You have to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth when hiking, particularly if you choose a northern European country at the beginning of May, as Joan and I did when we went for a Walk in the Black Forest. We weren’t expecting wall-to-wall sunshine at this time of year, although Freiburg – the ‘gateway to the forest’ – is statistically the warmest city in Germany. It just wasn’t when we were there.
However, there are compensations to walking in the spring – the constant birdsong being one. At this time of year the birds are at their cheery best and your every footstep is serenaded by a feathery orchestra worthy of Horst Jankowski. The blackbirds you will find particularly tuneful.
Another advantage of visiting in May is that it’s Spargelzeit! (Asparagus-time!) The exclamation mark is, as far as I can tell, obligatory. During Spargelzeit! the market stalls are full of bundles of asparagus, predominantly the white variety beloved by Germans, but you will also find plenty of the more familiar green spears, too. Inn and restaurant signs shout ‘Spargelsuppe!’ at you at lunchtime, and at least one of the courses at dinner will involve Spargel in some form or other. Among the vast selection of Schnapps at the Hotel Peterle, I espied an asparagus variety. I didn’t try it, though, as Joan wouldn’t let me.
From the Waldhotel Fehrenbach in Alpersbach, we did the Ravenna Gorge walk. It’s an easy walk, though it rained all day as we zig-zagged uphill through the dripping pines.
So why did we feel so good about the walk afterwards? Well, partly because you cannot enter the Waldhotel Fehrenbach without feeling a lifting of the spirits. The prospect of dinner cooked by its proprietor and genius chef, Josef Fehrenbach, and presided over by the bonhomious, polyglot Morroccan ‘Herr Ober’ Aldo, was enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
On our first night, Aldo had created such a convivial atmosphere that we forgot our British reserve and were soon chatting to the Berlin couple next to us, as if we had all known each other for years, while Aldo bustled energetically in and out addressing us indiscriminately in French, German, Italian and English.
We dined on duck-liver terrine with a potato and Loewenzahn (dandelion) salad; mushroom-foam soup; fillet of veal with a Spætburgunder sauce, asparagus and rosemary-potatoes; and Champagne-Sabayonne to finish. And washed it down with the recommended bottle of Spætburgunder Rose trocken . No wonder, as we padded damply up to our room, carrying our soggy boots, the rough was already fading in memory as we contemplated the smooth to come.
After dinner, the nice Berlin couple had asked about our day, but seemed unimpressed with our walk along the Ravenna Gorge. Instead, they gave us that pitying look that people reserve for poor relations, and explained that they had gone by car to visit a very interesting museum about clocks. They learned that cuckoo clocks had actually once been blackbird clocks, but the sound of the blackbird had proved too complex to fabricate when the process was industrialised.
I rather liked the idea of blackbird clocks tootling away tunefully, and I said as much. What I didn’t say was that actually I thought we’d had the better deal that day. Another reason why we felt so good after our walk.
The Ravenna Gorge is gorgeous (if you will excuse the pun) especially on a wet day, when the roaring, tumbling rapids and waterfalls are particularly impressive as you criss-cross the river on rustic bridges, passing a number of restored wooden mills. We enjoyed the exertion, and our efforts were rewarded by the sight of a heron at the top of the valley, which I managed to photograph with a trout in its beak. The enormous pieces of Black Forest Cherry Cake that we were served at the Konditorei in Hinterzarten were delicious; the exercise had sharpened our appetites, and we knew that we were going to enjoy our well-deserved dinner. Sometimes the rough and the smooth go together hand-in-hand.
But don’t let me give you the impression that it rained all the time, it didn’t, and the easy Hirten-Pfad walk was mostly in sunshine, the colours all the brighter after the showers. This walk is a good introduction to the Forest’s colour palette and far from being ‘black’ it’s made up of every shade of green from the pale new leaves on deciduous trees to the darker hues of the deep pine forest, between which swathes of lush meadow, improbably bright in the sunshine, are dotted with millions of splodges of brilliant yellow dandelions, as far as the eye can see...