Hotel Bareiss, BaiersbronnAlthough this 1951 hotel has been recently refurbished, it still retains the old-fashioned casual elegance that keeps its faithful clientèle returning every year. From the cheerful begonias cascading over the hotel's curved balconies to the warm greeting by name when we arrived, we knew everything was going to be perfect. A distinctive feature was the fitness and bathing complex, which went far beyond the usual hotel pool/gym/spa formula. Besides a decadent beauty spa offering everything from Thalago to week-long Ayurveda treatments, there is an elaborate indoor-outdoor system of waterworks. They have even built a self-cleaning, natural swimming pond in the garden complete with white sand beach and beach chairs. There is also a crazy but entertaining heated outdoor saltwater pool with a current channel and water mushroom fountain. At six in the morning, a group of rubber-capped Germans were dutifully taking a water aerobics class in the Homeric indoor seawater pool.

The other distinctive feature is that the Bareiss, despite being a large luxury hotel, feels like a local inn with unique character. Service by charming young staff in traditional dress reaches the highest levels of perfection without the least hint of stuffiness. Owner Hermann Bareiss, whose mother started the hotel, clearly loves his land and loves to help his guests discover its charms. He has purchased and restored a 300-year-old farmhouse and baker's mill behind the hotel, which now provides a fascinating glimpse into the past and authentic country cuisine for special events. (The farmhouse is open by prior arrangement only, although the grounds and garden are open to the public.) Inside, there is an exhibit of a treasure trove of old folk remedies and healers' recipes found under the floorboards. Some tawny cows graze nearby, a heritage breed so sturdy that they thrive in the forest pasture all winter with no care.

As part of a community effort to bring together Baiersbronn's outdoor and culinary attractions, the hotel provides food for a public wanderer's hut called the Sattelei, an easy 25 minutes' hike from the hotel. After walking gently uphill through the woods, the wanderer is rewarded with the best black forest cake in the Black Forest. Beer, grilled sausages, and other simple forest fare are available at low prices to all comers in a cozy log hut with views over the hills. That's all the motivation I needed to climb up there for a pre-lunch.

The hotel runs a huge list of activities beyond the typical fitness classes. A daily bulletin informs guests about guided hiking, fly-fishing, Nordic walking, dancing, tennis, or local tours. There might be a concert or a sausage cook-out. Guests can also arrange a private hunting guide or a visit to one of the nearby golf courses or a drive in the hotel's 1928 Ford.

I can see now why Bareiss holidays are ideally a week or more. There's too much to do, and there's a 20 percent rate discount for stays longer than four days. Kids have their own luxury playhouse called the Villa Kunterbunt. When I visited, two little tykes were being entertained by three staffers and a puppet theater, playhouse, toys, and games. The hotel also has a special kids' program during European school holidays besides the daily age-appropriate programs. For the older kids, there is a pool table, ping pong, foosball, videos, and computer games. Grownups have card and casino games available in the evenings. Although most of the hotel's interior has been updated from its original dark wood, the bright new look is still very classic.

The hotel's dining rooms all have different decorations. One has Biedermeier furniture, one is hung with old photographs, while another has carved wooden beams and painted ceilings to remind guests that they are in the Black Forest. All are warm and inviting, especially for afternoon tea by the fireplace on a winter's day. Corridors are decorated with chintz-covered chairs and ceramic chimneys.

Guestrooms are also all individually designed and decorated, generally with a country chic style in pastel colors. We were given Room 73, a spacious and rather quirky 50s modern retro-styled suite with a pink quilt-covered double bed, a semicircular seating area with an armchair and window seat upholstered in dusty rose, and an extra single bedroom plus a large curved balcony with sweeping hillside views.

The enormous, brand-new bathroom was fitted with a high-tech power shower, his and hers vanities including luxury toiletries, and a large Jacuzzi tub. My favorite touch was a leather-handled rattan tote bag to bring to the pool.

Room 14 is a stunning double that opens directly onto a private garden terrace. Fresh-flowered curtains hang down to the floor over delicately striped wallpaper, and the wrought iron bed and seating area are done with coordinating red and white fabrics. The blue-and-white bathroom has been newly renovated in an old-fashioned style with two pedestal sinks, separate shower and tub.

Room 26 is a spectacular double room in sophisticated yellow and bold black stripes. There is a corner fireplace and French doors leading to a patio garden, plus a claw-foot bathtub and a four-poster canopy bed on bare wooden floors.

Even if you aren't staying in the hotel, you can still enjoy Bareiss hospitality on a budget by hiking up to Sattelei (open all year from 11pm-5pm) for a well-deserved forester's lunch or booking a table in the cozy Dorfstuben.

While at Bareiss, check out the lovely shops. They have a terrific selection of resort wear, home décor items, and a beautiful toy shop. Best of all is an extensive newsstand with a huge range of international press.

The drawback is that for some bizarre reason the hotel doesn't accept credit cards for rooms (credit cards are accepted for everything else, including shops and restaurants). Suddenly, I understand why the clientèle is so devoid of non-Europeans. To pay for a room, you have to use Maestro EC card (a European debit card), travelers' checks, international wire transfers, or cash. For stays longer than four nights, discount and seasonal rates apply. For shorter stays, specific rooms and categories are not guaranteed. The 99 rooms, suites, and family apartments are all very different, so it is worthwhile to examine them upon arrival to find the style and configuration that suits you. Most include balcony or patio, seating area, and private bath. Reservations at the Dorfstuben and Restaurant Bareiss must be made separately.

Contact: Hotel Bareiss in the Black Forest, Gärtenbühlweg 14, D-72270 Baiersbronn-Mitteltal, tel. +49/074/42 47 0, fax +49/074/42 47 320, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Daily Per Person Rates: Singles €158-178, doubles €164-188, apartments €170-240, suites/penthouses from €240. Prices include breakfast and dinner. Discounts for children and for stays longer than four days.—Lydia Itoi

Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 14/20