Seventeenth in a series
August 30, St. Blasien, Germany — After the taxi accident of the prior day, we exited the Zurich airport in our rental car with extreme caution.
Google Maps sent us via a more direct route than I had planned to St. Blasien, a small town in Germany’s Schwarzwald that’s famous for its cathedral with an enormous copper dome. For a little over an hour, we drove north through verdant fields, past red-roofed villages with spindle-spired churches. At some point we crossed into Germany.
Besides the dome, St. Blasien’s main attraction is its location on the Schluchtensteig, a major hiking trail system that winds through the southern Black Forest for hundreds of kilometers. In advance, I’d acquired a “wanderkarte,” a map of the trail, and thought we might at least do the easy hike up to Lehenkopf, a low peak (at an elevation of 1,039 meters) with a viewing tower on top. (Hiking maps are also available at the tourist information office.)
We arrived in town to the sound of chain saws. Many chain saws. When we at last found the tourism office to ask about the trail head, a poster solved the mystery: St. Blasien is the host of a multi-week “Bildhauersymposium” that attracts wood sculptors from all over the world. At dozens of points throughout town, artists were shaping giant chunks of light colored wood into artworks, sketches of which they posted along with their bios. Based on the number of permanent wood sculptures throughout the town, St. Blasien is a center of woodworking.
At the trailhead (through an underpass behind the school that is attached to the Cathedral), we studied a post with signs pointing in five directions and tried to line the arrows up with the trails that fanned out from this point.
The sign with the icon for the Schluchtensteig seemed to point left. Almost immediately, we lost the small blue/green/red icon the tourist office had told us was so easily followed; instead, we saw yellow diamond trail signs. The trail stayed at the same elevation, with forest on one side and noisy warehouses on the other: not my idea of a nature hike. When we encountered another hiker, I pointed at Lehenkopf on my trail map. “I came from there,” he said in English. Then he spoke rapidly in German, making an upward zig zagging motion. His expression implied “good frigging luck.”
We knew we needed to go up, so we took a trail that led to the right and toward what I assumed was the peak. Instead of a neat gravel track, the path was rocky and overgrown. No trail signs. Eventually we came to an intersection and saw another yellow diamond, with a sign that named one of the mountain huts identified on the map. A ha! We thought we knew where we were, and swung right, back in the direction of St. Blasien. Minutes later we came to another sign with the name of the same mountain hut… pointing back in the direction we’d just come from. What the heck?
Making a guess, we headed right and soon encountered a sign pointing upward to Lehenkopf. “Let’s go for fifteen minutes,” I told Todd. “If I keep going, tell me it’s time to turn back.”
Fifteen minutes, then twenty. He didn’t stop me. After five minutes more we saw the promised viewing tower above us on the ridge and were rewarded with a stunning 360 degree view. Back down we went.
The sign at the top promised 2.5 kilometers to St. Blasien. About a half kilometer later, another sign said 3.5 kilometers to St. Blasien. We tracked the mileage at about 2 miles. And that is how our planned 1.8 mile hike turned into an 8.1 mile hike.
Back in town, all the restaurants save one had closed at 2 p.m. I had expected that might be the case based on some research I’d done. But we found Cafe Ell, which began operation in 1903. It was easy to see why it’s lasted, with delectable breads, pastries, and light lunch fare. Todd ordered a überbackene baguette (sandwich) with schinken (ham) and kase (cheese), and I had thunfisch with tomato and cheese. Plus a Rothaus Pils beer, crafted in the Black Forest.
…And then it was on to France. Two hours later, when we took a wrong turn outside Colmar, we were surprised to see a giant Statue of Liberty identical to the one on Ellis Island. We later learned that Auguste Frederic Bartholdi, sculptor of the U.S. icon, was from Colmar.
“How do I find Sipp Mack,” I’d asked my friend Laura via Facebook Messenger.
“If you can find your way around Davis, you’ll find Sipp Mack,” she replied.
Hunawihr is tiny. Starting at the bottom of town, we drove uphill for six blocks or so and then saw the “Cave de Sipp Mack” sign. A half hour later, we were settled in our guest apartment and greeted by Laura and her husband.
How wonderful to find a bottle of Sipp-Mack Crèmant nice and cold in our refrigerator! I knew the Sipps had been making wine for generations. I didn’t now how MANY generations: ten, with the entry of Jacques and Laura’s daughter into the business. The family business since 1698.
Sipp-Mack Guest House (part of Gites de France)
(Five guest houses comfortable for two to five people)
Next: Battlegrounds and Vineyards