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The Black Forest High Road

The Black Forest High Road

The Schwarzwaldhochstraße, or Black Forest High Road, is a beautiful driving route through Germany’s Black Forest region that takes you over the ridges of the low mountains in southwestern Baden-Württemberg.

The road runs from the spa town Baden-Baden in the north to Freudenstadt in the south, taking in all sorts of little sights and viewpoints along the way. We chose to make this a full Black Forest weekend break, but you could definitely do it in a day if you are not as keen on stopping all the time. We had the incredible bad luck to do most of this drive in rain and fog, so we missed out on most of the gorgeous views. However, the Black Forest lives up to it’s name in that weather, and I was sure we were going to run into an old witch from the fairy tales at any moment, so maybe it wasn’t a bad thing at all!

History

This route was formalized in the 1930s as holiday car trips began to be a popular way to spend holidays. The Black Forest itself has always been a popular hiking destination – with a local milliner opening up one of the first ever tourist offices and publishing hiking maps in the late 19th century. If you stop for a little walk on the many trails, you will see the very old trail signposts, many still dating from this period. The Black Forest itself takes its name from the Roman legionaries tasked with exploring it, and their experiences in the unfamiliar towering trees, as well as the habit of the local tribes of leaping out and attacking out of nowhere. The Brothers Grimm added to the mystique by publishing their books of fairy tales, generally researched from the local people throughout the region. Every time we set foot in the Black Forest it feels like the beginning of a fairy tale, I have to say!

Where to stop on the Black Forest High Road

Cute Baden-Baden
Cute Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden

This beautiful little spa town reminds me of Bath, in England, and for good reason. Like Bath, it was originally built around tourists coming to ‘take the waters’ to cure everything from the hysterics to a bit of melancholy. Gambling became a lucrative second industry for the town, as the French liked to nip over the border for a spot of legal game-playing. The rumour is Dostoyevsky learned how to gamble at the tables in Baden-Baden. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll probably skip the casino, as we have.

A wander down the picturesque high street is plenty, with a pit stop at the cute Buchhandlung Straß book and toy shop. We had dinner at the sprawling Löwenbrau outpost around the corner, which is a Bavarian brewpub. It sounds strange, not being in Bavaria, but there’s lots of room and their location here is a riot of flowerboxes and has a gorgeous patio complete with a mini carousel. The kids can have a plate of tender spätzle (egg noodles) and you can have a giant Maß of beer (those comedy 1L beer servings) if you so choose. If you’re only passing through for lunch, I highly recommend the Peters Gute Backstube. It looks like just a bakery from the outside, but they have a nice lunch menu including schnitzel, pasta and sandwiches. We had an excellent lunch here, and my son’s spinach ravioli with cream sauce was incredible. Be prepared to point and gesture a lot if you don’t speak any German, though the staff was lovely, friendly, and helpful.

Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden
Burg Hohenbaden

Just above Baden-Baden are the ruins of the Hohenbaden castle. There’s quite a bit to clamber around on here, and it’s free to visit. When we stopped by, there was one other couple just leaving, so we had the place to ourselves. You can climb into one of the ruined towers and look out over the valley below. I love these ruins, where there’s enough to imagine where things were, but not so much that you’re not allowed to touch anything. It’s a good place to stop and let small people run around and blow off some steam before another stint in the car.

About to head up the hill to whizz back down
About to head up the hill to whizz back down
All-year-round bobsleigh

You may have seen the viral videos going around the socials of various trips down these bobsleigh tracks. I can tell you, it’s so fun. There are a few in the Black Forest, but the Mehliskopf is the only one actually on the Black Forest High Road. It’s part of a larger recreation area, but you can choose to just do the ‘Bobbahn’ if you like. You get on a structured cart with seatbelts, with a seat in the front for kids on the same cart, and it tows you to the top of a loooooong hill. Once you start going down, you can control your speed with a handbrake, and you zip in and out of the trees on your way down. It’s super fun, pretty cheap – two of you can go down for under €10 a go. There’s a cafe on site as well. Do check the website ahead of time, as they are not open everyday.

