Vorarlberg is one of the main regions of Austria, in the far west of the country. It borders Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. A popular part of Vorarlberg is the sunny Bregenzerwald (Bregenz Forest) which is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to its nature, architecture and culinary traditions. The Bregenz Forest is divided into two parts: the Hinterwald or Upper Bregenz Forest and the Vorderwald Forest or Lower Bregenz Forest. The Vorderwald, with its hills and low mountains, is closest to the Rhine valley; the Hinterwald has the highest mountains.
Bezau in the High Forest is the best starting point for fabulous experiences in the Bregenz Forest, including skiing, snowshoeing, romantic moon walks and stargazing. To get there, it is best to fly to Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck and take the train or bus from there.
Many romantic villages are scattered all around the Bregenz Forest; in fact, there are 23 in total, connected by an architectural pathway. Then there is the cheese road (Kaesestrasse), skiing and other sports in winter. You will also be enchanted by the museums, local clothing, hospitality and modern architecture as well as traditional houses, arts and crafts and the land of the swings.
Although it is quite cold in winter, the average annual sunshine amounts to 1,640 hours. Blue skies, sparkling snow, beautiful trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing – two exercises that keep you warm – and of course the many cozy hostels you come across can be experienced as you move from one of the 23 villages around another with delicious Austrian cuisine to warm you up inside and out.
I love the Bregenz Forest because there is something new and exciting to do and see around every turn. The locals are so friendly and welcoming. They speak different dialects and while you may not understand them, the sound alone is pleasing to the ear. But never fear, this is a popular region of Austria with visitors from many countries, so English is widely spoken.
1. Comfortable racket
Snowshoeing is an excellent winter sport that combines elements of skiing and walking. Imagine skiing, since you need poles to propel you forward, and walking with long, vigorous strides. If you’ve never tried it, head to Damüls – Faschina in the high forest where you’ll find the lower hills and lots of great trails. You can either use the designated hiking trails or carve your own path through the pristine snow. There are also weekly guided tours of the Tiefenwald if you are a beginner and feel safer with a guide. The rental of poles and rackets can be found in all the sports shops in Damuls and Faschina. If you’re a reasonably fit hiker, you can master snowshoeing, a sport that will keep you warm and enjoy the snow and beautiful scenery of the Bregenz Forest. Don’t dress too warmly, but keep extra layers in your backpack.
2. Midnight Hug Path
If you’re looking for a romantic adventure in the snow, look no further than walking the 3-mile-long Midnight Hug Path from Zum Gloeckle Pub to Alpe Boutique Hotel Mittagsspitze in Unter Damuls. From start to finish, the hike takes about 2 hours. The first half of the trail is well lit and passes two wooden huts where you can rest. For the second half, it’s best to bring torches unless there’s a full moon, which along with the reflective snow gives plenty of light. The Jaegerstueble at the end invites you for a cup of tea, a snack and of course, during your walk… a hug. If you don’t want to hike, you can also do the horse-drawn sleigh ride and snuggle up under the blankets. Either way, it’s a top notch romantic experience.
The night sky in the Bregenz Forest is dark and clear, ideal conditions for another romantic activity: stargazing. The path of hugs is already a good opportunity, you can try to find your astrological sign and see the milky way clearly. Snow, of course, enhances magic.
Another good route is the 4-hour hike from Silgratsgfaell to the Sonnenbrunnen alpine pastures and the highest point of Renkknie. When doing this at night, be careful as it leads through a gorge cut by the Subersach stream.
4. Follow the cheese route (Kaesestrasse)
Cheese is a philosophy in Vorarlberg and mountain dairies have been around for a long time. The Cheese Route starts in Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg, located on the eastern and south-eastern shores of Lake Constance. From there it runs along the Bregenzwaldstrasse through many alpine villages with a focus on dairy farmers. It is in fact an association, created in 1998, to promote and promote the producers of the famous mountain and alpine cheeses of Vorarlberg. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Kaesestrasse, the longest cheese table in the world was erected in Andelsbach and served 2,000 diners. Visit the cheese cellar (Kaesekeller) in Lingenau, taste mountain cheese and marvel at the view through a glass partition of 32,000 mountain cheese dudes.
5. Hike the Architecture Trail
You will be amazed by the variety of Vorarlberg’s architecture and its many villages. Wood is the predominant material and many buildings are traditional like brightly painted wooden houses. But a group of young architects realized their ideas for simple, resource-efficient and affordable buildings that made the Bregenz Forest a model of architecture and craftsmanship in Austria. To get the best experience of this achievement, go on a 4-day architecture tour. It starts in Hittisau and goes through Lingenau (from the cheese cellar), to Schwarzenberg, Bezan and Au. The whole trip is 32 miles long and divided into easy stages. At the end of each stage, you will spend the night in a typical village in a rural but very comfortable hotel.
You can reach the starting point from Bregenz or Dornbirn by bus and return the same way.
Another example of modern architecture is the BUS STOP Krumbach project. The village of Krumbach decided to rebuild seven bus stops and hired seven international architects for each design. The project was completed in 2014 in collaboration with local artisans. The aim was to integrate the local landscape and materials into the construction of public facilities such as a bus shelter. The results are amazing works of art.
6. Ride the Heritage Railway
Another attraction in the Bregenz Forest is the Bregenz Forest Railway, a narrow gauge railway which from 1902 to 1983 ran from Bregenz on Lake Constance to Bezau in the forest. Today it is much shorter and the museum railway only goes from Bezau to Schwarzenberg. It’s fun to ride over the steel truss structure of the Sporenegg Bridge and through the short Ried tunnel.
7. Visit the Women’s Museum in Hittisau
This fascinating museum is the only one of its kind in Austria. Dedicated to presenting and documenting cultural work and women’s stories, the temporary exhibitions deal with all kinds of topics such as gender identity and integration. The museum also offers an accompanying program of guided tours, workshops, concerts, readings and films.
8. Enjoy swing country
Swing country is an exhilarating experience. Do you remember the joy from your childhood of riding a swing, pushing and going higher and higher? This pure joy of living was the idea behind the so-called Hutschn project of its founders Andreas Baumann and Andreas and Matthias Bunsen. Combining this with first-class craftsmanship and the beautiful nature of the Bregenz Forest, they have built swings out of solid oak planks and installed them, so far, in four places: the foot of the Elsenkopf, the historic Stogel Chapel, Ragazer Schropf, and on top of the Oberdamüls alpine region. All four are accessible only on foot and are meant to be used by all who pass by to enjoy the views of the fabulous plains and mountains and the sense of freedom and joy that comes with movement. They plan to extend the Hutschn (Austrian word for swing) through the Alps.
9. All about the Juppe
Another amazing experience is to observe the elaborate craftsmanship that goes into making traditional women’s clothing found only in the Bregenz Forest, called skirted, from the French word for skirt.
The Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg is the place to go to watch a process that takes months until the dress is finished. The costume consists of the dress, headgear, belt and belt buckle embroidered in gold and silver, all made by a specialized craftsman in the Riefensberg workshop. The costume originated in the 15th and 16th centuries and was originally only white. Later fashions added brown, black, and indigo to the color palette.
Dyeing is still done in the old fashioned way in the workshop, as well as pleating and embroidery. You will not only be able to observe the artist at work in the studio, but also admire the precious old skirts on display.
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