Austria might be best known as a winter skiing destination, but this dazzling Alpine country has far more up its sleeve than just the snow.
When it comes to the mountains, the region of Tyrol is the first to roll off the tongue. Known for its skiing and hiking, this region of Austria is one of the most famous. But discerning holidaymakers will instead find the mountainous state of Vorarlberg, which sits on the border with Switzerland, offers an even more captivating proposition.
Home to gorgeous Alpine landscapes, a flush of glorious boutique hotels and plenty of hearty Austrian fare to dig into, it’s also a destination where you’ll be hard pushed to hear an English accent (although don’t worry, the local people speak English almost better than they do German).
6 Best Things to do in Vorarlberg
Table of Contents
- 6 Best Things to do in Vorarlberg
- 1. Hike in Alpine meadows with gorgeous snowy vistas
- 2. Test your head for heights with a via ferrata
- 3. Tour the region’s picturesque alpine towns
- 4. Dine on traditional Austrian delicacies
- 5. Ice trek on one of Vorarlberg’s glaciers
- 6. Mountain bike through the glorious mountain terrain of the Bregenzerwald
- How to get to Vorarlberg
- Where to stay in Vorarlberg
- Sporthotel Grandau, St. Gallenkirch
- Hotel Hubertus Mellau GmbH, Mellau
1. Hike in Alpine meadows with gorgeous snowy vistas
One of the best ways to explore the state of Vorarlberg is on foot. Dotted with cable cars and ski lifts that ferry skiers up to unblemished mountain slopes during the wintry months, the mountains of Vorarlberg are a hiker’s paradise.
Spend a few days in the gorgeous village of Mellau, which sits beneath the bewitching, sheer rock face of the Kanisfluh mountain. Head up on the Mellaubahn cable car to explore hiking trails with breathtaking views across the entire area of Bregenzerwald, one of Vorarlberg’s largest and most beautiful regions.
Further south on the Swiss border, the beautiful Montafon Valley is also a hiker’s paradise. Take the cable car from Silbertal up to the upper station of Kristbergbahn for a three-hour hike through Alpine forest, meadows and, if you’re in late summer, blueberries.
You’ll reach the summit of the Muttjöchle mountain, with its spectacular 360॰ panoramas of the Silvretta, Verwall and Rätikon alps, as as well the Lechtal Alps even further away. On a clear day, the views are sensational.
2. Test your head for heights with a via ferrata
Translating as an “iron path”, via ferratas are climbing routes where steel rungs, ladders and cables attached to the rock are used for climbing often sheer or almost sheer cliff faces. Because it allows you to dispense with most technical climbing equipment (although you do need a harness and carabiners to attach yourself to the via ferrata as you climb), via ferratas are a popular way of climbing in the Alps.
Via ferrata routes abound across the Vorarlberg region. If you’re new to the sport – and have a decent head for heights – take the 85 bus up to the Silvretta Reservoir, a vast body of water tucked high in the Alps beneath the glossy, snow-dusted peak of Piz Buin. A 1.1-kilometre via ferrata route that’s perfect for beginners takes you across part of the western flank of the dam, offering vertigo-inducing vistas back down across the valley.
If you’ve got more experience or fancy a greater challenge, Vorarlberg has a plethora of routes, where you can climb sheer cliffs, conquer exposed ridges and clamber around deep abysses. A more challenging option is the Klettersteig Saulakopf, an eight-kilometre via ferrata with spellbinding views of the valley and the mountains below.
For both, head out with local experts Montafon Bergfuehrer, who can organise your equipment and help guide you across the route.
3. Tour the region’s picturesque alpine towns
While the region’s dramatic mountains might make quite the impact as you explore this gorgeous corner of Austria, don’t miss out on visiting some of its pretty Alpine towns. Austrian cities like Innsbruck and Graz may be more well known, but the towns in this region are just as stunning.
Whether taking trains and public transport across the region or renting a car for a road trip, you’ll encounter a glut of glitteringly gorgeous villages en-route, home to steep roofed chalets with bright shutters and window boxes billowing with geraniums.
Spend a day exploring the mediaeval town of Feldkirch. The region’s second largest, it lies on the Rhine, shoulder to shoulder with Liechtenstein and Switzerland if you cross the border west, and boasts some of the best-preserved mediaeval architecture. As with any Austrian town, it’s packed to the rafters with castles and other dreamy buildings; keep your eye peeled above town for the 12-century Schattenburg castle, which is now a museum and restaurant.
