Exploring Germany’s Black Forest (with Viking Cruises)

Land of cuckoo clocks, fruit elixirs, and its namesake hams and cakes—the Black Forest sounds like a place dreamed up by the Brothers Grimm for their fairy tales. Unlike Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood, though, the Black Forest is very real. Grab your crimson cape and a basket of goodies for Grandma because we’re headed into the Black Forest with Viking River Cruises.

Exploring Germany's Black Forest with Viking River Cruises (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
Exploring Germany’s Black Forest with Viking River Cruises (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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Into the Woods

Much of the Viking River Cruise’s bus tour of the Black Forest takes place, well, on board the bus. The Black Forest mountain range covers over 2,300 square miles of land, so we needed faster transport than our two feet if we were to see even a smidge of the forest. Departing from the Rhine in the town of Breisach, our bus spent about an hour and a half winding up a mountain and past fir trees, meadows dotted with cows and bucolic wee towns.

White wild flowers spotted in the Black Forest
White wild flowers spotted in the Black Forest (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Black Forest Specialties

During the bus tour, a guide filled us in on the area’s famous products. We got the scoop on the locals’ love for all things schnapps and brandies. Traditionally served with vesper, or a light snack between meals, fruit schnapps can be made from plums, pears or cherries. Be on the lookout for trees dangling bottles from their branches. This is not a unique German form of lawn decoration, rather baby pears grow into the bottles to create a stunning pear schnapps presentation in which an entire pear is housed within the container.

We also learned that the region’s famous ham takes over three months to cure to make its signature smoky flavor and, like a sparkling wine from Champagne, only a ham hailing from the Black Forest has a right to the name Black Forest Ham (or Schwarzwalder Schinken, in German).

A former bath house in Germany's Black Forest
A former bath house in Germany’s Black Forest (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Black Forest Village

Upon arrival at Hofgut Sternen, a Disney-esque faux German village, you can witness a cuckoo clock making demonstration, watch glass blowing, embark on a guided tour of the forest, and sample the queen of all German fruit brandies, cherry kirsch. After all of that winding and listening in the bus, however, I was anxious to stretch my legs and explore a bit of the Black Forest without commentary. My husband and I set off on a short hike alongside a creek and past a dilapidated former bath house (which is scheduled to be restored to its previous glory).

A huge cuckoo clock at Hofgut Sternen's Cuckoo's Nest
A huge cuckoo clock at Hofgut Sternen’s Cuckoo’s Nest (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Cuckoo Clocks Galore

Birthplace of the cuckoo clock, you will find many of these time pieces for sale in the Black Forest. Feeling nostalgic about the thrill my brother and I had when visiting my grandparents’ house as children when each hour, on the hour, we ran into the kitchen to watch the cuckoo bird peek out and cluck the time, I was almost tempted to buy a clock at Hofgut Sternen to bring home…almost. Be sure to step outside the Cuckoo’s Nest shop before the changing of the hour to see the life-sized cuckoo clock welcome the new hour with much mechanical fanfare.

The Black Forest is known for crafting cuckoo clocks
The Black Forest is known for crafting cuckoo clocks (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Black Forest Cake

Of course, we couldn’t leave the Black Forest without a slice of Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte). Grab a slice of chocolate sponge cake layered with light whipped cream, tart cherries and locally produced kirsch (cherry schnapps) at the Hofgut Sternen café.

Black Forest Cake in Germany's Black Forest - Yum! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)
Black Forest Cake in Germany’s Black Forest – Yum! (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Back to the Ship

Then it was back to the bus for our journey down the mountain. All told, the Viking River Black Forest Tour takes four hours and deposits cruisers back on the ship in time for lunch. The Black Forest excursion is included in the price of the Rhine Getaway cruise.

The Medieval Village of Colmar
The Medieval Village of Colmar (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Optional Afternoon Excursions

Cruisers can spend the afternoon exploring the tiny village of Breisach, or pay extra for an optional excursion, either to the medieval town of Colmar, or to the Colmar World War II Museum and Memorial, both in France. Many people were brought to tears during the touching war memorial excursion, according to our dinner mates aboard the ship. My husband and I, however, opted to explore Colmar. This town is a darling blend of German and French history, architecture and cuisine with lots of shopping and sidewalk cafes.

A creek in the Black Forest
A creek in the Black Forest (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Black Forest with Viking River Cruises

I have to admit I was a bit nervous after the Black Forest with Viking River Cruises tour because I feared the Viking excursions might be too sedentary for us. If you’re an active traveler who likes a blend of informational tours with plenty of free-time to explore on your own, have no fear. The concierge assured me that the Black Forest Excursion was the most transport-heavy tour of the Rhine Getaway, and she was right. For those with limited mobility, on the other hand, take comfort knowing that alternative bus tours were offered in some locations for those who could not manage walking tours. Whichever travel style you prefer, Viking won’t disappoint.

What would you like to do most in Germany’s Black Forest…hike, shop, or try the cake? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: Our cruise and optional excursion was hosted by Viking River Cruises. All opinions are mine, as always.

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