I loved this little red truck.
I loved this little red truck.
The Mummelsee is there! I swear!
The Mummelsee is there! I swear!
Mummelsee

As you come up to one of the highest elevations, you’ll suddenly find a hotel and a little lake. This is the Mummelsee – mummel means water lily, and see means lake. It is nearly perfectly round, and of course there’s a perfectly gory myth to go along with it. Apparently, water sprites live in a beautiful castle at the bottom of the lake, and they come out during the day to help the surrounding farmers with their chores and look after children while the mothers work (where are these sprites and can they come to my house?!), but of course one fell in love with a local lad, stayed out too late, and then the king of the water sprites killed her. Lovely! Anyway, there is a nice playground, rental boats, cafe, and many little tourist shops here. It makes a good place to break your journey.

Just one corner of Schiltach
Just one corner of Schiltach
Cute little owls spotted in Schiltach
Cute little owls spotted in Schiltach
A picture perfect German half-timbered town

Schlitach, which is a bit out of your way but well worth a stop, is one of those perfect little half-timbered German villages. It’s situated on a hill, and the Black Forest rises up beyond it, and you can imagine any number of fairy tales beginning in the little market square. An hour or so here is really all you need, but do get out of the car for a little walk around. It’s been a town since the 11th century, generally used as a central meeting place for the surrounding farmers, and as a stopping point for travellers coming through the Black Forest.

The lovely cozy Gasthaus we stayed in, in the Black Forest
The lovely cozy Gasthaus we stayed in, in the Black Forest
Black Forest hotel experience

If you’re used to travelling in bigger cities, you’ll have to get used to the Gasthaus experience. This is the small-town German set up of a restaurant with rooms upstairs. Often there is no front desk, you just enter through the restaurant and the staff will give you a key. We lucked out with a lovely place in Mühelnbach, deep in the Black Forest. The Gasthaus Ochsen is a bit like the King’s Head or the Red Lion in England, there is one in every town. Regardless, we checked in, had a lovely meal downstairs with local wine, a huge plate of buttered spätzle for our son, and a dish of salmon, chanterelles and pasta I still dream about. The breakfast was lovely and traditional – think proper Black Forest ham, boiled eggs, endless types of bread, müsli, and the best hotel coffee I’ve had in awhile. The little canal beside the Gasthaus was rushing like a major river after all the rain, and the church bells from across the road made for a beautiful wake up call.

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PS – If you’re looking for another great Black Forest adventure, we love the Open Air Museum. It’s not on the Black Forest High Road route, but it’s well worth a detour.

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Find out how to do this famous route in the Black Forest, Germany. From Baden-Baden to Freundenstadt, check out fairy tale half-timbered houses, waterfalls, hikes, forest walks and more in this picturesque corner of southern Germany. #travel #germany

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Day Trips from Frankfurt

Day Trips from Frankfurt

Frankfurt has a bit of a reputation for being full of banks and boringness, and while I love an afternoon along the Main sampling biergartens or a wander through the museums, there are so many great places a short drive or train journey away too. It’s such an easy place to fly into, it would be a shame not to use your time there to explore some of the amazing things about western Germany. Here are some great options for day trips from Frankfurt.

Visit one of Germany's favourite ruined castles in Heidelberg.
Visit one of Germany’s favourite ruined castles in Heidelberg.

Heidelberg

It’s on every list, and for good reason. As a Heidelberg resident, I’m not going to disagree! Our little city features the gorgeous castle ruins, of course, but don’t stop there. If you take the historic funicular to the top of the Königstuhl (the castle is only halfway up) you can take in a falconry demonstration, and let the kids burn off some steam at Märchenparadies, a little amusement park in the trees. Our Altstadt, or Old Town, is full of beautiful little streets. I think our favourite thing to do is head down to the Neckarweise to hang out in the playgrounds and splash park. Read my full post on what the locals do around Heidelberg for more ideas. Heidelberg is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.

