The Way is Over the Mountains (Black Forrest & Alps)

Our whirlwind visit to Germany continued as we got up early and out onto the autobahn, we had heard all of the stories and it was interesting getting on it and seeing what all of the fuss was about. For the majority of the way down we just cruised along at 140km/h in the middle lane and watched supercars, sedans and soccer mums alike fly past on our left. We did cruise at 160km/h at one stage (because we could) and the Peugeot seemed pretty comfortable, but we decided we were more middle lane people and left the fast lane to the experts.

Once we hit Freiberg we got off the motorway and headed up into the mountains of the Black Forrest region with Jess searching out Grimm’s Fairy Tales and me chasing down cake. We arrived at Titisee-Neustadt to find the town shrouded in mist, we went for a wander down to the famous lake in time to watch the mist burn off and the beautiful panorama be revealed. We set up shop at one of the many restaurants overlooking the lake, apparently the town is quite the summer tourist destination and gets ridiculously busy so there are heaps of big restaurants and tourist shops selling their special ham, cuckoo clocks and liqueurs. Fortunately it was the off so season and their were barely any people there, we were two out of six having lunch at a 300 seat restaurant which meant we got our schnitzels really quickly (despite my terrible German). Unfortunately we were in a rush so no cake!

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We had one more stop on the way to Lorrach to walk through the forrest and explore a lake, Jess stopped to take some photos so I made myself comfortable, autumn over here is pretty intense compared to what we are used to in Australia, they definitely know how to do a good forrest.

After a quick drive over Mount Feldberg, the Black Forrest’s highest peak we arrived in Lorrach at my cousin Kate and her husband Harry’s place, they had been nice enough to offer to put us up for a few days and show us the area. On arrival we dumped our bags and went for a hike with Kate and Leo, her son who at almost two years of age has almost already surpassed me as a soccer player. Just a quick hike up the hill behind their apartment building saw us cross the German-Swiss border multiple times and we could also see France.. Coming from Australia it is still pretty strange being able to drive through three countries in twenty minutes.

To recover from the hike we made our way into Basel in Switzerland on the tram for the evening with our first stop being the Basel wine expo. There were hundreds of wine vendors there and free tastings everywhere so we quickly took it upon ourselves to sample the best offerings from Spain and Italy for a couple of hours. Kate even managed to talk one of the guys to give us a big glass of their reserve Amarone after they had closed by playing the “my cousin from Australia” card like a master. The wine was amazing and kept us warm as we braved the cold to go and explore the Autumn Fair, a five hundred year old tradition in Basel that sees most of the population head out to sites all over the city to party the night away. We resisted the temptation to play carnival games and instead had a wheat beer nightcap before jumping on the tram back to Germany.

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The next day started with the breakfast of kings, a special Bavarian white sausage with a sweet mustard and salted pretzel, apparently this would normally be paired with a wheat beer but it was decided to forgo the traditional beverage choice in light of another hike being just around the corner. We headed off to a nearby ski field and made the two and a half kilometre ascent to the summit just as the clouds came over the peak and engulfed us. Luckily Jess managed to get off a few shots of the valley before we lost our visibility and jumped in the Gondola to head back down to the cars.

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After our hike we headed to VitraHaus, the flagship store of the Vitra design house which is located in Lorrach on a site alongside their production factories and a design museum. The VitraHaus is an amazing piece of architecture that consists of three major house shaped tubes stacked on top of each other with a giant curved stairwell pulling them all together and splitting them into zones to showcase all of Vitra’s designs. There were so many iconic furniture pieces here, however most were well out of our price range, it was like an Ikea for millionaires. We were fortunate to have an expert guide as Harry was a member of the team of architects who designed the building so he was able to give us heaps of insights into the building and show us some cool design features we may otherwise have been oblivious too. There was also an epic cafe downstairs where I finally got to eat some Black Forrest cake!

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The next morning we said our goodbyes and crossed into Switzerland en route to our next destination in Northern Italy, to get there we had to cross the Alps and we were fortunate that Kate knew the region really well and gave us a great itinerary for the day. Our first stop was at the alpine village of Grindelwald, whilst some of the chalet designs were similar the scenery was a significant upgrade on it’s namesake in Tasmania, even if the mini golf course didn’t look as good. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time on our hands so we were unable to take the train to Jungfrau, known as “The Top of Europe” and had to content ourselves with buying an amazing array of Swiss chocolate (Pistachio, Orange & Lime definitely the best) to fuel the climb over the Alps and exploring the village.

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We next stopped for a strudel and a few photos at Iseltwald, a lakeside village Jess had spotted on the way to Grindelwald. We later discovered that it went back to the middle ages and has a castle dated to 1146, Jess mostly discovered that she thought it was really pretty and wanted to take lots of photos.

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It was an amazing spot and after the weather we had in Amsterdam we were revelling in stringing together a few days in a row of sunshine. That being said I feel that there is at least a 50% chance that Jess would still be there if I hadn’t dragged her away to make sure we made it over the mountains in daylight.

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Our high altitude driving in the Alps was the crossing over the Susten Pass, a stretch of road that is on many peoples lists for being both one of the most scenic and the most dangerous roads in the world. The road is often closed from the start of November due to snow levels so we were quite fortunate that it was open all of the way up. This was without a doubt the best driving we have ever done, starting in a green alpine valley and ascending to over 2200m and back down the other side. During the drive you get amazing views of the alps, can stop at a glacier, drive through tunnels bored into the side of the mountains and take numerous hairpin bends, the majority of which have safety rails. We pulled over a few times to take in the view, play in the snow, eat chocolate and dare I say it steady our nerves. It is one of the less travelled passes which was great in that it meant there was next to no traffic to worry about, however there were a few pretty intense sections with huge drop offs and snow melts coming onto the road so it was quite reassuring to see a few other cars up there. That being said we had no issues, the view was spectacular and I would do it again today if I could.

Our run over the Susten Pass ate up a bit of time and meant we had to bypass the Gotthard Pass and instead take the tunnel, it turns out that the tunnel is 17km long and somewhat of a strange thing to experience. We have done a few tunnels on the trip but nothing over a couple of kilometres, it’s a bit much driving for that long underground and we were both pretty happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel as we emerged and quickly crossed into Italy.

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After crossing the border it was an easy drive into Pescate, our home for the next few days and our base to explore the Italian lake District before heading into Milan. That will in be the next blog update which as always hopefully won’t be too far away.

Thanks for reading!!

LF & JT

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