Holidays have changed for us since becoming parents. Gone are the days of jetting off to New Zealand, South Africa or Venezuela on a whim. Throwing a few clothes into a backpack and trekking through the jungle, leaping out of a plane or scuba diving with sharks.
And whilst these things are out of reach for now, I still crave that elusive family holiday to a little-known destination. Where tourists are catered for and welcomed with open arms, but swimming pools aren’t crowded, breakfast doesn’t always consist of a fry up and the countryside is clean, beautiful and unaltered.
When I was asked to go and investigate Germany’s Black Forest region, I knew it was going to tick all my boxes as a family holiday destination. And what’s more, it’s only an hour away by plane. I was lucky enough to be accompanying the winners of the Fly-Baden holiday competition, along with Wanderlust Chloe.
In the heart of the Black Forest lies a picturesque little city called Baden-Baden. It is serviced by Baden Airpark, a small but well-equipped airport. Ryanair fly there direct from London Stansted and by the time the refreshments trolley had made its way down the plane, we were landing.
Baden-Baden itself is just a short drive from the airport. It is a friendly place where everyone has time to stop and chat. Baden-Baden is famed for its thermal baths, the historic Friedrichsbad and the modern Caracalla Spa. We headed straight for Caracalla after getting off our flight and felt instantly relaxed and refreshed.
Baden-Baden has many places of historical interest including the Town Hall, Bismarck monument and a Monastery. It is also the gateway to both the Black Forest National Park and the Black Forest Scenic Route. I was delighted to discover that from my hotel, I was able to run for just a few minutes before finding myself immersed in the breathtakingly scenic forest landscape.
Evenings can be spent watching a play at the majestic theatre or just sitting outside a café, bar or restaurant, people watching and sampling the excellent local wine and cuisine.
This is the part of the region that really intrigues me. The Rastatt District is made up of landscape incorporating the Black Forest, the Rhine and vineyards. It boasts over 500 kilometres of walking, hiking and cycling routes and is also the perfect place to ski in winter.
During our time there, we visited Mehliskopf, a popular ski area that also offers some amazing summer sports. We could choose between archery, canoeing, geocaching, bungee trampolining, downhill carts, an alpine coaster and a high ropes course. There was also a little park for younger children and a café.
We took a ride on the alpine coaster before heading up into the trees to try out the high ropes course. This was a lovely morning that felt like a true adventure in the most beautiful of settings. When I go back with my family (which I DEFINITELY will), I’ll happily spend a whole week exploring the countryside. Hiking, walking, cycling, wild swimming and generally being in touch with nature.
From Mehliskopf, we moved on to visit Karlsruhe. This is a much larger city than Baden-Baden, with loads going on and great public transport links. The city seems to centre around Karlsruhe Palace, an incredibly grand building that boasts beautiful views of the Black Forest from the top of its tower.
The town is full of interesting, quirky and historical buildings as well as a zoo, botanical gardens, funicular railway and several museums and art galleries. There is a vibrant student scene and Karlsruhe is a leading force in the development of technology, due to both the University and the Centre for Art and Media, the ZKM.
Europa-Park is one of Germany’s best kept secrets. It is similar in size to the Disney parks, but the whole thing is done on a much grander scale. It is made up of themed areas, with each based on a different European country. Every day sees thousands of visitors flocking to the park, but it is large enough to absorb the numbers without feeling packed and without excessive waiting times on the rides.
In terms of adrenaline rides, Europa-Park has got it all. Water rides, insanely fast roller coasters, loop the loops, a wooden roller coaster and even a roller coaster restaurant. But Europa-Park has more to offer than just the thrill rides. The attention to detail is incredible, everywhere you turn, fairy-tales are brought to life.
From children’s rides with fairies, trolls and giant insects to play areas, soft-play and splash pads that would keep a child entertained all day. Not to mention the incredible virtual reality (VR) technology that is now in use on some of the rides. Whilst riding on a relatively tame roller coaster, your experience is dramatically enhanced through the use of a VR headset. The story on screen is perfectly synced to the roller coaster, so every twist and turn becomes part of the unfolding drama.
If this all sounds like a bit too much excitement, there are plenty of opportunities to relax – in an Irish pub, beside a man-made beach or on the banks of a boating lake. There are numerous restaurants and cafés with reasonably priced food, as well as picnic areas if you’d rather bring your own. There are also shows throughout the day and evening – everything from 4D cinema to dance to parades to light shows to high diving is available to watch.
Alongside the theme park, Europa-Park has both a selection of 4* hotels and a camping resort. I stayed in the stunning Bell Rock hotel, with a New England theme. It has everything from a 2* Michelin restaurant (Ammonite) to a lighthouse, to a swimming pool with a boat in it. And the family rooms have bunk beds in them – in the shape of boats. I would take my children all the way to Germany just to allow them to sleep in these beds, they’re that good.
The Camp Resort is equally stunning, offering both glamping and camping options. It has its own restaurants and barbecue areas and is located right next to a swimming lake. I can’t think of anything better than a morning dip in here before heading to the park.
Black Forest Cuisine
I know what you’re thinking – Black Forest gateau. So was I to be honest, but there is much more to the Black Forest cuisine than just cake. In fact I was really pleasantly surprised to find that all the restaurants and the supermarkets I visited catered incredibly well for vegans.
The menus were extensive, with numerous options for both vegetarians and vegans. Despite my love of cheese, I ended up going for the vegan option in most of the restaurants just to make sure the first meal I had wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t – every meal I had was filling, full of flavour and refreshingly tasty like this quinoa salad. And in case you were wondering, the wine and cocktails were pretty amazing too, I checked.
Please note that I was invited to explore the Black Forest for the purpose of this post. However all views, opinions and newly discovered favourite destinations are my own. My only criticism of my trip is that I didn’t have nearly long enough there. I will definitely be going back to explore the area with my family as soon as possible – watch this space!