The Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg Austria
I knew little about the Bregenzerwald before my trip. I’d read that the area was a collection of villages not far from the Swiss border. I knew it would be quiet and very different from Salzburg and Innsbruck, where I had traveled from. But what I didn’t realize was how picturesque this region of Austria would be. Also, I didn’t know what to expect regarding food or culture, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
After hours of driving my compact Audi through a series of twists and turns and peaks and valleys, at last, I made it to Bizau, one of the tiny villages and home of the quaint Biohotel Schwanen, where I’d stay for a couple of nights.
Getting acquainted with the Bregenzerwald
The day I arrived, I met up with my guide, Samuel, who drove me to “The Ship” at the RomantikHotel das Schiff in Hittisau. I relaxed on the patio and indulged in a multi-course lunch at a shop-meets-restaurant called “s’Ernele.” Soon after Samuel and I sat down, the sky began to open up so we shifted our seats until we were entirely covered by umbrellas. Eventually, the rain gave up as we continued eating our meat-focused meal of veal sausage, beefsteak, and lamb. Our lunch rivaled some of the most exquisite meals I’ve had anywhere, including New York City.
The farm-to-table movement is the standout in the region, and it’s why every bite I tasted was incredibly fresh and delicious. The food in the Bregenzerwald is “from the backyard” local. Chances are the herbs and vegetables are grown in an on-site garden, plucked the morning they hit the plate, and the meat and dairy come from livestock that’s raised down the road or up in the mountains. At s’Ernele, for example, all ingredients originate within a 60-mile radius.
The Bregenzerwald: A culinary paradise
From the moment of that first lunch at s’Ernele, I knew that I was going to love the Bregenzerwald. After my meal, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Felix Gross and then getting a tour of the restaurant and the expansive cheese cellar. And all this was within the first few hours of arrival. Talk about food overload, but in the best way.
The following afternoon, I ate an excellent lunch at Jagdsgasthaus Egender in Schönenbach – including a traditional (and sinful) noodle dish with tons of cheese known as “Kasknopfle” – where I shared a table with a couple who had hiked from Germany that day. Then I stopped at the renowned Hotel Post for coffee and the best linzer tart I’ll probably ever eat. One can’t travel through this part of the world and not indulge in a linzer tart.
The family-owned and operated Biohotel Schwanen, where I stayed, is helmed by owner and sommelier Emanuel Moosbrugger, who lived and worked in New York City. His mom Antonia runs the all-women kitchen, putting out plate after plate of Instagram-worthy delights. My final night at the inn, I had the “Wild Women” 7-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and what an extraordinary meal that was. Two of my favorite courses were a trio of soup paired with an Icelandic Ale and a salad with a deep-fried soft egg. This trip was short, just a few days, but so much incredible food and drink.
But the Bregenzerwald is about more than food
The Bregenzerwald isn’t only for food lovers, though. It’s also for creatives. Art, architecture, and craftsmanship are an essential aspect of the way of life here. Buildings are thoughtfully constructed of local materials from the forest, and even the bus stops strike a design chord. Architects from seven different countries partnered with seven local architects to design seven unique bus stops in the village of Krumbach. The juxtaposition of the modern structures against the vivid alpine landscape feels surreal. I’d expect designs like these in a major city, but not in a rural area in Western Austria.
For outdoor lovers, there’s much to see and do. For instance, take a ride on the Bezau (different from Bizau) cable car and hike until you see Lake Constance and Niedere, a renowned ski area that’s lush and lovely in the summer months. Watch (and photograph) cows and goats graze among miles of breathtaking alpine scenery. After hiking, I stopped and had a snack at a rustic spot way up on the mountain before catching the gondola back to the villages, all within a drive of one another. I think having a loose agenda is the way to explore the Bregenzerwald.
Hittisau Women’s Museum is worth a visit, even for an hour or two. It’s the first and only museum in Austria devoted to women, celebrating the cultural achievements of women from the region. And Werkroom Bregenzerwald showcases the craftsmanship of the area with chairs, tables, cabinets, shelves, and more on exhibit in the Andelsbuch showroom. This gallery is also worth a stop to understand the passion, innovation, and artistry in the Bregenzerwald. You could easily visit both places in an afternoon.
Where is the Bregenzerwald?
Vorarlberg, which is very close to Switzerland (it’s about 45 minutes from the Bregenzerwald to the Swiss border and a two-hour drive from Zurich airport), requires a car to get around and explore. Fly into Zurich or Munich and hire a car there. Adventurous travelers can get around the region by bike instead of a car, but still need a car to get there. There’s very little traffic between the villages.
This slice of Western Austrian remains under the radar for many travelers. Every turn reveals more allure, more nature, and more fresh food. There’s much more to experience in the Bregenzerwald than a few days can provide. For a deeper look at the region, read my other article.
My trip to Austria was six short nights and gave me only a taste of what this country offers. Many thanks to Austria Tourism, Salzburg Tourism, Innsbruck Tourism, and Vorarlberg Tourism for sponsoring parts of this journey.
And if you’re traveling internationally for the first time, read my tips for a trouble-free trip.