Planning a trip to Bregenzerwald while in the Vorarlberg region of Austria? Great choice! Bregenzerwald is incredibly unique and scenic, and I really enjoyed the time I spent in the area. Translating to “Bregenz Forest” and known for its rich and interesting history and culture, Bregenzerwald is located in the western part of Austria, between Lake Constance and the Alps. And yes, it’s as beautiful as it sounds – you have to see it to believe it. The breathtaking mountain scenery and historical architecture alone are compelling reasons to visit – and I haven’t even talked about the best things to do in Bregenzerwald on your trip. There’s truly something for everyone!
To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of Bregenzerwald, or even Vorarlberg, until I applied for the Propel Conference. In fact, this was my first visit to Austria, ever. But now that I’ve been, I’ve determined that Vorarlberg, specifically the Bregenzerwald region, is one of those places everyone should visit if they have the opportunity to do so!
It’s a great place for an epic road trip. I mean, think about it: mountains, a gorgeous lake, mind-blowing architecture, fascinating history, incredible food, and plenty of amazing hiking spots (with beautiful views to match!). What more could you want? Even better, if you visit between May and October and stay 3 nights in the region, you get a free Bregenzerwald card, which includes free public transportation, cable cars, and access to swimming pools.
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Getting to Bregenzerwald
Whenever someone tells me to visit a lesser-known destination, my first question is often “how do I get there?” Luckily, the Bregenzerwald region is easily accessible by plane, train, or car. You can always reference Rome2Rio for every option you have to get from point A to point B – it’s one of my favorite tools for planning transport for a trip.
If you’re flying into the region, the two closest international airports are Zurich and Munich. Alternatively, there are a few other airports if you’re flying from within Europe: St. Gallen in Switzerland, Memmingen in Germany, or Innsbruck in Austria. What’s nice is that most airports have train connections so you can reach your final destination (Bregenz or Dornbirn) pretty easily.
If you’re traveling from a neighboring city or country, I recommend getting the train. There are plenty of direct trains and/or easy transfers to Bregenz or Dornbirn and trains are much better for the environment than flights. Plus, there’s the added bonus of beautiful views. Win! Psst: Check out Omio to see the full train schedule and purchase tickets!
As I mentioned, this is an awesome region for a road trip, so renting a car is the best way to explore at your own leisure. Don’t forget to get a toll sticker with your rental – they’re required if you’re using the motorways in Austria.
When you arrive in Bregenzerwald, there will be countless sights to see, things to do, and new experiences to dive into. So where to begin? My recommendations for the very best things to do in Bregenzerwald include getting to know the local culture, the food scene, the astonishing landscapes, and the enchanting history of the local villages.
Here’s my personal list of the best things to do while in Bregenzerwald:
Explore the Bregenzerwald Umgang Trails
First of all, what is “umgang?” Umgang is how we treat each other and the environment around us. In Bregenzerwald, there are a dozen different village walks where visitors can learn first-hand how design and architecture are seamlessly integrated into the environment. The Umgang Bregenzerwald draws attention to everyday objects that make up the region and the settlements that are helping to make the area more sustainable. In my opinion, there’s no better way to get to know an area than to explore on foot. It immediately connects you with the local culture faster than anything else. Plus, it’s less likely that you’ll get lost, especially if you’re a bit *ahem* directionally challenged, like me.
I did the Umgang walk in Mellau and it was incredible. All of the buildings that are part of the walk actually have short telescopic columns in front of them, and if you peek through, you can read additional information about the architecture and history! I’m seriously obsessed with how thoughtfully designed everything is. There’s a huge emphasis on using local wood for construction, and I loved seeing the mix of traditional and contemporary construction present itself in the charming houses in the town. If you’re an architecture or design nerd, an umgang walk is a must-do!
Eat Kässpätzle at Nazes Hus
Nazes Hus is a traditional inn in Mellau with a dreamy sun terrace, a sauna, and a lounge. Although I didn’t experience the accommodation here, it looks perfect for a getaway. What I did do, though, was have dinner at the restaurant and it was delicious! I came specifically to eat kässpätzle, which is a cheese and onion pasta dish and one of Austria’s more popular dishes. The servers all wore traditional clothing and played Austrian music, making for an extra fun and unforgettable evening!
Experience a Mellau Cable Car voyage
Located just a ten-minute walk from town, these cable cars are a must-do in Mellau! They’ll transport you up the mountain in just a few minutes, and the views are breathtaking. Remember, Mellau is located at the base of a massive mountain, the Kanisfluh, so the ride up is awe-inspiring with unbelievable mountain views. And once you’re up on the mountain, you can check out the local mountain inns or hike one of the many gorgeous trails at the top. It was, unfortunately, a bit foggy by the time I made it to the top, but I did manage to snap a few cool photos!