Pretend Mozart is around the next corner in the Schwetzingen Palace Gardens.
Pretend Mozart is around the next corner in the Schwetzingen Palace Gardens.

Schwetzingen

Whenever I post photos of Schwetzingen, people ask me if I’m in Italy. Oh no, this is still Germany! This little town is dominated by the incredible salmon-pink summer palace of the Prince Elector. The manicured gardens go on and on, and the photo opportunities are endless. Mozart visited these gardens at least once, so imagine him wandering through, thinking on his music. Be sure to make your way to the Garden Mosque, it’s my favourite spot. The big draw here is the gardens, the buildings are not open except on guided tours – the only English language ones happen on Sundays at 2:15pm, so plan ahead if you want to see inside. On sunny days, it’s easy to find space at the all the pubs and restaurants that put out tables on the square right in front of the palace. Schwetzingen is about 1 hour from Frankfurt by train.




Even the seating outside the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is type-related.
Even the seating outside the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is type-related.

Mainz

The Gutenberg Museum is the big reason to visit – you can see one of the original Gutenberg bibles, as well as replicas of the original printing press. A walk around the lovely old town is well worth it. Check out the cathedral dating from the 10th century, and Wood Tower and Iron Tower – medieval structures that used to form part of the old city wall. Mainz is on the Rhine river, so you could catch one of the river cruises from here, or just enjoy a walk along this historic waterway. Mainz is an easy 30-40 minutes by train from Frankfurt. I have a whole post over here on what to do with kids in Mainz for the day.

Rhine Valley

There are several different ways of seeing this stretch of the Rhine, full to bursting with castles. Take a Rhine river cruise (affiliate link), and relax with a coffee or a glass of wine while you watch the valley goes by.  You could rent a car, which allows you to stop off at the littler castles and investigate. Or take the train to Koblenz or Cochem, the bigger towns in the valley, and relax and enjoy the view as the train follows the river. The sides of the valley are nearly all carpeted with vineyards, and it’s a breathtaking sight with castles perched on the hilltops. It’s worth noting that not all the castles are open to visitors.

Hessenpark Open-Air Museum

About an hour on the train from Frankfurt is the glorious Hessenpark. Over 100 historic buildings have been moved to this site over the past 50 years and painstakingly reassembled using appropriate materials. There are shops, restaurants, exhibitions, and interiors set up to show you what life was like in this region 200-400 years ago. There’s even a hotel on-site so you can wake up to the sounds of regional cocks crowing. Open-air museums are terrific with kids, as they can run around and explore at their own speed. There’s a great playground and farm animals all over. Read my full guide to visiting the Hessenpark.

 


PS – Need help with packing for Germany? I’ve got you covered for packing for your Germany trip in spring or summer.

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Exploring Châteaux in Burgundy, France

Exploring Châteaux in Burgundy, France

The French countryside in the Bourgogne, or Burgundy, is as beautiful as you’ve heard. Rolling hills, vineyards surrounded by old stone walls, picturesque farm buildings, and the occasional châteaux perched on a hill. Burgundy is full of options when it comes to exploring châteaux (French castles), and I’ve detailed our trips to two local sites below within a short drive of Beaune.

Chateau de la Rochepot

A short drive outside of Beaune, France, is the Château de la Rochepot. Perched on a hill above a small village, it is a beautifully restored example of the local Burgundian style with its distinctive glazed roof tiles. My husband took this incredible drone footage of the area.

Like many castles, it has been through several phases of destruction and rebuilding. The first castle structure was built on the larger site in 1180, and burnt down within 100 years. These ruins are still in the nearby forest. The basis of the buildings standing today were built in the 15th century, with the minor castle being bought and sold, inherited and passed on, for the next several hundred years. During the French revolution, like many other grand structures, it was declared a national property. Unfortunately, it was heavily damaged by vandals not long after.

