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Hiking Through West Germany's Black Forest

June 15, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

TRIBERG, West Germany — If today's world sometimes seems a bit cuckoo, you can bring it all into perspective again--right here along the Black Forest walking trails of the cuckoo clock traders.

Of the many trails that beckon to walkers of the world this summer, my wife, Elfriede, and I decided to start in these forested hills where a mystical sense of peace prevailed even when Roman legions marched below them along the valley of the Rhine. The Romans never ventured into the Black Forest homeland of the native peoples.

Now a group of "Wunderhiking Inns," all owned by local families for generations, is sending out the message to world travel that "the Black Forest is safe--even for a woman walking alone."

When we first came here more than a decade ago, our baggage would be moved without charge from one inn to another while we walked forest trails and meadowlands, past fairy-tale farmhouses and villages that seemed not to have changed for centuries.

No Reason for Concern

Nine of the oldest inns and hotels, from about 10 to 17 miles apart, are trying to help re-stimulate European travel from the United States by making clear that there is no reason for any kind of concern along the trails that link them. The Black Forest is remote from the scattered acts of terrorism around Europe during the past year, and prospective visitors are also reassured that all the usual problems of hiking in a foreign country have been anticipated:

"Forget about luggage and backpacks. . . . Remember that all along the way you'll find signs and marked trails to guide you. . . . We also have road descriptions, maps and instruction sheets in English."

The trail of the nine Wunderhiking Inns is a bargain, along a circle route that can be walked easily in 7 to 10 days, depending on your pace. If you have time, you can program extra days at inns along the way, relaxing in swimming pools, saunas and solariums.

You can also do your own thing by driving into the Black Forest, parking your car at any turnout and walking off into a trail. Three of the most scenic and frequently used gateways are from Lake Constance in the south, the spa of Baden-Baden in the north, and Freiburg near the Rhine.

Twain's Visit

Mark Twain walked in the Black Forest on his own in the summer of 1878. He wrote poetically in "A Tramp Abroad" about pathways that were like aisles in a cathedral of trees.

Moments after leaving our car, we were in a cathedral of trees that remained serenely shadowed until the aisle turned into a valley of sunlight and the thatched rooftops of a village that seemed to have emerged from the Middle Ages.

One of our fondest memories will always be of a woodland parking place near a roadside church between Baden-Baden and Ruhestein. A stone sculpture of Christ stood high above a small footpath that led into another cathedral of tall pines.

There are more than 300 woodland parking places within the Black Forest area that is scarcely 90 miles from north to south, 30 miles from east to west. Walking paths can open at one turn into the vineyards of the Kaiserstuhl, at another to a tiny mountain lake, and then again to a vista looking all the way to France on the other side of the Rhine River. Cattle graze in pasturelands around small farmhouses, sometimes beneath a castle high on a mountain crest.

Making Cuckoo Clocks

Many of the hiking trails follow paths used centuries ago by traders taking cuckoo clocks made in the villages of the Black Forest to the marketplaces of Europe. In villages the making of cuckoo clocks is still a craft, along with glass blowing and woodcarving.

Sunday christenings and village festivals bring out the women and girls in dresses of past centuries. In the marketplaces, villagers may munch on homemade sausages while shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables.

If you start the circle trail along the romantic waterfalls of Triberg, your first overnight will be at Parkhotel Wehrle, which has been in the Blum-Wehrle family since 1707. They feel that they are offering you a home as well as modern comforts and amenities that include indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna and solarium.

A walk of a little over 10 miles leads to the Kur-und-Sport Hotel at Neukirch, a modern health spa at the edge of the village. Hotel Hirschen at St. Margen is less than 10 miles away, and here the Klaus Hattich family features Black Forest game dishes and other specialties in a wood-paneled dining room.

About 15 miles of walking leads the next day to the historic building and modern comforts of Romantik-Hotel Adler-Post in Neustadt. Another 15 miles takes you to the sun terrace, pool, solarium and sauna of the Mohringer family's Schwarzwaldhotel in the village of Bonndorf.

A Health Spa

Since the year 1628 the Fuggenthaler family has operated Baers Black Forest Hotel at Friedenweiler, about 15 miles from Bonndorf. It's now also a health spa with a swimming pool, tennis, fitness room, massages, personalized diets and even cosmetic care.

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