Visit the charming medieval town of Feldkirch
Feldkirch is not technically in Bregenzerwald but it’s adjacent, located in Bodensee-Vorarlberg. This charming town boasts an incredible history that dates back to the 1200s! The little town celebrated its 800th birthday in 2018, and the Rathaus Feldkirch has been the town hall for over 500 years. I loved seeing the Schattenburg Castle, where I learned that Feldkirch has seen many battles, including the Battle of Feldkirch in 1799.
I actually got to do a themed walking tour here and learned about the history of the town directly from an expert! Some of the coolest things to do in Feldkirch are touring the castle (now a museum), an animal wild park, a superb hiking mountain, incredible historical architecture at the Regional Courthouse, and the Marktgasse Marketplace. In my opinion, touring Feldkirch is an absolute must, and one of the best things to do in Vorarlberg.
Hike to the Mellau Waterfall
I spent a couple of days in Mellau, and it has an impressive number of highlights, especially considering its size. Not only does it have a beautiful waterfall and hikes for days, but it is also home to Kanisfluh, a super-famous mountain and landmark in the region. My favorite part about Mellau, though, is actually the Mellau Waterfall.
I hiked (read: leisurely walked) to this magical waterfall from the Mellau town center, and it only took me about 25 minutes to get there! Being from Los Angeles, I’ve definitely hiked for hours to see a small trickle, but the waterfall in Mellau is seriously impressive. The views along the way aren’t too shabby either: I passed through some beautiful green meadows, a renovated bridge, and plenty of cute farmhouses. Seeing this amazing, natural waterfall is definitely one of the best things to do in Bregenzerwald.
Stay at the Panoramahotel Alpenstern
I was blown away by the rooms in this hotel – not only are they spacious and beautiful, but the architecture includes local wood and materials. I loved that they were thoughtfully designed for maximum comfort and the views were seriously spectacular!
After a long hike, hanging out in the spa and sauna felt especially luxurious, but not going to lie – the infinity pool stole my heart. It was so cool to be able to see the views of the mountains I’d just hiked. Also, don’t sleep on the onsite restaurant; it has the most delicious food.
Another thing: the hotel is right next to a ski lift for winter travelers, so it’s especially convenient if you want to hit the slopes. There’s something for everyone here, whether you like fine dining, relaxing and recharging, outdoor recreation, or a bit of self-pampering at the spa. Learn more and book it here.
Check out the Werkramhaus in Andelsbuch
This was one of my favorite sights to see in Vorarlberg! A minimalist glass structure with a dark, mysterious wooden roof, the Werkramhaus was designed by renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and built by tradespeople in the region in 2013. I thought the Werkramhaus was really unique because it’s a joint project between the designer and the tradespeople he needed to create his vision.
The Werkramhaus combines the best design and craftsmanship in the area with the opportunity for local tradesmen and workers to showcase their ideas. It’s a hybrid gallery and collaborative workspace, which is such a cool concept. You can purchase handmade items from tradespeople onsite, and locals are able to come and special order artisan-made furniture. Bonus: there’s also an incredible view of the mountains and landscape. Visiting the Werkramhaus is one of the best things to do to really get to know the culture of Vorarlberg.
Eat at the organic restaurant and hotel Schwanen in Bizau
If you’re interested in farm-to-table, organic living, you’ll love Hotel Schwanen. I found the atmosphere to be very warm and inviting, and I particularly loved the beautiful walnut and oak floors and maple center tables. Each dish at the onsite organic restaurant is infused with the flavor of fresh produce and locally-sourced meat. I would describe the food as contemporary gourmet, with a nod to medieval and historic recipes. Among my favorites here were the Fladlesuppe, or pancake soup, Tafelspitz, a traditional Austrian meat dish, and the apple strudel. There are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, too, which I thought was great!
Hike in Damüls
While I was in Damuls, I got a chance to do the Walser Settlement hike. It’s a super cool round-trip trail (offering more than 200 km of hiking trail) that starts with two peak overruns. There are easy, medium, and hard hikes to enjoy here. The hiking difficulty is indicated by the color on each trail and the one I did was “red,” which means medium difficulty. Totally doable, but expect to spend a few hours doing the hike. It took our group around five hours because we took so many photos and videos, but I think it’s supposed to be 3-4 haha. Shoutout to our very patient guide! Good hiking shoes are a must, along with lunch and plenty of water.
Also, fun fact about the peaks in Austria: they all have crosses on them, influenced by the local Church of the Damuls, which dates back to the 1400s. It definitely makes trail navigation a lot easier!