Gorgeous glazed roof tiles at Château de la Rochepot.
Gorgeous glazed roof tiles at Château de la Rochepot.

Finally, in 1893, it was purchased by the wife of the then President of the Republic and she gifted it to her son, Sadi Carnot. He began an extensive rebuilding and restoration programme for the next 26 years, throwing himself into the historical research. When you visit the Château, there is a room full of beautiful photos from this restoration period. The Carnot family still own this castle to this day.

When you walk in from the car park, there are some outbuildings where you buy your ticket, but they also serve coffee and cake, as well as offer some small souvenirs. There is a little courtyard with tables, and it’s quite lovely. Local craftspeople were setting up stalls as well, offering more cakes, sweet treats, wooden toys and boxes, and more.

Fairytale courtyard at Château de la Rochepot
Fairytale courtyard at Château de la Rochepot

Once you’re inside the Château, you will be given a brochure with the details about each area. This is a small site, so there is no audio tour or anything, but to be honest, that’s fine. It’s very quiet, and there were maybe five other people there with us, so unless you happen to arrive at the same time as a bus tour, it’s a very relaxed visit. It is ridiculously photogenic, and just wandering the rooms I couldn’t help but imagine what intrigues happened here over the years. The courtyard is beautifully landscaped, and it made the romantic part of my heart sing.

With the driving to and from the Château, we spent about three hours in total, so it makes a good half-day trip from Beaune.

Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Planes outside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Planes outside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Very close to the town of Beaune is the Château de Savigny-les-Beaune. This is such an amazing experience, that if you can only make time for one château visit, I’d pick this one, particularly if you have kids with you.

Gorgeous courtyard at the main building of Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Gorgeous courtyard at the main building of Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Originally constructed in the 14th century, then destroyed less than 100 years later by a vengeful King Louis XI, the current structure was built in the 17th century. However, in 1979 the château was purchased by Michel Pont, a winemaker, collector, and former race car driver. Which sort of explains the extraordinary place today.

There are several themed museum areas in the grounds. The first thing you will notice are the three old fighter jets parked in front of the main building. Yes, you read that right. But if you follow the directions of the front desk staff, you visit some outbuildings first for a display of 35 vintage Italian race cars, plus an uncountable number of vintage bicycles. Everything is beautifully displayed, but there is just so much of everything. There are cases containing over 600 model cars interspersed between the actual, full-sized cars. It doesn’t stop there, however.

And the cars go on and on...
And the cars go on and on…

Walk past the main building, past a few vineyards (this is Burgundy!) and in the field beyond is a marquee with 30 or 40 fire trucks, ranging from horse-drawn versions to fancy chrome-covered models from the 50s and 60s. You may be distracted, though, by the field full of 80 fighter jets. We passed another English-speaking visitor as we were leaving this field who voiced my own first thoughts on seeing this: ‘But how do you start collecting these things?!’

A field of planes at Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
A field of planes at Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

After you’ve taken in the airplanes, the beautiful main building beckons. Indeed, the ground floor is furnished in a vaguely historical style, and the views out to the vineyards is incredible. But venture upstairs, and you will be greeted with a display of motorcycles. My son gleefully counted them and came up with 150, but it seems there are about 300 (we must have missed a wing), dating from 1903 to 1960. Again, interspersed with a dazzling number of models in cases. We spent a few hours here, but if you were an enthusiast of Italian race cars or motorcycles or fire engines or planes or tractors (we skipped this particular collection), I think you could happily spend a full day here. Or three.

Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
Motorcycles inside Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

I love that you can pick up a few bottles of the Château’s wine on the way out, but that’s literally all there is to the ‘gift shop’. This is a gloriously personal collection of things, with not much in the way of interpretative texts, but you can feel the personality of the owner throughout. It’s such a terrific place to visit, if you’re in the area it’s well worth a side trip.

