Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Wed June 17 2015

Southwest Germany Defies Old Images of Germany

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | June 17, 2015

Southwest Germany Defies Old Images of Germany

PHOTO: The ruins of Heidelberg Castle are among the most beautiful castle sites in Europe. (Courtesy of Southwest German Tourism)

Germany got off to a great start this year, seeing its overnights increase a full 5 percent in the first quarter. As more Americans travel to Germany, their understanding of the country opens more questions than it answers, because Germany is probably Europe’s most complex country. To begin with, it’s a country whose very distinct regions are each culturally almost complete nations in themselves. Bavaria, Saxony, Thuringia and other German states have, like Texas, lived under many flags. Consider the state of Baden-Württemberg, which is completely different than the stereotype that outsiders have of Germany.

Baden-Württemberg drinks more wine than beer, and markets itself under the name Southwest Germany in the U.S. Southwest Germany initiated its own travel agent specialist program, called Cuckoo Training. The state’s tourism assets fit nicely into the German National Tourist Board’s (GNTB) “Traditions and Customs” campaign that encompasses three themes: Culinary Specialities, Living Traditions and Arts and Crafts. According to the GNTB, traditions and history is one of the top 10 reasons tourists choose Germany.

Automobiles, Black Forest folklore and nature, food and wine are the biggest themes for Southwest Germany. Baden Baden, Baiersbronn, Heidelberg, Lake Constance, Mannheim, Stuttgart and the Swabian Mountains are the biggest attractions. The gateway to the region is Stuttgart and Stuttgart Airport receives daily flights from Newark (United) and Atlanta (Delta). The airport is the sixth largest in Germany, receiving 9.6 million passengers in 2013 and offering up to 400 flights daily to more than 100 destinations.

Carl Benz invented the combustion engine in Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz and Porsche make their headquarters there and each features a world class auto museum. You can also visit the humble greenhouse where he drove the first piston.

PHOTO: Cars, as at Stuttgart’s Merceds Benz Museum, are a big theme in Baden-Württemberg. (Courtesy of Mercedes Benz Museum)

Cars and cuisine collide once a year during the last week of September in the Baiersbronn Classic (Sept. 24 to 27) when about 100 car and driving enthusiasts gather to race historic cars at the vintage rally. The three-day race takes place on some of the nicest routes through the Black Forest and showcases some of Baiersbronn's famous cooking: the hearty local cuisine on the first night and the formal, high class meals on the gala evening.

Baden Württemberg is home to more than 77 Michelin stars, some of them sparkling where you’d least expect them. The Black Forest is a region of sylvan hills, farms, lakes, villages, valleys and vineyards. Baiersbronn, a small Black Forest town, attained prominence centuries ago when its glass makers invented a Champagne bottle that could resist the pressure of the bubbly. About an hour from Stuttgart, Baiersbronn has a cluster of eight Michelin stars, the highest density in Europe. Baiersbronn is also home to three five-star luxury hotels in the state and each has spa programs with beautifully outfitted wellness centers.

PHOTO: Dining in the Black Forest is a gourmet delight. (Courtesy of Black Forest Tourism)

Freiburg, also in the Black Forest, produces some of Germany’s best wines within its city limits. The city’s cathedral often finds itself at the center of several summer wine festivals. The city of Karlsruhe in the northern reaches of the forest will mark its 300th anniversary in 2015 with a major summer celebration that runs through Sept. 24. Black Forest hikers often begin in Freudenstadt with its 186 miles of marked hiking paths including the Red Deer's Path, the Giant Firs and the newly opened Black Forest Connoisseur Route.

Heidelberg is also popular with hikers who explore the forests close to the city including the famous Philosophers’ Walk to the Neuburg Abbey. Holy Mountain (Heiligenberg) located across from Heidelberg Castle offers the most beautiful view of Heidelberg as well as remnants from the Celtic, Roman, and Medieval on the hiking trail called the Keltenweg (Celtic Trail).

The ruins of Heidelberg Castle form one of Germany’s most beautiful stages from June 24 to Aug. 2 when the Heidelberger Schlossfestspiele (Castle Festival) takes place. The festival turns the romantic Heidelberg Castle, including the courtyard, conifer garden and Dicker Turm (“Fat Tower”), into the backdrop for children’s theater, plays, concerts, musicals and more. Heidelberg was voted the most popular city in Europe by participants in the Interrail Destination Award 2015. Interrail sells passes for European train travel to more than 220,000 travelers per year. Heidelberg has made it to No. 1 - followed by Thessaloniki, Lisbon, Antwerp and Bologna.

Lake Constance lies between Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein. It’s a home to historical sites such as the Castle Meersburg and the pre-historic lake village in Unteruhldingen. Its most popular destinations are the “flower island” of Mainau and Reichenau Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monastic island of Reichenau illustrates the religious and cultural importance of the abbey in the Middle Ages. It was founded in 724 AD.

The world’s most famous Old World spa town, Baden Baden, recently bettered the spa facilities of its best hotel, the Oetker Collection’s Brenners Park Hotel & Spa. The hotel’s new Villa Stéphanie spreads out over five floors and is comprised of a 5,382-square-foot sauna, kneipping baths, plunge pool for recovery, private fitness center, physio and spinal treatments, a hammam, ladies’ spa, private park and sunken garden. “Le Salon” will feature a library and a beautiful private terrace facing Brenner’s park. The Villa Stephanie is housed in the historic building that sits next to the existing hotel.

 Villa Stéphanie will also be connected to “Haus Julius,” an 18,300-square-foot property dedicated solely to Brenners Medical Care. The 12 double rooms and three corner suites are designed for guests seeking intensive spa experiences. Haus Julius services include dermatology, gynecology, ophthalmology, multi-functional dentistry, a laboratory, GP, cardiology, psychology, physiotherapy and nutritional coaching.

Travel agents who wish to become SouthWest Germany Specialists must endure the rigors of Cuckoo Training. The program provides agents with relevant information in five courses, combining essential facts and background information with interactive activities and insider knowledge. It’s called Cuckoo Training because Southwest Germany is home to the cuckoo bird, and the cuckoo clock was invented in the Black Forest. Once agents have completed and passed the online courses, they receive a certificate.

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