Germany – At the northern end of the famed Black Forest, Baden-Baden is an ancient resort city closely guarded by deeply folded mountains. It is a green city, an urban forest with centuries (and sometimes millenia) -old buildings. Its international fame comes from its hot mineral springs, known since Roman times as a destination for healing.
Surrounding the city is the Panoramaweg, or Panorama Way, a 40 km loop featuring sweeping views of city and countryside. Accessible from any point in the city, it is up, up, up – which is why a bus dropped us off at the trailhead. From the large map displayed there, we discovered it was accessible from dozens of points around Baden-Baden, including one very close to our hotel. It has wild spurs and long side loops, but stays mainly to the city-facing side of the mountains, providing, as the name implies, the best panoramas in town.
It’s traditional to day hike this path in four segments of 10 km each, which makes plenty of sense after a visit to the Caracala. This snazzy European spa is a waterpark for grown-ups, a place to put on your bathing suit and soak and play in the hot mineral springs. It has plunge pools and saunas, tanning beds and hot tubs. A waterfall of 100*F pours out of the mountain and into a small pool. The spa is centered around a grand pool of 93*F where mountains of bubbles and water erupt at random. But most fun are the outdoor pools, with seats that bubble and a lazy river that whisks you through the hot water – sans tube – at high speed. But I digress.
The hike is your immersion into the countryside in which Baden-Baden is set. It rims agricultural areas, including wineries with grapevines growing at impossible angles. It slips past enclosures where deer and wild boar roam, a kind of zoo of native animals limited to a certain part of the forest. There are huts stacked with cozy chairs, where you can pull one out and set it on a grassy knoll to sit and sun. Chestnuts, encased in protective fuzzy coating, carpeted the trail like tiny hedgehogs, The spruces rose high above, forming dark clusters of forest surrounded by the changing colors of decidious trees.
There are many paths that parallel the broad, main trail, and are signposted and waymarked. Some lead down into deep gullies to historic spots, others to higher-up views from the ridge. Despite the signage, taking a good map and GPS is a smart idea.
By day, immerse in the forest; by night, immerse in the springs and the camaraderie found in the many cafes in the ancient city. This is one hiking destination where you can enjoy the outdoors and partake in the urban pleasures of Old Europe as well.