PS – Looking for what to do, where to stay, and what to eat in Beaune, France? I have you covered there too.

Want to know what kind of drone we fly?

I’ve pulled together our drone gear below, please note these are affiliate links.We love our little DJI Mavic Pro

Our drone is the DJI Mavic Pro and we went for the Fly More package and have never regretted it – more batteries are never a bad thing! We recently invested in the quieter blades – they really do make a difference. These Polar Pro filters adjust for different light conditions, and we’ve found they cut down on post-processing time for sure.

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Visiting Beaune with kids

Visiting Beaune with kids

This post contains affiliate links which means when you click through and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting this blog!

We’ve been slowly exploring different areas of eastern France as we’re quite close to the border here in Heidelberg (90-minute drive from Strasbourg). As we had a few days for a trip, we decided to go further afield and visited Beaune, in the heart of the Bourgogne.

Tip: Beaune is pronounced ‘BOW-n’, and the Bourgogne is also referred to as Burgundy in English. And yes, it’s where Beef Bourgogne comes from.

The canal in Beaune

Where to stay

We stayed right in Beaune, slightly outside of the old part of town. As there’s only three of us, we usually do hotels on the cheaper side of things, and when in France we often skip the hotel breakfast in favour of making a run to a local boulangerie for bread and pastries, supplemented by a bag of terrific French apples and some sliced meat we picked up at a Carrefour on the way into town. The need for coffee propels us out of the room in good time.

We’d like to return to the area, and now that we know a bit more, I think we’d stay in a gîte or cottage in the nearby countryside. This is particularly feasible for us as we drive in, but if you’re coming by train, I’d suggest staying in the town.



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Biggest ice cream cone ever?

Where to eat

Beaune is a serious wine town, and as such, there are many caves to sample the incredible local produce. If you’re traveling with kids, however, this may not be where you want to spend your money or time – at least not every night. We found La Remorque, a local food truck serving great burgers made with flavourful local beef, as well as some of the best chicken fingers I’ve ever tasted. Yes, it’s stationed in the car park of a grocery store, and it’s not all that picturesque, but you won’t be sorry foodwise. We also found, Le Belena, a quite reasonably priced bistro just outside of the Altstadt that was quite child friendly.

What to do

The Hôtel-Dieu is the 15th-century hospice opened by a local nobleman, and it is definitely worth a visit. They’ve turned the ground floors into a museum, and the accompanying audio tour is excellent (available in many languages, including English, with a children’s tour as well). The museum doesn’t focus on the grimmer side of early modern medicine, but rather how the hospital was run, which was quite ahead of its time.

Beautiful streets of Beaune after a rainfall.
Beautiful streets of Beaune after a rainfall.

It’s worth taking the little train tour that lives across from the Hôtel-Dieu, in front of the tourist office. Do check with the little kiosk straight away, because they assign a language to each car of the train, so showing up at the last minute might mean you have to wait until the next tour. They take you up into some of the vineyards right next to the town, it’s quite comprehensive.

We missed out on the mustard mill, but if you love the yellow stuff, it’s worth checking out one of the oldest independent mustard mills in the area. When you think about how close Dijon is, you will understand! Definitely stop at a local grocery store and look for the local products section, I picked up a giant jar of the best Dijon mustard I’ve ever tasted for about €2.

Wandering around this beautiful town is a half-day activity to itself. Like many French towns, you won’t find a playground, unfortunately, but when we visited in the summer there was a carousel in the central square. You can also walk along the tops of the old town wall, and marvel at the ways residents have incorporated their houses and shops into the old structure over the centuries. If you can keep your small people awake late enough, it’s fun to catch the light show that lights up various landmarks in the town. You follow a path lit up by blue lights to find the next little illumination show – it’s quite fun rushing around with a bunch of other tourists. It is also a bit confusing, so I would asking the tourist office about it during the day so you’re prepared!

