Just like the Blue Danube isn’t blue, the Black Forest isn’t black.
The woods surrounding the city of Freiburg gets its name from the seemingly impenetrable canopy of pine trees, which loomed over us like giants as we traipsed around barefoot, toes squelching in mud.
There are plenty of great walks in the area, but we chose Park mit Allen Sinen, or Park of the Senses, a 2km trail across meadows and woodland, because we liked walking on the wild side despite being fully aware of the dangers of tick bites (thanks to Justin Bieber).
After removing those modern-day shackles (aka shoes) at the entrance, visitors wander along a scenic path interspersed with sensory pavilions, where they can stop and smell the flowers, literally.
Everyone apart from our 3-year-old — who was repulsed by anything that was gooey and brown except poop — found the walk pleasurable. There was a bit of pain involved too, and I yelped as I scampered across tiny little pebbles littering a gravel path, feeling like an involuntary BDSM participant.
The Black Forest isn’t all cuckoo clocks and cake — they have the bollenhut too. These attention-grabbing headdresses adorned with massive red pom-poms have been worn by fresh-faced Heidis in the villages for several centuries, and I was very excited to try one on at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum.
Anyway, the museum allow visitors to experience the customs and culture of the agricultural communities in the region, with its collection of authentic farmhouses that date back to 400 years ago.
You could explore the chapel, laborers’ cottages and mills, and watch baskets being weaved, cows being milked, and even milk a (pretend) cow, whilst trying hard not to squirt yourself in the face. In the kinder section, we developed stiff joints after playing with the wooden predecessors of modern-day arcade games.
We stayed in Hotel Hirschen, a beautiful property on the outskirts of the city, because it came with a swimming pool and a restaurant lead by a young, talented chef who churns out local specialties such as wiener schnitzel and rice pudding with skill and grace (which is hard to come by in German cuisine).
As the unofficial capital of the Black Forest, Freiburg and its atmospheric old town is made for exploring. There were buskers performing for a few coins amid the quirky medieval buildings and tourists sitting alfresco, sipping on wine from nearby vineyards.
At its heart is the Munsterplatz, where the town’s gorgeous sandstone cathedral has stood proudly for centuries, surrounded by market stalls bursting with with fresh produce and handcrafted toys.
Our boys could not resist playing in the bächle, which I thought were drains at first but turned out to be freshwater channels (Thank God) that criss-crossed the city. We bought some wooden sailboats, so they spent hours sailing these in the canals, which were introduced some 700 years ago for firefighting.
The waters are so clean that I wondered why more people didn’t strip down to their undies and score themselves a free hydrotherapy session.
We had lunch in Yepa Yepa, one of the many great, affordable eateries in town. While not the most conducive place to dine with children — we ate standing up, while our boys scurried in between our legs like feral beings — it serves tacos at €3.50 euros a pop, and was one of the cheapest, most delicious meals we had.
We also enjoyed some ethnic cuisine at MarktHalle, a food court with clubby vibes. It’s probably the only place in the region where kabuli pulau, an Afghan national dish of spiced rice pilaf with lamb and vegetables, is served alongside Japanese ramen (even though the ramen was made by a friendly Filipino and came with avocados).
The kids get their warm, salty ramen broth, while I get to singe the insides of my mouth with chilli. We play the air guitar and bob our heads in between mouthfuls, as the disco ball overhead twirls to Dire Straits.
A short drive away from the town centre is the Mundenhof, a fab (and free) animal park for kids and adults to commune with nature. Domestic animals such as bison, alpacas, ostriches and even camels stare disinterestedly at us from their large enclosures as we waved to them, while some were decidedly friendlier, like Mr. Donkey who loved the attention.
The boys went absolutely bonkers in the petting area filled with Billy Goats Gruff, and it took me awhile to convince them that smuggling several home in our suitcase was not a good idea.
On our last day, we paid a visit to Europa-Park, the second most popular theme park in Europe after Paris Disneyland. We were diehard fans of Europa-Park though: it had a more European flavor and you don’t get a lot of annoying Asian tourists (yeah, so shoot me).
It was our second time there (for more details, please read Germany: Black forest to the blue sea), and their mascot Ed Euromaus was looking more on fleek than ever.
The boys were also able to enjoy a lot more rides now that they are older.
While they still have a habit of screaming and scampering away each time they saw the haunted house, they were brilliantly entertained by a river ride through a circus, where a bunch of clowns resembling the distant cousins of Pennywise accost us from all sides, leering and guffawing creepily.
The park is closed in the evenings, so we went to Harborside, one of the park’s many fine hotel restaurants. Not only was this maritime-themed eatery really pretty, it also had pretty decent buffet offerings.
And as I shoveled the third helping of grilled lamb into my mouth (it’s been a long day), I felt bloated but blissful, much like the little whale figurine I spotted sitting in the corner.
Hotel Hirschen, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member A short drive away from the claustrophobic town centre in a quiet neighborhood, this hotel has everything one needs for a quiet family gateway: airy, Mediterranean-style rooms with balconies and a Michelin Bib Gourmand-recommended restaurant. There is also a good-sized, though unheated, swimming pool and a huge terrace where you can have your meals in the summer. $$
- Freiburg is a fabulous base because of it offers a great balance of city and nature and has a strategic location in the Black Forest region. Possible day excursions include Black Forest Open-air Museum and Park mit Allen Sinen (50 minutes), Europa-Park (30 minutes) and Triberg, home of cuckoo clocks and waterfalls (1 hour). The town and its immediate surroundings itself warrants a day.
- The Black Forest encompasses a large area, and one does not have to travel to access the many walking and biking trails in the area. Schlossberg (or Castle Hill) can be accessed by foot or cable car, and is the start of many hikes into the woods. A sun-dappled forest path also connects Freiburg’s Munsterplatz to St. Ottilien chapel. For more info on the hikes you can do, visit https://visit.freiburg.de/en.
- A night or two in Europa-Park with kids could be rewarding, because of the park’s many wonderfully themed hotels and restaurants. Be sure to book well in advance during peak season. The theme park’s self-service cafes could get crazy during peak hours, so it’s best to bring your own food if you don’t like waiting in line.