Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Black Forest's Gengenbach: Jewel of A Hideaway

""All those cookie cutter Europe Christmas Market tours go to crowded big cities," grumbled our client. "Why don't The Trip Chicks come up with an 'under the North American tourist radar' place to stay?" And so we did. For eight enjoyable days this past December, the welcoming 13th century half-timbered village of Gengenbach was our Europe group's holiday "homebase."

Boasting the world's largest Advent calendar (the 24 windows of the classical town hall Rathaus facade), the ideally-situated Black Forest town offered us easy train access to a host of neat places. We visited Strasbourg (enchanting Alsatian French town with the best of French and Germanic cultures and a striking, giant gothic cathedral begun in the year 1015), Triberg (home of the standout Black Forest folk traditions museum and the stunning Wallfahrtskirche Maria in der Tannen pilgrimage church), friendly Black Forest capital university town Freiburg im Breisgau, "upper-crusty" Baden Baden, famous spa town, and other appealing destinations only a stone's throw away.

One of the best travel bargains of the Black Forest region is the Konus card, a complimentary transportation card which comes with a two-night minimum hotel or bed and breakfast stay in the area and entitles the card holder to free bus and second class train regional transportation (except for the fast ICE or Intercity trains.) As a matter of fact, the KONUS pass is good all the way down to Basel Bad, the German border town one stop before Switzerland's Basel SBB station. For a map of where the Konus card is valid, go to: http://www.konus-schwarzwald.info. Then click on "In welchem Gebiet ist KONUS gültig?" link. (German for "in which area is Konus valid?") For train travel on longer rail routes outside the Schwarzwald region (i.e. from Gengenbach to Heidelberg), we recommend consulting a travel agent who is a Europe rail expert to determine the rail pass that'll give you the best bang for your out-of-pocket buck.

Jawohl and bien sûr ! We could have easily spent two weeks in the colorful area and never run out of sights to see. If you go, don't miss sampling the delicious thin-crusted tarte flambées of Alsace (called Flammkuchen in the Black Forest region of Germany), addictive thinly-rolled rectangles of bread dough topped with cream, onions, bacon, and ham or veggies and cheese. The dessert version is a chocolate lover's delight with scrumptiously gooey bittersweet chips. More of our happy trip memories include getting the skinny on a 350-year-old Black Forest tradition during our Triberg cuckoo clock factory tour (bet you don't know what makes that cuckoo sound!), rolling in the white stuff to make our year's only snow angels in winter wonderland Titisee, sharing Baden Baden's steamy outdoor thermal spa pools with a mini UN of visitors, and enjoying the unique camaraderie of our small tour group, congenial travelers from 17 to 84. Our newly-created Christmas Market itinerary is definitely a keeper for The Trip Chicks, and we plan to repeat it in 2009. Happy travels und bis zum nächsten Mal!

Ann Lombardi

The Trip Chicks

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