The impressive Château de Savigny-les-Beaune
The impressive Château de Savigny-les-Beaune

Exploring just outside of Beaune

There are several Chateaux worth visiting outside of the town, as well as the incredible vineyards surrounding it. If you have access to a car, visiting Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune and Château de la Rochepot would be possible in one day. Savigny-lès-Beaune is closer, and if you’re without a vehicle, would be a reasonable taxi ride. It’s really worth visiting, as this chateau is surrounded by fighter jets. I know, sounds insane, and it is, but not only is there a field full of old fighter jets, but outbuildings full of vintage Italian race cars, and the chateau itself houses a collection of vintage motorcycles. Of course there are vineyards too, because this is the Bourgogne.

We really enjoyed our trip to Beaune. Is it the most child-centric destination? No, not really, but we enjoyed the town and our time there. We’re considering renting a cottage nearby for a week next summer.

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Take my Heidelberg walking tour

Take my Heidelberg walking tour

When we first moved to London, my husband and I devoured every book we could about our neighbourhood. We lived in Spitalfields in East London, which has a long and fascinating history. Unswervingly keen about our knowledge, every family member that came to visit us were treated to mandatory walking tours.

Each successive neighbourhood was awarded the same treatment of intensive research… and the habit stuck when we returned to Vancouver. So much so that I’m working on a mystery novel set in the West End in 1911, amid the fresh stumps and real estate fever that overtook that new west coast centre.

The gate on the Alte Brücke in Heidelberg's Altstadt
The gate on the Alte Brücke in Heidelberg’s Altstadt

So when we moved to Heidelberg last year, the pattern was no different – though a bit more challenging as not as much pre-Second World War history is published in English.

Heidelberg’s recorded history stretches back even further than London’s, with the discovery of a man’s jawbone dated to between 60,000 and 200,000 years ago. It’s been a noted settlement from as far back as 5000 BCE, and the Romans also made it a stopping point and small town as well. When you stand on the banks of the river Neckar and look up at the entrance to the valley, you can see why people have always chosen to live here. The land approaching the area is all flat plains, then suddenly the river bends and winds into these densely wooded hills. It’s fertile, and protected.

The inside of the Student Prison in Heidelberg.
The inside of the Student Prison in Heidelberg.

By the 11th century, there are the first mentions of monasteries in the area, and the first castle structure halfway up the Königstuhl. Not long after, Heidelberg University was founded in 1386, making it one of the oldest universities in the world. It suffered badly in the Thirty Years War, being nearly razed to the ground by the French army in the 1690s.

The famous castle has been built, renovated, added to, and hit by lightning many times over its thousand year lifetime. Now it is a picturesque ruin that millions of people visit every day. As my son and I cycle to school every morning across one of Heidelberg’s bridges, I look up at the Schloss in all its red Neckar Valley sandstone glory and can’t help but smile at my good fortune to live below it. I’ve written a whole post about the history of this castle, if you’re looking for more.

View over the Altstadt from the Heidelberg Castle
View over the Altstadt from the Heidelberg Castle

And while I would love to take each and every one of you around my beloved home, that wouldn’t quite work out – I do need to go grocery shopping and clean the flat eventually. So how thrilled was I when VoiceMap approached me about writing and recording a GPS-enabled audio tour for Heidelberg. This was so much fun to work on, and I learned loads. Guys, I translated reams of local German history for this, and now I know some very interesting German verbs like ‘to inherit’ and ‘to bestow (position)’. I use them all the time at the bakery (kidding).

So please, download my 40-minute audio tour that takes you around the Altstadt in Heidelberg from VoiceMap, and listen while I tell you how many bridges were built before the stone Alte Brücke, what the sister-in-law of the Sun King had to say about growing up at the castle, how Mark Twain got into the student prison, and where my favourite photography spots are.

PS – Looking for more things to do in Heidelberg? Check out my list of kid-friendly spots where all the locals go, where to eat in Heidelberg, or our short film on top of the Holy Mountain.

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