The Kinzig and Gutach valleys are quintessential Black Forest landscapes; they’re also the birthplace of many of its most eccentric folk costumes, and cuckoo clocks are sold here by the tonne. From Baden-Baden the region is most attractively accessed along the twisty and scenic Schwarzwaldhochstrasse, which leads to the northeastern end of the steep-sided and densely forested Kinzig Valley, the horseshoe-shaped hub of the Black Forest’s largest valley system, dotted with a series of picturesque small towns. Particularly appealing are the monastery and brewery town of Alpirsbach, and the quaint gathering of half-timbered houses at Schiltach. For generations this remote valley made its money logging and farming, and its modest and fairly sleepy communities celebrate this heritage with various evocative museums, including the open-air Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum, one of the region’s premier sights, just up the feeder valley of the River Gutach. This small stream is responsible for the broad 25km-long Gutach Valley, famous for its Bollenhut, a black hat with red pompoms worn as a traditional folk costume by women and reproduced in tourist literature throughout the region. Close to the head of the valley lies Triberg, the Black Forest’s most touristy town, packed with cuckoo-clock shops and coach parties and probably worth avoiding unless you’re after a chirping time-piece – in which case you’ll certainly want to visit the good, nearby clock museum at Furtwangen too.
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The Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum
The Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum
Just over 1km south of the Gutach’s confluence with the Kinzig lies the Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum, an open-air museum focused on an old farm – the Vogtsbauernhof – that has been here since 1570. Its huge roof is typical of the local traditional building style and the sort of place that caused Jerome K. Jerome to comment: “The great charm about a Black Forest house is its sociability: the cows are in the next room, the horses are upstairs, the geese and ducks in the kitchen, while the pigs, children and chickens live all over the place.”
The 26 other buildings in the complex – which include a sawmill, granary, bakery, distillery, smithy and chapel – have been moved here from elsewhere to create a rather phoney little village. But great effort has gone into authentically furnishing them all and costumed guides doing craft demonstrations help bring the place alive and broaden the appeal.
From where it meets the Kinzig Valley, the Gutach Valley progressively narrows then climbs to a point some 1000m above sea level after 20km, where the air is so pure it once made the town of TRIBERG a health resort. But this was long ago, and today the town is obsessed with only one thing: the cuckoo clock. Thousands are on sale here and the tourist traffic the industry spawns can be nightmarish; but if you embrace the kitsch and are in the market for a clock, it can be fun.
The long, thin Marktplatz that follows the main road through town is its natural focus, with a large pilgrimage church, or Wallfahrtskirche, looming over it decked out in florid Baroque. But the busiest end of town is uphill from here at a bend in the main road, where clock shops are squeezed together. They’re an attraction in themselves (see The cuckoo clock), and certainly as well visited as the town’s two other main attractions nearby.