For our family summer holiday this year, we chose to visit the picturesque Black Forest, looking forward to a week of fresh air, mountain views and getting back to nature.
First up, before reaching the Black Forest, we had planned a little diversion in the town of Esslingen near Stuttgart. As well as being a beautiful and historic town in its own right, Esslingen was on my radar for being home to Neckarufer parkrun, which had become very familiar to us over the past couple of years from it’s legendary quarantine quiz, which brought together an online community of parkrunning quizzers and turned us into real-life friends. I was very excited to finally get to run the course I had seen so much of in photos, along the banks of the Neckar river. I even managed to finish as the first female runner (yes, I know it’s mainly because non-UK parkruns have smaller attendances, but shh!) so I can tick that off my parkrun bucket list!
After a busy first couple of days, we bundled in to the hire car and drove the couple of hours south to our new base, a little chalet in the village of Schonwald im Schwarzwald. It was time to start planning my running for the week.
Technology can make life so much easier for the modern runner, and there are two tools I always turn to when running in an unfamiliar location. First off; the ‘Routes’ feature on Strava. This can be accessed under the Maps tab on the Strava app, and suggests you a circular route, which you can customise for your preferred distance, elevation and terrain. What I absolutely love is that it uses data aggregated from real Strava users in the area and prioritises popular running routes, so you are much more likely to be put on a pretty scenic footpath than on a busy main road! I use this feature at home all the time too when I’m looking for new ideas for longer runs.
The second tool is the map function on my Garmin watch. Once a Strava route is saved, it pops seamlessly onto my watch, and the in-built map guides me effortlessly around the trails, so no awkward stopping to check directions! Having loaded up my first route, I set off out of the village and up into the trees. I do most of my running around the fairly flat trails of East London, so being out of breath within the first few minutes was a bit of a shock to the system! What I hadn’t really anticipated was that in addition to the mountain trails being obviously rather undulating, even my lowest starting point down in the valley at Schonwald was at 1000m elevation which felt hard going on my poor old city-dwelling lungs. This would not be a week for speed racing, but for slowing down and enjoying the sights.
Despite being named the Black Forest for its densely-packed dark conifer trees, I was struck by how green it was. Forests at home with thick tree cover can often appear quite barren underfoot, as plants struggle to grow in the shade and evergreen needle droppings. Here though, the floor was absolutely carpeted in green mossy plants which gave rise to an almost ethereal atmosphere, and a beautifully soft spongy surface to walk on. On drizzly mornings, the soft light and sparkling dewdrops were quite spectacular! On my early morning runs that week, as soon as I reached the forest, I was completely alone. I didn’t see a single other runner or walker about. I’ve always loved being an early riser for that special privilege of being the first human along the trails, before the wildlife goes to hide for the day. I saw slow worms and red squirrels scurry away, and breathed in deep lungfuls of pine-scented air.
The area we were staying in transforms into a bustling ski resort during the winter, so during the summer months you may be walking through a densely forested trail to emerge in a clearing with a huge ski jump ramp overhead, or overlooking a cleared grassy piste with views down to the valley below.
Of course as well as my solo running, this was a family holiday, and we had an absolutely fantastic week of activities with the children. We rode the Sommerrodelbahn, a toboggan which rockets down the hillside on over 1km of steel rails. We went to sensory parks where you walk barefoot across the different surfaces of a woodland trail, hiked to waterfalls, giant cuckoo clocks and partook in all the local culinary specialities!
Finally, at the end of the week it was time to squeeze in a second parkrun before heading home. This time we travelled up to Gruner Weg parkrun in Bad Urach, who were having a special takeover event with lots of kind volunteers brought in to help keep the event going while the regular organising family were on holiday. The course was along a river valley, 2.5km mainly uphill, before turning around and savoring the descent to the finish line!
Overall, we had a fantastic break in Germany and the Black Forest, and I’d definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a family-friendly, active break. Hopefully we will be back!