips up on the mountain rambling from village to village.
The roads are good, and navigation is no problem.
"I remember a family trip in 1999 when we rented a car and drove down the Rhine. Every time we saw one of those brown 'Schloss' or 'Burg' signs with an arrow along road we made a detour and had several 'adventures'. It was wonderful. That's sort of what I'm looking for this time... just turning down a road and seeing where it leads."
I usually stay fairly neutral in the "train vs. car" debates that errupt on this website. But Alexandra brings up a good point here. No matter how well you research your trip, you're going to see some of these brown signs that point to a site of interest that you may not have known about prior. It just isn't feasible to follow these signs on a whim while following an itinerary based around using public transportation. I can't even begin to count how many interesting things I've discovered that weren't covered in any guidebook or even English-language resource (that I know of) by simply following the brown signs. For me, this is the true difference between "exploring Europe" versus "touring Europe" (but I don't buy into that pretensious "tourist vs. traveler" crap).