On my first trip to Vorarlberg in Austria, I only got to spend a short time in the Bregenzerwald but it was enough to leave me wanting more. And so I came back, this time to spend two full days in this region that effortlessly combines nature with architecture.
- How to spend 2 days in the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg, Austria
- Day 1: Andelsbuch and Bezau
- Visit the Werkraumhaus of the Werkraum Bregenzerwald
- Walk part of the Umgang Bregenzerwald to the chairlift
- Take the retro chairlift up to the mountain Niedere
- Have lunch at Berggasthof Niedere
- Walk the easy Panorama trail
- Continue the Umgang Bregenzerwald in Bezau
- Have dinner at the Biohotel Schwanen Bizau
- Day 2: Golf and a walk through Mellau
- The Bregenzerwald Card
- How to get to the Bregenzerwald
- Don't forget travel insurance
How to spend 2 days in the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg, Austria
Day 1: Andelsbuch and Bezau
Visit the Werkraumhaus of the Werkraum Bregenzerwald
It's hard to capture all the things the Werkraumhaus does in just one sentence, but you could say it's a place where local craftsmen come to create and collaborate as well as showcase and sell their work. It's a cooperative with more than 90 local craft members that focuses on the benefits of collaboration over competition and aims to promote craftsmanship locally as well as internationally.
The Werkraumhaus puts on exhibitions showcasing the works of its members, has its own shop, and organizes the design competition Handwerk + Form every three years. It also invites international craftsmen for residencies and collaboration projects with local creators and has a 5-year educational program to teach youngsters how to become craftsmen.
And “craftsmen” needs to be interpreted in the broad sense of the word. Yes, there are the woodworkers and ironworkers, but the Werkraumhaus cooperative also counts light experts, ceramic artists, and jewelry makers among its members.
When I visited, the Werkraumhaus had an exhibition on around the theme of “hosting”. The space was divided into separate rooms, all representing private and public rooms where you might host people, in one way or another. There was a dining room, a bar, a hotel lounge area, a spa room, and a bedroom – just to name a few.
All the objects in the rooms were created by members and every room came to be in collaboration with local partners from the “hosting” industry, such as hotels and restaurants.
Once a month during the public day of the Werkraumhaus, or upon request, you can also visit the depot where pieces of previous Handwerk + Form competitions are on display. The regular exhibition/showroom as well as the shop and the on-site cafe are open from Tuesday until Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
At the time of writing, an entry ticket for adults costs €7.5. You can also book guided tours for groups.
Walk part of the Umgang Bregenzerwald to the chairlift
The “Umgang Bregenzerwald” consists of 12 short and easy circuit walks in 13 villages that aim to give the visitor insight into what makes the Bregenzerwald unique. “Umgang” refers to how people in the Bregenzerwald treat each other and the world.
Waist-high rust-colored steel columns can be found along each path. These are equipped with a magnifying glass that, when a button is pressed, you can see an object and a question through the glass. The answer to the question is in Umgang Bregenzerwald maps or on the website.
You can get the separate maps (with explanations about each building) for free in the respective towns, or pay €5 to buy a packet of all 12 walks.
You can walk part of the Umgang Bregenzerwald in Andelsbuch when going from the Werkraumhaus to the retro chairlift that goes up the mountain Niedere. Have a look here for detailed information about the route and the full tour.
Other villages that are part of the Umgang Bregenzerwald are Au, Schoppernau, Mellau, Bizau, Bezau-Reuthe,Schwarzenberg, Egg, Lingenau, Langenegg, Hittisau, and Krumbach.
Take the retro chairlift up to the mountain Niedere
With my fear of heights, I wasn't too sure about taking this 40-year-old chairlift up the Niedere but it turned out to be quite alright. The lift goes slowly and doesn't hang as far up from the ground is most other cable cars.
If you want a chairlift with charm and don't need to get up there quickly, the Bergbahnen Andelsbuch is fun to take.
Good to know:
The chairlift consists of two parts. One takes you about halfway. Then you need to follow a short path to get to the second lift that takes you all the way up the mountain.
Have lunch at Berggasthof Niedere
If you follow my itinerary, you'll get to the top right in time for lunch. From the cable car station, it's only a short walk to the Berggasthof Niedere, a self-service restaurant that's open when the cable car runs – usually between 9 a.m. and 4.30 p.m.
The restaurant has an indoor seating area but I highly recommend going around the back to have lunch with an amazing view of the valley and – when the weather is nice – Lake Constance in the distance.
You might also see some paragliders float by. The mountain part next to the restaurant is a popular takeoff spot for practitioners of this sport and even gave the panorama hike you can do there the nickname of “butterfly hike”, as the colorful parachutes of the paragliders resemble butterflies that float over the valley.
Walk the easy Panorama trail
The panorama hike is an easy 4.4-km round hike with an ascent and descent of only 140 meters that offers amazing views of the surrounding valleys and mountains. You can start and end it at the Andelsbuch cable car or do like I did and go down (or come up) on the Bezau side.
