A good place to begin exploring the region is lively Stuttgart, home of Germany’s automobile industry. Along with the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums, worth seeing are the Stuttgart State Gallery and Stuttgart Museum of Art - a glass cube housing Classical Modernist works highlighted by the definitive collection of Otto Dix paintings; suggest lunch in its café overlooking the New Palace in the center of the city. The nearby Old Palace houses historical collections, a children’s museum and royal chapel. Just outside of town, Ludwigsburg Palace is Germany’s best-preserved baroque palace. Maritim Hotel Stuttgart (www.maritim.com) is a convenient base near the major sights.
Stuttgart sits in the center of a wine region, known for historic vintners’ taverns, vineyard walks, wine festivals, even a museum of wine-making. Book tours and tastings at (www.stuttgarttourist.com). Be sure to include the medieval town of half-timbered buildings, Esslingen am Neckar, on any wine-lover’s itinerary. Book a tour of Germany’s oldest maker of sparkling wines, Kessler Sektkellerei, right on the market square, or a walking tour of the city’s historic sights through the tourist office (tourist.esslingen.de/servlet/PB/menu/1270924_l2/index.html).
The best way to explore the Black Forest villages is by rental car (www.AutoEurope.com) on any of the several designated routes that lead travelers through the region. Even those with no interest in visiting wineries will enjoy the scenery and timber-frame villages on the Badische Weinstrasse, a 100-mile route past castles and traditional farmhouses, through vineyards and villages from Baden-Baden south to Freiburg.
A highlight is medieval Gengenbach, its narrow streets lined by half-timbered houses. Tours can be arranged through the helpful tourist office (www.stadt-gengenbach.de/en/tourism/), which can also provide information on tours and tastings at the wine co-operative. Clients should not miss the excellent museum of carnival masks and costumes in the Niggel Tower or the wood-fired bakery of Holzofenbackerei near the abbey.
The shorter Schwarzwald Hochstrasse follows the Murg Valley for about 40 miles from Rastatt (just north of Baden-Baden) to Freudenstadt, but to get deeper into the heart of the Black Forest, suggest they drive south of Gengenbach along the Kinzig and Gutach valleys. A highlight of this route is charming Haslach im Kinzigtal, where the Schwarzwälder Trachtenmuseum is filled with historic costumes and exhibits that explore the region’s rich traditions, crafts, foods and folklore. The very helpful tourist office can suggest traditional lodging, such as Gasthaus Blume Schnellinger (www.zur-blume.de), whose dining room serves local specialties.
Near Haslach, in the Gutach Valley, advise clients to stop at the Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum (http://en.vogtsbauernhof.de), an open-air museum around a 16th-century farm. Moved here from nearby locations are a bakery, distillery, granary and other period buildings that show country life here through the 1800s. In the barnyards, gardens, dairy barn, grinding mills, sawmill, barns and homes costumed interpreters demonstrate forgotten skills and crafts. The café serves traditional local dishes.
Farther south, in Triberg, Germany’s highest waterfall drops about 500 feet in seven stages, with views from bridges and a trail that climbs to the top. Triberg is on another route -- Deutsche Uhrenstrasse, German Clock Road -- from Villingen-Schwenningen to Bad Dürrheim. About 5 miles from Triberg in Schonach, clients can inspect the wooden works of the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, and all along the route are clockmakers, museums and artisans who make, carve or decorate clocks.
South of Triberg, Route B500 climbs through some spectacular landscapes of deep valleys, ridge-tops and farms before dropping into the playground of Lake Titisee. At the floor of a valley near the lake, Best Western Hotel Hofgut Sternen Höllsteig welcomes travelers as it has since Marie Antoinette stopped there en route to Paris and marriage to the King of France. Advise clients that in Europe, Best Western is not a chain, but a marketing group of independent and usually upscale hotels, many of them historic properties like this one (www.hofgut-sternen.de). Its restaurant is excellent, and another good dining choice to suggest is Café Goldene Krone in St. Märgen. The hotel can arrange for scenic boat rides on Lake Titisee, and walkers will enjoy the many paths around nearby Hinterzarten. One of these, Oberzartener Weg, leads past Mathislehof farm, whose mammoth traditional barn houses a shop with cheese and sausages perfect for a picnic (www.waelder-gbr.de).
Delta (www.delta.com) flies non-stop to Stuttgart from Atlanta and United (www.united.com) flies from Newark. Stuttgart can also be reached from New York, Boston, Detroit, Denver, Orlando, Chicago and other US cities via Frankfurt on Lufthansa (www.lufthansa.com); Deutsche Bahn (www.bahn.com) direct trains to Stuttgart (70 minutes) leave right from Frankfurt airport. For more information on Southwest Germany, contact the German National Tourist Board (www.germany.travel) or Baden-Württemberg Tourism (www.tourism-bw.com).