The name conjures up images of a wild, isolated place where time passes slowly. The dense woodland of the Black Forest—Schwarzwald in German—stretches away to the horizon, but this southwest corner of Baden-Württemberg (in the larger region known as Swabia) is neither inaccessible nor dull.
The Black Forest is known the world over for cuckoo clocks; the women's native costume
with huge red or black hat pom-poms; and the wild, almost pagan way the Carnival season is celebrated. Swabians are the butt of endless jokes about their frugality and supposedly simplistic nature. The first travelers checked in here 19 centuries ago, when the Roman emperor Caracalla and his army rested and soothed their battle wounds in the natural-spring waters at what later became Baden-Baden.
Europe's upper-crust society discovered Baden-Baden when it convened nearby for the Congress of Rastatt from 1797 to 1799, which attempted to end the wars of the French Revolution. In the 19th century kings, queens, emperors, princes, princesses, members of Napoléon's family, and the Russian nobility, along with actors, writers, and composers, flocked to the little spa town. Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy were among the Russian contingent. Victor Hugo was a frequent visitor. Brahms composed lilting melodies in this calm setting. Queen Victoria spent her vacations here. Mark Twain put the Black Forest on the map for Americans by stating, "Here..] you lose track of time in ten minutes and the world in twenty," in his 1880 book A Tramp Abroad. Today it's a favorite getaway for movie stars and millionaires. The spa is the great social equalizer where you can "take the waters," just as the Romans first did 2,000 years ago. The Black Forest sporting scene caters particularly to the German enthusiasm for hiking. The Schwarzwald-Verein, an outdoor association in the region, maintains no fewer than 30,000 km (18,000 miles) of hiking trails. In winter the terrain is ideally suited for cross-country skiing.