The Swabian region in Germany is home to the northern Black Forest, where the Grimm Brothers’ dark but fantastical stories find a perfect setting, and one can easily imagine giants and magical creatures roaming throughout. The landscape is dotted with quiet little villages that seem caught in time. Streets are not paved in asphalt but stone, shutters are colored in light creams and greens, roofs are covered in warm red tiles. Gardens peak out from every corner, and cats bathe themselves on old walls and stoops. The Black Forest stands steadfast, except where it cedes to fields of wheat and corn.
Germany is known for its crazy highways, and the ones through Swabia are no exception. But stick to the cobblestone for this four-day itinerary and you may just find your way into a quieter time in history.
Day 1: Horb
To a traveler with fresh eyes, the Swabian region seems no less than magic. Horb is a town of about twelve incorporated villages and is the perfect place to center your stay. Of these villages, stay in Horb itself. Yes, there is a village named Horb in Horb. Horb is the big city—it houses a bank and a handful of restaurants, and the train runs from here. Spend the day exploring town, popping into quaint churches and the Jewish museum, then take a stroll along the Necar river. If the heat is too much, ice cream sundaes and drinks can be purchased at La Dolce Vita. For a delicious cake or pastry along with a stunning view, wander up to Cafe Kipp in upper Horb. If it’s a Friday, stop by the local farmer’s market for cheese and olives.
At night, sip wine and order a magherita pizza and an insalata with the locals, along the Necar at a little Italian restaurant named the Necarport. Then tuck yourself into bed at charming Gasthof Zum Schiff. The Gasthof (guest house) boasts beautiful views of all of Horb and is in walking distance to everything.
Day 2: Rexingon
If you are feeling adventurous, hike from Horb to Rexingon. Take the path through the Black Forest that also happens to be part of the Camino de Santiago.The Camino was once one of the most famous Christian pilgrimages but is now known as a spiritual path taken by people of all faiths and inclinations. You will pass by stations of the cross and eat strawberries infused with the aroma of wild mint that can only be explained as divine. The strawberries are so small, they would make the perfect snack for an enchanted mouse or the endangered bats in the area—or in this case, the wearied hiker.
In Rexingon, venture to the town’s Jewish cemetery dating back to the 1600s. Many of those who once walked the path you just took are buried in this cemetery. But first, you must get the key. Take the old key from the last house on the right, a vine-covered home. It hangs to the left of the door and as you go to take it, an old shirtless German man may yell out the window to say hello. Respond and make your way to the cemetery. There is nothing spooky about this place, it is rather peaceful and filled with history. Rexingon, like all of Germany, has its sad history regarding the Jews, and it is important to note the date of death on many of the headstones. This beautiful cemetery is now one of the most important and historical sites of Horb. On your way out, check out the synagogue that is now a Protestant church.
Day 3: Tubingen
Not all of Swabia is quiet. Take a rambling journey to Tubingen, a bustling university town. Modern day hipsters in tight washed-out jeans and long patterned skirts lounge among the stone stairs of medieval cathedrals as church bells ring. Order spaetzle, an egg
noodle dish, at one of the traditional Swabian restaurants—but watch out for peaceful protesters. When we visited, people were protesting animal testing, but Tubingen is often filled with demonstrations. If you are a whiskey aficionado, Tubingen has much to offer in the form of local whiskey. And the narrow roads are lined with all sorts of wonderful shopping from fabric to natural soap to an entire store dedicated to pocky sticks, the Japanese candy. Walk to the most important and largest castle, Hohentubingen, for stunning views and the university museum.
Day 4: Ludwigsburg
On the last day, grab a warm soft brezel (pretzel) for breakfast at one of the local bakeries in Horb and walk to the train. Head to Ludwigsburg and get a picnic lunch at one of the many local and cheap eateries. A favorite is Wok on Fire, a hip and clean street food-style Asian eatery, which may be a nice break from much of the heavy Swabian cuisine. Get your food to go and carry it into the gardens outside Ludwigsburg Palace. Buy a ticket for both the Maerchengarten, a slightly terrifying fairytale garden from the 50s, and the Ludwigsburg castle.
Start with the castle. You can only explore by tour, so make sure you catch the one English tour a day. The palace, Germany’s largest baroque castle, is sure to impress with gilded gold panels, silk brocades, and the history of the royal family in the area. For example, Duke Carl Eugene, a successor to the castle, had so many mistresses that he had them all wear blue shoes so he could keep track of them.
When you are done with the castle, make your way to the Maerchengarten, which is often described by locals as “the opposite of Disneyland.” This may be due to the peeling paint and the not-always-artistically decorated displays of terrifying fairytales. Don’t take yourself too seriously, make room for the little tots and be ready to laugh at yelling giants, taxidermied goats, and spitting frogs. If you didn’t see any fairies while traipsing through the Black Forest or exploring Horb and Tubingen, rest assured you will spot many here. But be warned—they may not be friendly at all.