This week’s travel dream: The Black Forest—an updated classic

Modernizing touches have reinvigorated Germany's Black Forest as a tourist destination.

Germany’s Black Forest has stepped into the modern age by keeping one foot in the past, said Gisela Williams in The New York Times. Known as the Schwarzwald to locals, this area along the French border in Germany’s southwest corner is the source of many of the country’s “most famous clichés”: cherry-topped cakes, smoked ham, and, “yes, cuckoo clocks.” These remain, though modernizing touches have reinvigorated the region as a tourist destination.

It’s 11:15 p.m. in Hong Kong when I check in to the Hotel Ritter Durbach in the village of Durbach. I know this because of the reception area’s five whimsical cuckoo clocks, which are set to various time zones. They’re the creations of local artist Stefan Strumbel, who gained international attention with his clock designs and, more recently, for inventively renovating a small 20th-century chapel in nearby Goldscheuer, adding a crucifix decorated with pink LED lights and a spray-painted 20-foot-tall Madonna and Child. In describing his art, Strumbel tells me, “It’s all about reinventing the idea of heimat.” The word roughly translates as “heritage of place,” and the idea of renewing it seems to have also taken hold at Schloss Staufenberg, a granite castle perched above Durbach. The castle’s owner, a prince whose family’s roots in the region date back more than 1,000 years, is overseeing construction of a restaurant in one of the property’s historic buildings. It will be contemporarily minimalist inside but built with traditional materials.

The “conjoining of old and new” also plays out on the culinary scene. Rich soil and a Gallic influence have long made the Schwarzwald’s cuisine special, but fresh innovations are now winning it new acclaim. There are two restaurants with three-star Michelin ratings in the village of Baiersbronn alone, and quality meals can be found everywhere. When English celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal taped an episode of his TV show in the Black Forest, he decided that the kitchen at the Spielweg, a historic inn, was the best place to create a meal inspired by Snow White. The chef-owner not only makes his own cheeses; he often hunts for the restaurant’s venison and boar.

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At the Hotel Ritter Durbach (, doubles start at $160.

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