For the best views across Feldkirch, head to the Montforthaus Feldkirch, a convention centre and modern building, architecturally fascinating in itself, with a rooftop bar and dreamy vistas across the rooftops of the town.
4. Dine on traditional Austrian delicacies
Much like neighbouring Switzerland, Austria’s Vorarlberg region has a fondness for the most traditional of Alpine dishes: cheese. In fact, they’re such fans that you can find vending machines filled with cheese and meat delights in various towns.
In the pretty village of Mellau, for example, you can pay a couple of euros for the machine to vend you a large block of Vorarlberger Alpkäse, a slightly sour hard cheese made only during the summer months, or Vorarlberger Bergkäse, which has a tangy flavour and is made from only raw Alpine milk.
If you’ve yet to satisfy your cheese cravings, there’s a traditional Vorarlberg dish that you must try. Kässpätzle is a delicious blend of egg pasta and Sura Kees, a sour, low-fat cheese that is typically used in the Montafon region of Vorarlberg. Topped with roasted onions and served with a crisp green salad, it’s a hearty and very warming dish that’ll go down a treat, even on a hot summer’s day.
You’ll find it on menus in most restaurants in the region; wash it down with a bottle of Austrian red from the Graz region in the east of Austria.
5. Ice trek on one of Vorarlberg’s glaciers
While the snow might be the preserve of winter visitors to Vorarlberg, in summer you can get pretty close, too. High above the shimmering milky blue waters of the Silvretta Reservoir in the very south of Vorarlberg lies the Vermunt Glacier, a lumbering expanse of ice that, like all of the world’s ice reserves, is slowly but surely retreating.
From the Silvretta Reservoir, it’s a couple of hours’ hike up to reach the edges of this glacial giant, which straddles the border between Switzerland and Austria. It sits in the shadows of the region’s highest peak, Piz Buin, and from the skirts of this glacier, which you can trek with a local guide, you’ll have glorious views back down the mountain and for miles beyond.
6. Mountain bike through the glorious mountain terrain of the Bregenzerwald
Adventure junkies seeking an adrenaline-pumping excursion should look no further than mountain biking. Vorarlberg’s Bregenzerwald region is home to forested, mountainous terrain – perfect for getting your pulse racing.
Some of the most popular destinations for mountain biking include the Spullersee Tour, a moderate 25.5-kilometre circuit that starts near the Austrian town of Zug and clambers up to the gorgeously beautiful Spullersee dam before serpentine curves take you back to where you started.
Similar in length but with absolutely glorious panoramas of the mountains around Bartholomäberg in the south of Vorarlberg, another moderate tour is the Itonskopf, where you’ll cover everything from gravel roads to single trail paths.
How to get to Vorarlberg
Vorarlberg lies in the far west of Austria on the border with Switzerland and Lichtenstein. Lying over 600 kilometres away from the Austrian capital Vienna, Vorarlberg is best reached by flying into Zurich and crossing the border by train.
Public transport is king here and you’re never far away from a train, bus or cable car station ready to take you to your next destination.
Where to stay in Vorarlberg
Sporthotel Grandau, St. Gallenkirch
Located in the Montafon region of Vorarlberg close to the border with Tyrol, Sporthotel Grandau is a four-star boutique hotel that plays host to gorgeous bedrooms that showcase understated but chic Alpine wood. Ask for the Silvretta doubles, which have been renovated recently and come with balconies overlooking the valley beyond.
There’s also a spa on the first floor, as well as a gloriously rustic bar for a nightcap. The hotel’s restaurant has excellent local cuisine, an extensive Austrian wine menu and five-course dishes (yes, really!) as standard.
Hotel Hubertus Mellau GmbH, Mellau
While in winter it plays hosts to scores of skiers, the four-star Hotel Hubertus Mellau GmbH combines a traditional chalet design with modern rooms. Ask for one at the back of the hotel for views of the mountains that encircle the town – you’ll probably be woken by cow bells as the furrier residents of Mellau get up in the morning, too.
It’s within walking distance of a range of local restaurants where you can sample a delicious Kässpätzle!
This guest post was written by Steph Dyson. Steph is a travel journalist, guidebook author and blogger, whose worked on over a dozen guidebooks and written for publications including CNN, Time Out and Lonely Planet. You can find her award-nominated Latin America blog at Worldlyadventurer.com.
The Vorarlberg tourism board covered Steph’s costs whilst she was in the region. However, as always her opinions are my own. Also, this Vorarlberg post includes affiliate links. That means if you click through and end up making a purchase I will receive a small commission. I wanted to make sure you were aware of this.