In the small hamlet of Baiersbronn in Germany’s Black Forest, some of the country’s best chefs are hard at work. Baiersbronn, a two-hour train ride from Frankfurt (and just an hour from Stuttgart by rail) has only 15,000 inhabitants, yet the area’s restaurants hold a collective seven Michelin stars, making it the largest per capita concentration of Michelin stars in the world. For that, the Traube Tonbach hotel is largely to thank.
The Traube Tonbach started as a bakery and restaurant back in 1789. By 1920, there was a single guest room, which multiplied to 60 rooms by 1939. In 1952, the structure that now makes up the main resort was built across the street from the original bakery and hotel, and soon another, more modern building with a green roof will take the total number of rooms, apartments and suites throughout the three buildings to more than 170.
The eight generations of family who’ve worked at the hotel have added more than just rooms. The hotel now also has a spa and fitness center, two conference rooms, a 25-person chapel with stained glass windows, several pools, a hiking hut in the nearby forest, a bar, children’s center, four restaurants, and a cooking school. More than 300 people work to keep the hotel running year round.
The art of relaxation
The Black Forest area of Germany is known as an ideal wellness destination. The air here is clear and fresh and there are numerous hiking trails throughout the area and surrounding the hotel. The Black Forest, Baiersbronn, and the Traube Tonbach aren’t the places to go if you want non-stop excitement, museums, and nightlife. This corner of Germany, this area of the Black Forest, and this historical resort are for those who want to slow down, relax, and enjoy the beauty of the Black Forest and the bounty it provides: the fresh air you’ll breathe in on a long hike or bike ride, the healing waters of the spa, and deliciously fresh foods produced by the land. Old-world traditions are honored here, even while modern luxuries are embraced.
Relaxing is an art form, and one you could spend all day perfecting in the Traube Tonbach’s saltwater outdoor pool, indoor saltwater and freshwater pools, four whirlpools, Finnish sauna, biosauna, or steam bath or even in one of recently renovated (in January, 2012) spa’s nine treatment rooms. Parents can drop the kids off at the Kids Court, a huge space with soft cork floors, organized events including kid-friendly hikes and cooking classes, and a range of age-appropriate games and toys (open 10am to 10pm for kids ages three and older) and then head to the vinotek for a wine-tasting or out on a guided culinary hike.
The culinary appeal of the Black Forest
But the real appeal of the resort – and the whole area – is the food. “Germany’s Best Chef” Harald Wohlfahrt serves refined French cuisine in the Schwarzwaldstube, a Michelin three-starred restaurant.
The 35-seater restaurant has several times been rated as one of the top restaurants in the world (most recently in 2009) and also holds 19.5 Gault Millau stars. The kitchen here has produced chefs that hold more than 60 collective Michelin stars; four of the chefs have earned three stars from the illustrious guide.
Reservations are hard to come by at the Schwarzwaldstube, but those who miss out can dine at one of the hotel’s other restaurants, such as the Silberberg, the main dining hall where the hotel serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for guests; the Köhlerstube, a refined yet unpretentious mix of German and international cuisine; or my favorite, the cozy seven-table Bauernstube, a traditionally-decorated space filled with carved wood chairs, a large stone hearth, tiles painted with folkloric scenes, and intricately detailed cuckoo clocks, where guests can enjoy typical Swabian dishes like spaetzle and maultaschen.
At a place so focused on world-class cuisine, the breakfast doesn’t disappoint. Each morning from 7:30am to noon a massive spread of pastries, meats and cheeses, jams, honeys (even a honeycomb for the ultimate farm-to-table experience), eggs, sausages, yogurts, granolas and juices are set out in a sprawling room with a view of the Black Forest. I’ve never seen a spread quite so large; if you need to fuel up for a long hike, it will certainly suffice.
Traditional accommodation with modern luxury
Of course, the rooms and service are not neglected in favor of the food. The Traube Tonbach is a AAA 5-Star hotel and a member of Relais and Chateaux luxury group. It’s modern, yet traditional, retaining its roots (for example, female staff wear dirndls), yet putting a contemporary spin on the customs of the Black Forest. All of the rooms have balconies, though the rooms of the various buildings are decorated in slightly different styles; the rooms in the newest building are the most modern.
My room looked exactly like what I envisioned from accommodation in the storied Black Forest. With wooden accents throughout, it featured a large bedroom area with wood-and-glass doors that opened to a massive sitting room with expansive views of the hills and woodlands surrounding the resort.
With the decor was traditional, with muted pinks and greens as the predominant color scheme, it didn’t feel dated or worn down, and all the modern conveniences were still present. There was a small mini-bar, flat-screen TVs in both rooms, and free wifi. I never bothered to turn on the TV though; I was too enamored of the view from the patio.
The bathroom – while much more sleek and modern than the rest of the room – still had an old-world elegance. There was a deep soaking tub, a glass-walled shower, two vanities, and beautiful white tile throughout.
A long soak followed by sparkling wine on the terrace while wrapped up in my fluffy robe was the perfect way to unwind and begin to enjoy the relaxed luxury offered by the hotel.
The next morning I could have done the same, or spent a few hours sweating and soaking in the spa, but instead I wanted to take advantage of the resort’s spectacular location in the Black Forest. For those who want to venture farther afield, there’s excellent public transit in the area, with trains running to major cities and nearby towns. The hotel provides a free shuttle to the Baiersbronn train station and has bikes available for complimentary guest use, but I decided to walk.
The Traube Tonbach sits at the base of several trails (just walk out the back door and you’ll be on one that leads to a hiking hut that serves tea, cake, and other light snacks) or you can wander down the town’s main road to pick up other trails that run through the forest or over the green hills dotted with houses and livestock. My route took me through the woods, past a field where sheep were grazing, and past houses with woodsmoke wafting from their chimneys. Given the serene setting, comfortable accommodation, and fantastic food, it’s easy to see why 80% of the Traube Tonbach’s guests have returned to stay three times or more.
If you go:
Check in is at 3:00pm; check out is at noon.
Room rates range from €138 to €215 for single and double rooms, with suites and apartments starting at €155 depending on the season. Full and half board is available. Parking is available for a small daily fee and pets are welcome with advance notice and an additional fee. Check prices online at Priceline.
The hotel can also arrange pick-up in Stuttgart and the surrounding area.
I was a guest of the Traube Tonbach but all opinions are my own.