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Vienna and Salzburg absorb most of the Austrian limelight. It’s earned, of course, thanks to their music, palaces and history. On the country’s westernmost side, however, lies the less visited state of Vorarlberg, a verdant alpine nook on the Swiss border that’s long on charm and short on people.
The simplest way of traveling to Vorarlberg is by flying to Zurich, Switzerland. From there, a scenic train ride to Bregenz, the state’s capital, lands clients on the shimmering shores of Lake Constance — a hop, a skip and a jump beneath Germany. Not only does this route shorten the overnight to Europe, it eliminates about seven hours of train travel westward from Vienna.
Bregenz is the ideal jumping-off point for all things in this abundantly mountainous region, where, no matter the season, activities and culture abound.
For a good start (and a breathtaking panorama), the Pfander cable car scales the tree-lined mountain, climbing above Bregenz to nearly 3,500 feet. Up top, there are multiple hiking trails and a wildlife park, highlighted by ibexes and mouflons. But the main draw is the three-country view, which, on a clear day, gives rise to the Swiss Alps and Black Forest, bringing more than 200 peaks into sight.
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Bregenz - Das Mehr am See (@visitbregenz) on Oct 23, 2019 at 4:34am PDT
A post shared by Bregenz - Das Mehr am See (@visitbregenz) on Oct 23, 2019 at 4:34am PDT
In town, plenty of cultural activities are offered, from contemporary art at Kunsthaus Bregenz to theater and opera during the summer’s annual Bregenz Festival, home to the world’s largest floating stage (on Lake Constance) and a performance by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The event is held in July and August.
To get around Vorarlberg, ample train and bus options are available, but the most efficient method is by car. In an utterly beautiful landscape — and one quaint village after the next — clients will appreciate the flexibility and freedom a rental provides.
Once on the road, my first stop was to Bregenzerwald, a province of more than 20 hamlets scattered across the ultra-green Bregenz Forest. Here, the hymn of hourly church bells was a pleasant reminder of my spot on the globe — Europe. In Bregenzerwald, however, there was extra ringing (heard day and night) from the side of every slope: cowbells, worn by the makers of Austrian’s famous bergkase “mountain cheese.”
Like all of Austria, Vorarlberg is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. And the best way to experience the destination’s acclaimed cheese is to hike from hut to hut along the KaseStrasse (Cheese Road), a network of trails and alpine dairies in the mountains. Local outfitters can arrange culinary hikes, but clients can trek anywhere and chances are they’ll arrive at a dairy in no time, as I did, just above the town of Bezau. Additionally, a sunrise hike to Kanisfluh mountain, the area’s landmark massif, is a wake-up call worth making.
In Bezau, I stayed at Hotel Post Bezau by Susanne Kauffmann, a family-owned, 58-room retreat and spa emphasizing sustainability and wellness. A few villages away in Bizau, I enjoyed a remarkable meal at Swan, part of Biohotel Schwanen, sipping elderflower champagne and munching on foraged mushrooms.
Another highlight of Bregenzerwald, and a source of local pride, is its handicrafts and architectural culture. The Walder people, as locals are called, are master craftspeople and woodworkers, having bridged the art of traditional-meets-contemporary design. To best experience this, I visited Werkraum in Andelsbuch, a co-op and exhibition of 100-or-so local artisans. Elsewhere, Bus:Stop Krumbach, a series of seven bus stops designed by seven leading architects from around the world, made me want to use public transportation the rest of my life.
A great place for clients to finish their Vorarlberg adventure is at Lech Zurs am Arlberg, a paradise of alpine activity an hour to the east that, come wintertime, is home to the state’s best skiing. In less than 24 hours, I hiked a section of the stunning Green Ring trail, played the scenic nine-hole golf course at sunset and rode an e-bike with a guide to Lake Formarin — once voted “the most beautiful place in Austria.”
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Lech Zürs am Arlberg (@lechzuers) on Dec 3, 2019 at 11:21am PST
A post shared by Lech Zürs am Arlberg (@lechzuers) on Dec 3, 2019 at 11:21am PST
The movement and fresh mountain air made turndown at the upscale Hotel Berghof all the better.