Learn all about the Juppe
Have you heard of the “Juppe?” I had no idea what it was until I went on this trip. Pronounced “you-pah,” it is a traditional folk costume worn by women in Bregenzerwald. It’s one of the oldest outfits known to Europe, dating back to the early Middle Ages. It’s a tightly-pleated, high-skirted getup with a bodice, apron, and a decorative belt. When men were away from the home for a long period of time, women would don all of their “best” pieces of clothing – which eventually blended together into the “Juppe” costume, a special celebration outfit.
I learned about the Juppe at the Juppenwekstatt Riefensberg Museum, which doubles as a workshop. There were different exhibits for each piece of the costume – the fabric, the dye, the belt, etc., and it was fascinating to see behind the scenes of what goes into producing a single Juppe. This is one of the only places in the world to get a handmade Juppe, and the waiting list is over a year long. Only women from the region are permitted to wear it, and it’s a pretty pricey piece – some can cost several thousand euros.
Visit the Krumbach Bus Stops
Some of the most unexpectedly cool things I saw in Vorarlberg were all of the Krumbach bus stops! I never thought I’d recommend bus stops as a must-visit in Vorarlberg, but hear me out. Architects from seven different countries designed seven different bus stops in Krumbach – small aesthetic leisure areas that were expertly designed to serve as important local landmarks. Krumbach is a really small town, so I was surprised to see such an international presence there.
These working bus stops are all unique, with interesting architecture, with the added bonus of serving as mini-destinations to see while on your travels. None is the same as the last! There’s an origami stop, a glass stop with chairs, some interesting wooden structures, and a stop with a winding staircase overlooking a tennis course, amongst others.
The architects who designed the stops worked for “exchange,” meaning that they and they were hosted for a few nights in Bregenzerwald rather than getting paid for doing this work. Although the structures were built by local craftsmen, I love that the architects were able to see their designs come to life and gain a better understanding of how design plays such an important role in Vorarlberg. I highly recommend driving to all seven of these stops, just for the experience. It sounds unusual, but it’s totally worth it.
Enjoy the views from the Seilbahn Bezau Cable Cars
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m slightly obsessed with cable car rides, and lucky for me, the entire Vorarlberg region is chock-full of them! These tiny little cars take you up the mountain in just moments, and you’ll be delighted by some seriously breathtaking, 360-degree views over Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. Because it’s Austria, there are also plenty of trails for hiking and skiing in the winter.
There’s even a restaurant at the top of the mountain called The Baumgarten panorama restaurant, where you can enjoy some delicious Austrian food. And bonus: although I didn’t get a chance to do this, you can also visit the Alpe Leugher mountain dairy pasture, where homemade mountain cheese, milk, and butter are made.
Where To Stay in Bregenzerwald
Make the most of your stay in the region by selecting the perfect place to stay in Bregenzerwald! Here are some of my favorite selections:
This upscale hotel (mentioned above) is located in the charming, idyllic village of Damüls. I thought this hotel was incredibly hospitable and luxurious, and I would stay here again in a heartbeat. The hotel offers a large spa facility, a fitness room and gym, a full breakfast buffet and vitamin bar, daily saunas and infusions, 5-course meals, and an infinity pool. The gorgeous sun deck is perfect for a summer holiday, but it’s worth staying here year-round: hiking trails are a short drive away, while the ski lift is conveniently located right outside the hotel. Book it here.
Hotel Baren Mellau
This hotel was more casual and laid-back, and I loved that it was immersed in the gorgeous mountain landscape. The hotel’s Cafe Deli serves an extensive and delicious “super-breakfast” daily, and the modern rooms are designed and crafted by local craftsmen from Bregenzerwald. There’s also an onsite yoga studio that offers open yoga classes and retreats, and I was fortunate to be able to take a class while I was there. For spa and sauna lovers, there’s also a sauna with a mountain view. This hotel is conveniently located to nearby hiking, skiing, and cycling trails as well, including the Damuls Mellau ski area and Mellental nature reserve. Book it here.
If you prefer to stay in an apartment while traveling, check out Tempel 74 for a cozy, safe place to stay on your trip. Right in the heart of the mountains and beautiful scenery, Tempel 74 considers itself a lively vacation community. The quaint apartments are beautifully furnished to make you comfortable during your stay, and the down-to-earth designs will make you feel as though you’re right at home. Learn more here.
Whether you’re a foodie, an outdoor-recreation enthusiast, a history buff, or just want to relax and rejuvenate, there’s truly something for everyone in the Bregenzerwald region of Vorarlberg, Austria.
Tell me: Would you consider a visit to the Bregenzerwald? Which of these activities would you most want to do? Let me know in the comments!
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