Overnight the rain turned to snow and there was a little dusting on the roofs of the houses next to the hotel and on the road outside but the sky was still grey and overcast so we decided to take a drive to the city of Freiburg about fifty kilometres. We could have taken the direct route on the autobahn but we decided instead to take a scenic route through the forest.
The chosen route took us first through the village of Ortenberg which was an ordinary sort of place except for a large castle standing in a dominant position on a hill with a good view overlooking this part of the Rhine Valley. It looked in good condition and we found out later that it is now a youth hostel.
Soon we arrived in Gengenbach which is a small town on the western edge of the Black Forest. Gengenbach is well known for its traditional Fasnacht where the residents of the town closely follow tradition by wearing costumes and carved wooden masks and clapping with a Ratsche which is a wooden rattle like those we used to take to football matches before they became a health and safety hazard.
We parked the car and tried to make sense of the parking fee information, bought more time than we really needed (forty-eight hours) and then walked into the Altsadt which was gaily decorated with bunting and flags for the festival. In the main square Gengenbach has a traditional town hall which is claimed to be the World’s biggest advent calendar because the twenty-four windows of the eighteenth century town hall represent the twenty-four windows of the calendar.
Just behind the main street there was a warren of tiny crooked streets surrounded on all sides by the most picturesque half timbered buildings and it was almost possible to imagine that we had wandered into a secret fairy tale village of uneven cobbled streets, colourful houses and cottages and might at any moment bump into Little Red Riding Hood but hopefully not the Wolf!
After leaving Gengenbach we followed the road as far as Haslachand then towards Elzach and Freiburg. The road started to climb quickly and it began to snow just as we passed a road sign that seemed to suggest that it might be advisable to have snow chains ready for the tyres. We didn’t have any but we carried on anyway. As the snow became heavier we could understand why but it wasn’t getting too deep and the winter tyres seemed to be coping well enough again but just to be sure we kept to the main road and didn’t head off any ambitious scenic detours today.
And we really didn’t need to because this was a very attractive route anyway and we passed through the towns of Waldkirch, Denzlingen and Gundelfingen and eventually approached the outskirts of Freiburg where there was a series of road works and detours. We drove straight through the city with a plan to come back later and continued south towards the one of the highest parts of the Black Forest, the Schauinsland, and once outside the city we started to climb once more.
Schauinsland literally translates as ‘look into the country’ and we now set off on a twelve kilometre climb to the top through a series of sharp twists and turns through hair pin bends and narrow gorges and as we climbed the temperature dropped to minus six, it started to snow, the windscreen froze solid and the road turned into a treacherous river of slush.
At one thousand, two hundred and ninety-five metres we reached the top and living in Lincolnshire that is about one thousand, three hundred metres higher than we are normally used to. The top of the mountain was a place of winter pastimes and people were skiing down the slopes, children were sledging and families were walking together through the thick snow. There were good views but the weather was getting worse and the snow even heavier and we were apprehensive about the drive back down so we didn’t stay too long.
We negotiated the snow and drove down the difficult road to the village of Horben and then decided to go back up again but by a different form of transport because from here it was possible to reach the summit on the Schauinslandbahn, which at just over three and half kilometres is the longest cable car ride in Germany. The return ticket cost €11.50 but it was well worth it because as we climbed through an avenue of snow-covered conifers there were great views to the north-west all along the Rhine valley and into neighbouring France.
At the top once more it was snowing again and we emerged into a scene of pristine white snow, several centimetres deep, a crisp atmosphere that clawed at our fingers and toes and pure mountain air that filled our lungs and cleared our heads. We walked for a while through trees weighed down heavily with snow, deep frozen and covered in frost and ice, along steep slippery paths where we had to watch our step as we walked all around the summit and then back to the cable car.
On the return cable car journey it was cold and draughty in the cabin but for compensation there were more magnificent views over the mountains and across to the city of Freiburg which was where we were going next.