When most people think of Baden-Baden, the famous German spa town nestled in the gentle hills of the Black Forest, the things that immediately come to mind aren’t necessarily ones that would attract young travelers: sedate strolling along the Lichtentaller Allee, indulging in a slice of – what else? – Black Forest cake at Café Koenig, and relaxing in the town’s elegant Roman-Irish baths.
These things can definitely be enjoyed by visitors of all ages (I certainly enjoyed them all) but aren’t quite attractive enough on their own to lure in the active traveler.
Luckily, Baden-Baden is ready for all sorts.
In the hills around the town, there is the immaculately marked 42km long Panoramaweg. This fantastic route was awarded “Trail of the Year” in 2004 and is one of the most well-maintained, easily accessible trails I’ve ever had the pleasure of hiking. It loops around town and, assuming that the average visitor isn’t perhaps eager to hike 42km in one go, is split into five sections, all of which are easy to reach by the city’s excellent public transit system. There are helpful maps and descriptions of each section available on Baden-Baden’s website. Warning: the descriptions are all in German. Good luck!
I spent three nights in Baden-Baden and managed to hike all five sections in those two and a half days. It turned out to be one of my best memories of the entire two and half month trip!
I arrived in Baden-Baden on a cloudy afternoon that promised rain, eager to get moving after having spent hours in crowded train stations due to cancelled and delayed trains (German trains, it turns out, do not always run on time. One stereotype destroyed). I dropped my bags at my hotel, dashed to the city’s severely understaffed tourist information office to purchase a map of the Panoramaweg and confirm bus info, and then I was off.
I started with the third leg of the route, from Fischkultur to Malschbach, and it ended up being one of my favourite sections of the entire path. It’s not challenging walking and the main attraction – perfect for a rainy day – is the Geroldsau waterfall. The trail was surprisingly empty for a weekend afternoon – until you got close to the waterfall, a popular family outing destination – so I had a peaceful wander through woods and fields for the most part.
The next day I picked up where I had left off at Malschbach to hike sections four and five of the trail. To be honest, this was my least favourite day. Section four of the trail is beautiful and felt like the steepest of all the sections (that’s a good thing in my books). However, it was also the quietest and most remote which, hiking on my own, made me a little nervous. And section five was just boring – unless you are a mushroom hunter. It was full of mushrooms and families out gathering them. Still a beautiful day but not one for the books.
My final day was the longest, the sunniest, and my favourite as I hiked sections one and two of the trail. And I met other English-speaking hikers! By then I’d been hiking in Germany (I’d been in Freiburg before Baden-Baden) for a week and had yet to meet a single non-German on any of the trails. But here were two young women from California and I crossed paths with them not once but twice (they got a little lost and were thankful for my map by the time of our second meeting). Section two of the trail offered spectacular views, the chance to see some wildlife (it passes through the Wildgehege wildlife reserve) and a fun dash across a busy highway at the end to see if you still have any power left in your legs.
Since it’s not a long or challenging loop, it’s easy to spread the whole thing out over two or three not very demanding days, leaving lots of time for strolling through town and enjoying the baths – the perfect long-weekend! Or, if your time (or interest) is limited, I’d recommend sections 2 and 3 as the most rewarding ones.
Because I only hiked half of each day I had plenty of time each afternoon to clean myself up and stroll elegantly through the city with the rest of the town’s visitors. That mid-afternoon slice of Black Forest cake tastes even better when you’ve spent the morning deep in the forest.
- Baden-Baden has an excellent public transportation system and the break-even point for a day ticket is three rides. If you’re planning to bus to and from the trail consider getting a day pass rather than two single journey tickets. It then leaves you free to explore even more in the afternoon – or just stroll to one end of the Lichtentaller Allee and bus back (a good plan when I was there and temperatures were in the mid-30s)
- As always when hiking, be prepared! Even though you’re never far from town the trails aren’t busy so make sure you have all the usual things (map, phone, water, first aid kit, etc).
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