Nestled on the northern edge of the Black Forest, the small town of Baiersbronn is home to just 15,000 people, and yet it’s become a touchstone for modern culinary pilgrims.
"What makes this worth the trip?" you might ask. Simply put, it’s because the Michelin Guide says so. Three stars in Michelin lingo mean "exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey," and there are two restaurants that certainly fit the bill in Baiersbronn.
Baiersbronn, Murg Valley, Baden-Wurtemberg, Germany — Photo courtesy of Maria Lisella
In fact, this tiny outpost contains the highest density of Michelin-starred restaurants in Germany. Baiersbronn has within its modest borders as many three-starred establishments as Chicago and London. To further put this remarkable achievement in perspective, Berlin and Antwerp aren’t home to a single one.
The idyllic setting of Baiersbronn is practically custom-made for foodies in search of delectable dining experiences with soul, wit, and grace.
The chefs here all have pedigrees, having studied in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. Each has reached high and hard for those one, two and three Michelin stars, and they’ve kept those stars in orbit consecutively for as many as 26 years.
Trio of chefs from left to right: Claus-Peter Lumpp, Harald Wohlfahrt, and Jörg Sackmann — Photo courtesy of Baiersbronn Touristik
One such chef is Harald Wohlfahrt, who welcomes customers at his three-Michelin-star restaurant, the Schwarzwaldstube. Part of the nearly 230-year-old Hotel Traube Tonbach, this restaurant is renowned for its light French haute cuisine. After years as a culinary guru, Wohlfahrt will soon hand off the Schwarzwaldstube to his disciple and executive chef Torsten Michel, but he will very much remain a presence.
Locally-caught salmon embellished with herbs, flowers and seeds at Schwarzwaldstube — Photo courtesy of Hotel Bareiss
Meanwhile, Chef Claus-Peter Lumpp composes his works at the three-star Restaurant Bareiss, complemented by the extraordinary pastry chef Peter Leitner.
Lumpp’s philosophy was in no small part influenced by his Swabian grandmother who may have offered him restrained praise, but taught him how to use every single part of an animal from its marrow to its bones, tendons and flanks.
Pastry chef Leitner's baked chocolate praliné with mango and crumbles — Photo courtesy of Hotel Bareiss
To encourage young people who may be a tad intimidated by Michelin-starred restaurants, Lumpp suggests they start off with a luncheon menu similar to what this reporter sampled.
It consists of six cold and warm amuse-bouche, with Japanese-inspired tuna, a quiche, full courses of fish and chicken, and, yes, desserts in small doses – all perfectly matched with carefully chosen wines.
The Hotel Bareiss, Lumpp’s home base, breeds its trout and deer and maintains a vegetable garden with herbs to ensure the highest quality of its dishes throughout all five restaurants at the property.
Gnocchi with braised veal and Alba truffles — Photo courtesy of Hotel Bareiss
At the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Schlossberg, you'll find Jörg Sackmann, who is not only the chef there, but also the owner of the four-star superior Hotel Sackmann where the restaurant is located.
Sackmann has written a book about how aromas are key to dining and appreciating food. Even the spa inside his hotel is purely based on aromas – rose, pine and citrus, and walls of Himalayan salt, the better to inhale them all in.
Likewise, Sackmann has created a menu for those under 35 that consists of three to five courses with wine pairings, before graduating to the 12-course dinner.
Jorge Sackmann in the kitchen at the Hotel Sackmann — Photo courtesy of Hotel Sackmann
Jorge’s son, Nico, is the epitome of a child of the forest if ever there was one. Each morning, he sets out on his daily forage for wild herbs he ferrets out of the damp earth of the Black Forest.
Nico tames wild chervil, garlic, sorrel and daisy buds into sauces, liqueurs and oils. He whips, presses and freezes them, delighting in finding them at their peak and perfect consistency. At a glance, Nico matches the herb that will best complement the Wagyu beef, octopus, salmon or sole that night.
Foraging on the damp earthen floor of the Black Forest with Nico Sackmann — Photo courtesy of Maria Lisella
What might look like ferns, coral and debris to me turned out to be the very elements that appeared on my plate later that day. Sorrel became pesto or soup or sauce; a flat leaf pine sprig bursts with citrusy flavor and an ugly set of roots became a liqueur to end a fine meal.
The Black Forest for dessert — Photo courtesy of Hotel Sackmann
When asked who he would most like to cook for, Nico responded without hesitation, "Bruce Willis." And what would that menu look like? Homemade spaetzle with cheese and wild herbs, local well-bred beef smothered in onions and finally, goat milk ice cream with wild berries.
Dining alfresco at the Castle Eberstein — Photo courtesy of Maria Lisella
Less than an hour from Baiersbronn, the Eberstein Castle rises high above the rooftops of the town of Gernsbach. Originally built in 1272, it is surrounded by steep vineyards.
Here, Bernd Werner, one of Germany’s top young chefs, and his wife Roswitha, a certified sommelier, welcome guests to the Michelin-starred Werner’s Restaurant. It contains 45 seats and a summer terrace for alfresco dining above the Murg Valley. The cooking is simple, eschewing extravagance for a focus on straightforward fare that's perfectly executed.
End a tasting hike with a five-course meal at a hiking cottage — Photo courtesy of Hotel Bareiss
Beyond the awarded establishments, it's best not to forget that Baiersbronn has its own culinary history worth exploring, and that the terrain is ideal for hikes both challenging and tranquil.
While here, you should consider joining a culinary hike with a wild plant guide who takes visitors on a wild plants discovery trail. It's a hiking experience like no other, where you can sample herbs at the source and enjoy the fruits of the local harvest within its natural setting.
The bounty of Michelin stars may draw you here, but boundless other food experiences await in this beautiful branch of the Black Forest.