Find detailed information about this hike here.
Continue the Umgang Bregenzerwald in Bezau
As I mentioned, I didn't finish the entire tour as I took the cable car back down to head to Bezau, another village that's part of the “Umgang Bregenzerwald”. The cable car to Bezau is a very big, modern one. It comes about every 20 minutes but waiting here isn't dull at all: there's a panoramic roof on top of the cable car station and a cafe inside.
Once you're down, you can take the bus to the center of Bezau or walk, like I did. It's only 15 to 20 minutes along a calm road.
The Umgang Bregenzerwald route in Bezau is a long one, at 8.8 km, and also passes through the village of Reuthe, but you can choose to only do a part of it. I only did the part between the cable car valley station and the bus station in the town center, from where I then took the bus back to my hotel.
You can find detailed information about this walk here.
Have dinner at the Biohotel Schwanen Bizau
The Biohotel Schwanen in Bizau is a family business. Originally run as an inn, the renovation in 2009 didn't only give it a contemporary look using Vorarlberg timber but also turned it into an organic hotel.
I didn't stay at the Schwanen hotel but I did have the chance to go for dinner at its excellent restaurant.
The kitchen of the Biohotel Schwanen Bizau deserves its own mention. Inspired by the principles of the mystic Hildegard von Bingen, it's where Antonia Moosbrugger and her “wilde weiber” or “wild women” prepare Insta-worthy dishes made with regional and seasonal ingredients.
Owner and sommelier Emanuel Moosbrugger handles the dining areas, but I can't comment on his wine suggestions as I don't drink alcohol. I can, however, comment on the food.
Served on the large terrace, in the modern dining room or in the historic Bregenzerwald parlor, guests can choose between the multi-course “wild ladies” menu or to eat à la carte. Katrin from the Vorarlberg Tourism Board and I chose to do the latter.
I usually don't get an aperitivo but the Hotel Schwanen Bizau is known for its fresh raspberry drink so I had that before my meal. I then enjoyed the amuse-bouche by the chef, a tartare of char, followed by trout with peas and quinoa, and had a combination of camomille and raspberry ice cream for dessert. I'd never had camomille ice cream before and it was really good.
For the main course, you can always choose between a small or a regular portion depending on how hungry you are or, in my case, whether you definitely want to save some room for dessert or not.
All of the dishes had a refined taste and came beautifully presented. The service was lovely as well. And I'm not the only one who thinks the food at Hotel Schwanen is great. Gault-Millau awarded the restaurant with no less than 2 toques and 15 points (this is a great rating, if you have no idea what I'm talking about).
Day 2: Golf and a walk through Mellau
It's time to get active! Today, we're learning how to play golf at the Golfpark Bregenzerwald in Riefensberg.
I was just as excited as a was nervous about this activity myself. I'd always wanted to try golf but I'm not really good at any sport that entails controlling anything other than my own body. What would that give when I needed to swing a club around?
I'll get to that in a moment. Let me first introduce the Riefensberg golf course.
There are several places where you can play golf in Vorarlberg and the Golfpark Bregenzerwald is a popular choice. It was designed by the internationally-renowned architect Kurt Rossknecht as the first 18-hole golf course of Vorarlberg in 1996 and offers some marvelous views of the surrounding mountains.
The terrain is hilly, with patches of forest and flows of water. Cleverly placed obstacles such as bridges and bunkers provide golfers with a good challenge. What's cool about this golf course it that it follows the landscape and makes use of natural obstacles such as patches of deep grass, rather than being entirely “constructed”.
Taking beginner lessons
I spent two hours taking beginner classes with Daniel Green, a Brit who'd moved to Vorarlberg years before.
Can I just say how cool I think it is that my golf teacher's name was Green?
Anyway, Daniel had put together a diverse class for me so that I could get a taste from the different aspects of playing golf, despite being absolutely new at it.
We started at the driving range, where he explained the technique of a good swing. Let me tell you: it isn't easy. There's a certain way you need to hold the club, a certain way to stand, a certain way to move your shoulders…
Most of the moves felt very unnatural to me. As someone who's been hip hop dancing for many years, I'm rather used to letting things “flow”. The flow of golf, however, requires that you only turn around certain axes and only bend and move certain parts of your body.
I won't go into the details but believe me, it felt like I was using my muscles in a whole new way.
I was definitely not a natural talent but I did manage to swing a few good balls and those small victories made me focus even more on. That too is golf: a lot of focus while trying to not cramp up completely. It was intense :-)
From the driving range, we moved to a green to practice different swinging techniques and then it was time for the most fun part: the putting. I learned how to use a putting club and even had a little competition with Conny from the Bregenzerwald Tourism Board to see who could get six balls in the quickest.
