Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Europe’s best kept secret

As the credit crunch grips, more and more Brits are taking their holidays at home. And if they do go abroad, it’s often not to the US or the Far East, but to destinations at the end of Easyjet or Ryanair lines. They head for Spain, where you can get properly toasted in 40+ temperatures and pay a high-quality price for a poor-quality meal, or Italy where the surest way of avoiding being ripped off is to have your wallet stolen.

Actually, I don’t think of it as Italy any more, as that was a cheerful, good-tempered, tolerant land, but as the temporary Berlusconidom.

The small but vocal group of us who aren’t put off by the number of Frenchmen it contains, might well go to France.

Practically no-one goes to Germany. Cold, grey, dismal. Full of industry. We may admire it as the economic powerhouse of the Continent, or fear it as the homeland of Nazism and the Blitzkrieg, or envy it as the generator of rather more world cup success than any other European nation outside the Berlusconidom, but we don’t feel attracted to it for its natural beauty and charming lifestyle.

Well, how wrong we are.

If you don’t believe me, try visiting the Black Forest.

Dense woodland inthe Black Forest

I write these words with some trepidation, since I know that a great part of the charm of the Black Forest is the lack of tourists. It has extraordinary glories: sun-dappled woodlands interspersed with breathtaking views, streams and castles, countless little inns with food that is always good and sometimes outstanding, more and more hillsides covered in vineyards, more and more wine cellars filled with better and better wines. And you can wander through it for hours meeting only locals and not that many even of them.

Black Forest open country in cherry blossom season

Do I want to see it invaded by hordes of people who would otherwise be in Ibiza?

That was the kind of question that made me wonder for a while whether to write about it at all. But my readership fits exactly the definition of ‘select’: it massively compensates in depth of quality for whatever it lacks in breadth of numbers. You are just the people with whom Europe’s best kept secret deserves to be shared.

But how to communicate to you the real soul of the Black Forest? I grappled with this thorny problem until last Tuesday, on my latest walk there. Then I saw, and sampled, the sight that I felt would truly express the spirit of the Black Forest, if not exactly its soul.

It was what I like to think of as a Schnapps Station. You know, you get one type of fuel at a petrol station (gas station for my transatlantic cousins). This provided a different type. It looked from the outside like a wayside birdbox, though inside it was more of a wayside shrine, but instead of religious objects it contained a dozen or so small bottles of different types of Schnapps. There wasn’t just Kirsch (cherry) but Sauerkirsch (sour cherry) too, alongside plum and wine lees, mixed fruit and many more besides.

Schnapps filling station

There were little glasses and even a plastic bottle of water with a convenient tap to let you rinse them out. You dropped 50 cents into a coin collector and helped yourself. The trust element alone is refreshing.

Exactly what you need to keep you going for those last few kilometres of breathtaking landscapes.

Refuelled and ready to face the last stretch


Mark Reynolds said...

That is absolutely brilliant. Sorry I missed it!

David Beeson said...

A shame you weren't there - but still you can't complain: being in Avignon in good company was at least an excellent second best...

Awoogamuffin said...

Wow. Civilisation.

I can't feel slightly responsible for the "high quality prices for low quality food". I'm still having that argument with Spanish people. They still haven't convinced me. But how could they? There arguments tend to be something along the lines of "but ham is so GOOD!"

By the way, my little blogger word verification thing is "takerism", which sounds like a creed adopted by several MPs (and football players).