Despite the fact that much of mainland Europe has become essentially border-free within the so-called “Schengen Area,” many North Americans continue to view the continent in terms of single-country destinations. This is true of the Rhine Valley, where the river creates an aquatic border between France and Germany. But when you realize that the Black Forest, one of the loveliest regions of Germany, is less than an hour from Strasbourg in France, and no tiresome formalities are required to drive there, it suddenly makes perfect sense to combine the two on a single trip.
What impressed me most during our delightful visit was that the Bareiss family still practices the refined, old-fashioned European art of innkeeping.
I’ve always enjoyed the pastoral serenity to be found amid the rolling hills of southwestern Germany, but on this occasion, I’d decided to visit the little town of Baiersbronn because a friend had warmly recommended the Bareiss hotel and also called my attention to the region’s constellation of Michelin stars. Arriving at the 99-room property on a sunny afternoon, we experienced an exceptionally warm welcome and were promptly ushered to a wonderful pastel-colored suite with a private balcony. The thickly carpeted salon came with a yellow damask-covered sofa and several side chairs, as well as a bar and writing desk, while the separate bedroom provided an oversize bed with feather duvets and ample closet space. The enormous bath was equipped with a whirlpool tub, separate shower, sauna and double vanities. Beyond their impressive degree of comfort, these quarters were immaculately clean and well-maintained.
The Bareiss is an overtly luxurious place, with beautifully landscaped gardens, five indoor and outdoor swimming pools — some with salt water, others with fresh — an outstanding spa and a variety of bars and restaurants. But what impressed me most during our delightful visit was that the Bareiss family, which has owned, improved and expanded the hotel over three generations, still practices the refined, old-fashioned European art of innkeeping. All the staff members are extremely well-trained and are palpably proud to be employed at the property. Their infallible good manners and constant small courtesies proved deeply relaxing and reassuring.
As expected, the highlight of our stay proved to be an indulgent lunch at the Restaurant Bareiss, where chef Claus-Peter Lumpp boasts three Michelin stars for his refined modern European cooking. This intimate restaurant has only eight tables, all of which are dressed with fresh flowers, Christofle silverware and Prussian porcelain. Highlights of the menu gastronomique were plump langoustines with Imperial caviar, and three cuts of Swabian lamb — the rack, belly and sweetbreads — all of which were prepared differently and served with individual garnishes. It was midafternoon before we left the table for a much-needed walk in the pastures surrounding Baiersbronn. That night, we settled for a light room service dinner of beef consommé with homemade noodles, and wild mushroom omelets. It was impeccably served and presented.
The following evening in the bar, I fell into conversation with a friendly surgeon from Hamburg, who told me that he and his wife always visit the Bareiss twice a year — once in September for the pleasure of walking in the surrounding woods at the onset of autumn, and again in January for a week of spa treatments and horse-drawn carriage rides through the snowy forest. Having now savored this outstanding hotel during fall, I’m looking forward to discovering it in other seasons, per the doctor’s orders.
AT A GLANCE
LIKE: The exceptionally charming service; the sensational food; the tranquil setting; the spacious and deeply comfortable rooms.
GOOD TO KNOW: Since many guests make reservations from one stay to the next, it is a good idea to book as far in advance as possible, especially during the busy summer season. The Bareiss is also an excellent family destination, with a comprehensive program of activities for children of all ages.
Bareiss 96 Large Double Room, $280; Suite, $420. Hermine-Bareiss-Weg, Baiersbronn-Mitteltal. Tel. (49) 7442-470.