Vorarlberg is one of the main regions of Austria, in the westernmost part 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 because of its nature, architecture, and culinary traditions. The Bregenz Forest is divided into two parts: The Hinterwald or Upper Bregenz Forest and the Vorderwald or Lower Bregenz Forest. The Vorderwald, with its hills and low mountains, is closest to the Rhine Valley; the Hinterwald has the higher mountains.
Bezau in the Upper Forest is the best starting point for fabulous experiences in the Bregenz Forest which include skiing, snowshoeing, romantic moonwalks, and stargazing. To get there, it’s best to fly to either 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’s a total of 23, connected by an architecture trail. Then there is the Cheese Route (Kaesestrasse), skiing, and other sports in the winter. You will also be delighted by museums, the local clothes, hospitality, and modern architecture as well as the traditional houses, arts and crafts, and the land of swings.
Although it’s pretty cold in winter, the average yearly sunshine amounts to 1,640 hours. Blue skies, sparkling snow, beautiful trails for snowshoeing and cross country skiing — both of which are exercises that keep you warm — and of course the many cozy inns you encounter can be experienced as you move from one of the 23 villages to the next with delicious Austrian food to warm you up inside and out.
I love the Bregenz Forest because there is something new and exciting to do and see at every turn. The locals are so friendly and welcoming. They speak different dialects and, even if you may not understand them, the sound alone is pleasing to the ear. But fear not, it is a popular region of Austria with visitors from many countries, so English is spoken widely.
1. Comfortable Snowshoeing
Snowshoeing is an excellent winter sport that combines elements of skiing and walking. See yourself skiing in, so far as you need poles to propel you forward, and walking as you take big and vigorous steps. If you have never tried it, head for Damüls – Faschina in the Upper Forest where you find the lower hills and many excellent trails. You can either use the designated hiking trails or trace your own path in the pristine snow. There are also weekly guided tours of the Tiefenwald if you are a beginner and feel safer with a guide. Rentals of poles and snowshoes can be found in all sports shops in Damüls and Faschina. If you are a reasonably fit hiker, you can master snowshoes, a sport that will keep you warm and make you enjoy the snow and the beautiful landscape of the Bregenz Forest. Don’t dress too warmly, but keep spare layers in your backpack.
2. Midnight Cuddle Path
If you are looking for a romantic snow adventure, look no further than walking the 3-mile-long midnight cuddle path from the Zum Gloeckle Pub to the Alpe Boutique Hotel Mittagsspitze in Unter Damüls. From start to finish, the hike takes about 2 hours. The first half of the track is well lit and leads past two wooden huts where you can take a rest. For the second half, you better bring torches unless there is a full moon, which together, with the reflecting snow, gives enough light. The Jaegerstueble at the end invites you to a cup of tea, a snack, and of course, during your walk … a cuddle. If you don’t want to hike, you can also make the path in a horse-drawn sleigh and cuddle under the blankets. Either way, it is a top romantic experience.
The night sky in the Bregenz Forest is dark and clear, ideal conditions for another romantic activity: stargazing. The cuddle path is already a good opportunity, you can try and find your star sign and clearly see the Milky Way. The snow, of course, enhances the magic.
Another good route is the 4-hour hike from Silgratsgfaell to the mid-alpine pastures of Sonnenbrunnen and the high point of Renkknie. When doing this at night, be careful though as it leads through a gorge cut by the Subersach Brook.
4. Follow The Cheese Route (Kaesestrasse)
Cheese is a philosophy in the Vorarlberg and mountain dairies have been around for a long time. The Cheese Route starts in Bregenz, the capital of Vorarlberg, located on the east and southeast shores of Lake Constance. From there, it runs along the Bregenzwaldstrasse through many alpine villages with a focus on dairy farm producers. It is actually an association, established in 1998, to further and promote the producers of the famous Vorarlberg mountain and alp cheeses. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Kaesestrasse, the world’s longest cheese table was erected in Andelsbach which served 2,000 guests. Visit the cheese cellar (Kaesekeller) in Lingenau, sample mountain cheese, and marvel at the view, through a glass partition, of 32,000 hunks of mountain cheese.
5. Walk The Architecture Trail
You will be amazed by the variety of Vorarlberg’s architecture its many villages. Wood is the predominant material and many buildings are traditional like the colorfully painted wooden houses. But a group of young architects have realized their ideas of simple, resource saving, and affordable buildings which have 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 leads through Lingenau (of 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 project BUS STOP Krumbach. The village of Krumbach decided to rebuild seven bus stops and engaged seven international architects with each design. The project was completed in 2014 in collaboration with local craftsmen. The aim was to incorporate the landscape and local materials in the construction of public amenities like a bus shelter. The results are amazing works of art.
6. Ride The Heritage Railway
Another attraction of the Bregenz Forest is the Bregenz Forest Railway, a narrow-gauge railway, which from 1902–1983, connected Bregenz on Lake Constance with Bezau in the forest. Today, it’s much shortened and the museum railway only runs from Bezau to Schwarzenberg. It’s fun to ride over the steel lattice 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 the display and documentation of the cultural work and stories of women, changing exhibitions deal with all kinds of subjects like gender identity and integration. The museum also offers an accompanying program of guided tours, workshops, concerts, readings, and films.
8. Enjoy The Land Of Swings
The Land of Swings is an exhilarating experience. Remember the joy of your childhood of just mounting a swing, pushing off, and going higher and higher? This pure joie de vivre was the idea that stands behind the so-called Hutschn Project of its founders Andreas Baumann and Andreas and Matthias Bunsen. Combining this with first-class craftsmanship and the stunning nature of the Bregenz Forest, they constructed swings made from solid oak planks and installed them, so far on four places: The foot of the Elsenkopf, the historic chapel Stogel, Ragazer Schropf, and on the mountain top of the alpine area Oberdamüls. All four are only accessible on foot and meant to be used by everybody who passes by to enjoy the view of the fabulous plains and mountains and the feeling of freedom and joy the movement gives. They plan to extend the Hutschn (Austrian word for swing) across the Alps.
9. Learn All About The Juppe
Another amazing experience is to watch the elaborate craftsmanship that goes into the fabrication of the traditional women’s clothing only found in the Bregenz Forst, called juppe, 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, and gold and silver embroidered belt and belt buckle, all done by a specialized artisan in the workshop in Riefensberg. The costume originated in the 15th and 16th centuries and was originally only white. Later fashions added brown, black, and indigo to the color scheme.
The dyeing is still done in the original way in the workshop, so is the pleating and the embroidery. Not only can you watch the artist at work in the workshop, but also admire valuable, antique juppes on display.
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