Deep in the mountains, there’s a network of stunning hiking trails and amazing art – Bev Watts explores.
Watch opera on Lake Constance
Vorarlberg is Austria’s westernmost state, adjoining Tyrol and on the border with Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Capital Bregenz is situated on the edge of vast Lake Constance (also known as Bodensee) with a floating stage over the water. Every summer each year, you can enjoy Opera on the Lake and other events at the Bregenz Festival. In July 2023 Puccini’s Madama Butterfly returns.
Visit Bregenz Upper Town
Uphill, away from Lake Constance which used to be an even bigger lake, Bregenz Upper Town retains its medieval walls, maze of cobbled streets, pretty-coloured houses and fountains. St Martin’s Tower (Martinsturm) is a former granary that was built into a watchtower in 1601 and has a panoramic view of the city, lake and mountains. The ‘hangman’s bell’ once rang out for executions as well warning citizens about fires.
Tour the Krumbach bus stops
In the Bregenzerwald region (Bregenz Forest), there are 23 lovely villages, including Krumbach with its remarkable award-winning roadside constructions. International architects were invited to ‘re-imagine’ seven local bus stops and the resulting innovative designs are definitely different. The Bränden bus stop, the work of Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, is a cluster of rods with a winding staircase. (That’s right, no roof.) Walk from bus stop to bus stop and hike the trail that leads through the Krumbach Moor, an area rich with peat mosses.
See Schwarzenberg’s cow festival
A tranquil location with 45 farms and rustic wooden houses, the farmers of Schwarzenberg drive their cows to lush mountain pastures in July and bring them back in September. A centuries-old tradition in the Alps, the safe return of the cattle is celebrated with a festival. Each year the Schwarzenberger Alptag takes place, a procession for the garlanded cows as they return to the valley. It’s followed by the 400-year-old Schwarzenberg market with a tasting of the best Alpine cheeses throughout the Bregenzerwald. Vorarlberger Bergkäse, a regional mountain cheese made from raw milk, has a distinct nutty taste. (Don’t worry, if you miss the market, there are farm shops selling irresistible cheeses throughout the year.)
Find out about artist Angelika Kauffmann
The Kleberhaus, a farmhouse built in 1556, is both the Schwarzenberg local history museum and home to the Angelika Kauffmann Museum, celebrating the life of the 18th century painter. A child prodigy who became one of the founders of the Royal Academy in London, Angelika was a good friend to Sir Joshua Reynolds. Her father came from Schwarzenberg and when she was only a teenager, Angelika painted the wall frescoes in the parish church.
Take a chairlift to lunch
A Bregenzerwald Guest Card is available free to all visitors who spend at least three nights in one of the 28 partner locations. It’s valid for buses, cable cars and outdoor swimming pools. I used mine to take the chairlift from the craft-focused village of Andelsbuch into the Niedere mountains where strong thermal winds attract daredevil paragliders. My lunch in the snug Bergrestauant Niedere was Käsespätzl dumpling soup, made with egg noodles, butter, melted cheese, caramelized onions and fresh herbs, served in a wooden dish. Sausages with sauerkraut also looked delicious. After a short hike along the ridge to the cable car station, I descended to bucolic Bezau which sits in a wide valley floor
Hike from Warth to Lech
The Piz Buin mountain, Vorarlberg’s highest peak at 3,312 metres, gave its name to the sunscreen, developed by a Tyrolean chemistry student who wanted to avoid sunburn on climbing trips. I wasn’t so adventurous but I hiked the ‘gentle’ trail from Warth via Bürstegg to Lech am Arlberg and it’s a stunning route taking around three hours. Christian, my guide, was so fit he decided to run back to our starting point but I definitely wasn’t joining him!
Go Alpine bathing
Alpine bathing is a spiritual pleasure, immersing yourself in the natural landscape, experiencing the world with all your senses. I tried the Mountain Selfcare at Hotel Goldener Berg in Lech, meditating with my eyes closed, walking barefoot in the grass, resting in a hammock, feeling the texture of the soil in my bare hands and trying out a few yoga moves in the forest. I’d read that hay bathing (being wrapped in layers of pre-boiled mountain grass) is also meant to be a health boost in the Alps but was relieved that wasn’t on the mindfulness programme. Consciously breathing and dipping my toes into a freezing pond was relaxing enough for me.
Experience Skyspace at sunrise
To experience Skyspace Lech at sunrise, I got up in the dark to head up the path that leads to the hill-top art installation. (Sunset is also enchanting but I had a plane to catch.) Designed by American artist James Turrell, Skyspace is a low structure hidden in the Alpine landscape, a dome topped by an elliptical-shaped cupola that opens to the sky. (The cover only closes when heavy snow hits the region.) Seating around the dark stone interior walls allows visitors to sit and observe the changing sky, the moving light and distant heavens. Turrell wanted to create ‘space where you feel a presence, almost an entity — that physical feeling and power that space can give’.
Enjoy Vorarlberg hospitality
Family-run Hotel Gasthof Hirschen in Schwarzenberg is a wonderful 265-year-old hotel with a family art collection on the walls. Every room is different: the antique tiled stove heater in my room was charming and the creaky wooden floor totally authentic. The hotel has a fine wine cellar and an atmospheric historic dining room restaurant.
Hotel Goldener Berg in Lech, dedicated to the bohemian lifestyle, has four restaurants and a holistic wellness area with a team of self-care supervisors. Apple strudel with ice cream on the Panorama Sun Terrace is fabulous. The wood-panelled Johannisstübli eaterie is cosy for dinner and specialises in plant-based vegan and vegetarian dishes made from regional products
The Vorarlberg Museum in Bregenz, its exterior dotted with the bottoms of recycled plastic bottles, has displays of archaeological items, art and costumes. The ground floor café is great to grab a coffee or glass of Carpe Diem Classic Kombacha, an Austrian soft drink.
Overlooking Lake Constance, Bregenz restaurant and bar Pier 69 is the spot to try thin, crispy wiener schnitzel and at Gams 1648 (Vinothek & Pizzeria) in Bezau the must-have treat is chocolate pizza, surprisingly good with a glass of marvellous Austrian wine.
Learn more about holidays in Vorarlberg, West Austria. And our Silver Travel Advisors have more information and can book your trip to Austria: call 0800 412 5678.