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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Hiking in the Black Forest, Germany: The Wutach Gorge

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days down in the far south of Germany and finally visited the Black Forest which left me wholeheartedly convinced that this is one of my new favorite places in Germany. The Black Forest is exactly the type of mythical forest that you would imagine while reading Grimms’ Fairytales and while it may be a bit out of the way from the standard Germany tourist routes, it is still absolutely worth a visit if you want to catch a glimpse of an area that is not only really beautiful, but also almost stereotypically German-looking.

I had been to Freiburg – a lovely university town on the fringes of the Black Forest – multiple times before, but when it came to venturing to the Black Forest, I wasn't quite sure where to start. The Black Forest isn’t just any good old forest, but also the largest mountain range in Germany and covers a good part of the state of Baden-Württemberg and as such there is no shortage of things to do and places to see. Should I check out the Feldberg, the region's highest mountain? Chill out by the shores of Titisee? The choices really seemed endless.

Thankfully, Pinterest came to my help, though, and when I randomly happened to spot a picture of a beautiful forest scene at the Wutach Gorge, I knew that this was the place I wanted to visit first. This thought was even further cemented when my boyfriend, who grew up in the area, mentioned remembering a great childhood trip to this place and before we knew it we were on our way from Freiburg on a gloomy morning for an early springtime hike.

We had found a 12-kilometer-hike through the gorge online and reached its start at the Wutachmühle with a combination of train and bus from Freiburg. The train journey through the Höllental - this literally translates to Hell Valley, by the way - was a highlight already and the sight of the narrow valley with its dark and imposing needle beams while the train was slowly chugging its way deeper and higher into the mountains radiated a slightly menacing, but still utterly mesmerizing feeling that gripped me deeply on the four times that I went on this train trip in the week that I was spending in the area.

The bus dropped us off at an unassuming looking sawmill where we easily spotted the beginning of our trail and quickly found ourselves beneath the peaceful canopy of the trees of the forest. With the poignant smell of the abundantly growing wild garlic filling the air and the sound of splashing water growing louder and louder with each step we took, we eventually reached the river Wutach and continued to walk along its shores for the vast majority of our hike.

We followed the river on its merry way through the small valley whose sides seemed steep enough to prevent the existence of any other path and I instantly felt the stress of the world melt away: It was calm and quiet and while the trail got busier the farther we went, the tranquility was never really disrupted.

It had rained quite heavily in the days just before our visit and so the trail was muddy and slippery sometimes, but for the most part the terrain was easy. The path lead us up the sides of the hills occasionally, but the climbs were fairly short and easy to manage and evenly dispersed throughout the gorge and so we were able to enjoy the nature without too much exhaustion.

The river always stayed in our line of sight and I took way too many pictures of the trees that were leaning over the water oh-so photogenically, but I just couldn't help myself: There is nothing that inspires me as much as nature.

One thing that often surprises me when I'm out in the German woods is how few other people my age you tend to encounter. Maybe I have only ever headed to the wrong places, but it seems like hiking has a bit of an image problem and I definitely think that that's a shame because there are many beautiful places that you have no choice, but to hike to.

Hiking in Germany may not usually be quite as adventurous as a mad scramble up Trolltunga in Norway or a strenuous climb through the Grand Canyon in the US, but the more I see of my own backyard, the more I come to appreciate its own unique kind of beauty and the more I find myself wanting to explore further.

We were about two-thirds of our way in, when I suddenly spotted the image that had inspired me to visit in the first place. There is something quite magical about looking at a place that you have only ever seen on pictures before with your own eyes for the very first time: Photography may document the world, but there is still this feeling of mystique that only ceases when we realize that what we have admired from afar before is truly a real place.

With the river carving its way through the gorge and the various different shades of green of the trees that were only really noticeable from above, I felt positively transported to a world of old fairytales and I wouldn't have been very surprised if a gingerbread house had happened to peek through the tree tops somewhere.

I realize that this may sound a little silly, but for the first time in my life I feel truly eager to go explore more of my home country. I think I used to spend so much time dreaming of faraway destinations and wishing I could escape to one of the places that I read about in the travel section of the newspaper that I sorely neglected to notice what was close to me already.

But the last few months have really opened my eyes to the beauty and the potential of travel in Germany and now it almost feels as if there's a whole new world of possibility. I won't give up on traveling abroad any time soon,  but I do am excited to do some more backyard exploring!

After a few hours we reached the end of the hike and hopped back on a bus that took us to the nearest train station. Before this visit, the only things I really associated with the Black Forest were cuckoo clocks, funny hats with giant red pompons and of course the infamous Black Forest Gâteau, but experiencing the amazing nature of this area definitely showed me that there was so much more to this region.

What is one place close to you that you want to go explore some more?


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