Unfortunately, I lost with 16 against her 13 but I'd like to add that she'd golfed twice before. That this was five years ago is a mere detail ;-)
We ended the lesson with a drive around the golf course to get a general idea of what an 18-hole day would look like.
I only got a quick taste of golf, but I now understand how people can spend hours playing it. It requires focus and technique but it also requires you to calm down and be in the moment.
Daniel was a great teacher too. He didn't just show me what to do and how to do it, but also answered the many questions I had about the game and explained the idea behind the different techniques, and how not applying them would make the ball go the wrong way.
He explained the point system, how handicaps work, and what happens when you swing your ball into rough terrain.
I'm not going to go into all of that. If you want to know, you should take a class :-)
Good to know:
The Golfpark in Riefensberg has its own restaurant where you can get a drink or bite from 9 a.m. onward every day.
For more practical information, check the Golf Bregenzerwald website.
Lunch at the golf course
If you're hungry after your game, it's possible to have lunch at the golf course's on-site restaurant. I went elsewhere this time, which I'll talk about in another post.
An afternoon in Mellau
If you're staying in Mellau like I did, you can head back there after golf for a walk. Just like Andelsbuch and Bezau, Mellau is part of the Umgang Bregenzerwald. The walk here is only 4.1 km long and can easily be done in an hour and a half.
If you want, you could also do this as a pre-dinner walk as one of the buildings on the route is – indeed – a restaurant.
Have dinner at Naze's Hus in Mellau
More precisely, Naze's Hus is a hotel with a traditional tavern. It's quite special in that nobody knows exactly how old it is. We just know that it was first built several centuries ago. Entirely renovated in 2004-2005, it is now the only listed building in the village.
The name of the restaurant dates back to one of its previous owners, a certain Ignaz who produced things like washtubs and wooden barrels there. Two syllables were still two too long to pronounce for the local farmers and so he became known as “Naze” and his workplace as “Naze's Hus”. It kept that name long after Ignaz had gone.
I had dinner on the terrace and opted for a typical “pancake soup” followed by a chicken salad. I was hungry when I got there but had definitely underestimated the soup. It was so big, it was almost a main course! So my recommendation would be to just have a main course and then, if you're still hungry, you can always get dessert :-)
I was so full after my salad, I had to skip dessert this time. sad.
Where to stay in Mellau
I stayed at hotel Bären, a small family-run design and boutique hotel in the center of Mellau, just a 2-minute walk from the bus stop. The modern rooms are big, featuring a terrace or kitchenette.
There's a sauna and relaxation room with mountain views, a cozy living room where you can read, work, or play boardgames, and a room for skis and bikes with reparation tools and things like a washing station.
Breakfast is served every morning at the on-site cafe and is worth the mention. It's a buffet breakfast but one that features plenty of freshly-made, local dishes. Think cakes, breakfast salads, and bircher muesli. The photo below only shows part of it.
Many of the interior design elements were created using durable products by local craftsmen, anchoring the hotel in the natural and architectural focus the Bregenzerwald is known for.
The only downside for me to this hotel was the WiFi. It worked rather well in the living room, which was on the first floor, but in my room in an outer corner of the third floor, it was rather flaky. It didn't work at all in the evenings but I did get some work done there on the last day.
Good to know:
Everyone who stays at one of the recognized accommodations in the Bregenzerwald for a minimum of three nights, receives the Bregenzerwald Guest Card for free. More on that below.
The Bregenzerwald Card
When you plan a stay of three nights or more in the Bregenzerwald between May 1 and October 31, 2019, the Bregenzerwald Guest Card comes included in the cost of your accommodation. The card includes free travel on buses and cable cars as well as access to swimming pools and discounts at Bregenzerwald Card partners.
As especially cable cars can get quite expensive, the Bregenzerwald Guest Card offers great value for no money!
You can find more information about the card here.
How to get to the Bregenzerwald
From other European countries, it's quite popular to drive to the Bregenzerwald as it's a region where it's handy to have a car. If you don't feel like driving your own car that far, you can fly to Zurich Airport and then travel onward from there.
There's a direct train from Zurich Airport to Bregenz and then from there, you can take a bus to the Bregenzerwald. The journey from Zurich Airport to Bregenz takes about two hours and you'll have to chance either once or twice. From Bregenz to Mellau, where I headed first, is about an hour by bus. You can either get a direct line, or switch in Bezau.
For flights, I recommend checking Skyscanner. Skyscanner lets you set flight alerts for your destination and shows you which month the prices are lowest. It's very practical.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to the Bregenzerwald, there's always something that can happen that's beyond your control. A reservation can get canceled, you can get sick or you can drop and break that new camera. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out World Nomads. They cover a wide range of activities for people from 140 countries.
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I was invited to the Bregenzerwald by the Vorarlberg and Austria tourism boards to be able to write about the Bregenzerwald. As always, all opinions expressed here are my own.