I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths. Each time I exhaled, I gradually started picking up noises which I hadn’t noticed previously: the soft rustling of leaves in the trees and the faint sound of a cow moo-ing in the far distance. What struck me most was the overbearing sound of silence – there wasn’t even the slightest hint of a man-made noise. They say that silence is deafening. It can be, especially when your mind is accustomed to a continuous barrage of stimuli every day. And my mind was no different. The unnerving silence forced me to open my eyes. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk reaction, to overcome the lull I felt washing over me – my mind clearly sought a way out of this void.
What I saw, as I opened my eyes, surprised me. It wasn’t as though I’d been led blindfolded down this road. I’d seen this scenery before. What surprised me was how vivid everything looked: the bright green meadows that stretched out before me, the towering granite peaks in the distance that glistened in the morning sun and the thin veil of mist that cloaked the foothills of the mountains. The silence remained but I felt very much at ease now, as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I smiled, as I recognised this moment: the point at which I snap out of the daily stresses that every so often take my mind and body hostage. In its place comes a lightness whereby my mind embraces the silence and my senses open up to my surroundings. It often takes me a few days during a holiday to arrive at this moment but at that very spot, surrounded by such awe-inspiring scenery, I arrived at that moment in almost an instant. It’s a surreal feeling every time I experience it but it’s oh so welcome!
I slowly absorbed the majestic scenery around me and I felt blissfully serene. I then did something I often do when I travel: I tapped my foot on the ground and asked myself: “Where am I and what do I see, hear and smell?”. I then answered the questions out loud. It’s a little exercise that helps to raise my awareness and appreciation of that particular moment.
So… where was I?
On a little road in the middle of Alpine meadows, just outside the village of Bizau in the Bregenzerwald region of Vorarlberg (map), the westernmost state of Austria. Bordering Germany, Switzerland and the tiny principality of Liechtenstein, Vorarlberg is a land of imposing mountains (the western stretch of the Austrian Alps), lush meadows, gushing rivers, picturesque villages and verdant forests. As I soon discovered, it’s the perfect place to unwind and rejuvenate.
Unwinding in Vorarlberg
Bizau is a lovely, tranquil village situated in a valley and surrounded by towering mountains. I stayed at the family-owned Biohotel Schwanen, which is also home to an excellent restaurant. I spent a few days here, going on strolls through the meadows, chatting with the cows (yes, I know… I’m weird!) and enjoying the grand scenery and fresh mountain air, and indulging myself with wholesome food prepared with locally-produced ingredients.
I then continued my trip to the Alpine village of Lech, about a 1.5-hour drive from Bizau. The drive past quaint villages, forests and awe-inspiring peaks was absolutely spectacular.
Located in an Alpine picture-perfect valley, Lech is a great place for hikes in the mountains, wellness treatments and excellent cuisine. I stayed at the gorgeous Biohotel Gotthart in the centre of the village. This family-owned hotel features a beautiful wellness area with indoor pool.
And my favourite pub/restaurant in Lech, Hûs Nr. 8, is just across the road!
Here are several activities which I particularly enjoyed in Vorarlberg:
Bizau is one of 12 villages which feature the Bregenzerwald Umgang – these are marked paths which take visitors through the villages in the region. Information columns along the way draw visitors’ attention to particular buildings, culinary, artisanal or ecological details. It’s a lovely way to explore the villages and learn about their history and culture at a leisurely pace. In addition, I also discovered a barefoot trail in Bizau that takes hikers through the moss and across the Ulvenbach river. Another unique trail in the Brgenzerwald region to consider is the Bregenzerwald Cheese Trail (for the cheese lovers of course!).
Lech is also perfect for a walking holiday, especially in the spring and autumn months. There are countless trails with varying levels of difficulty. Along the way, you’ll be stunned by the spectacular mountain scenery, gurgling streams and emerald lakes. I hiked along a part of the Grüner Ring (Green Ring) and I was just blown away by the immense beauty of the area.
Local architecture & design
The Bregenzerwald region is renowned for its architecture. Using primarily wood (from the abundant forests in the region) and glass, local (and more recently foreign) architects have created gorgeous contemporary buildings which blend amazingly well with the more traditional designs. I soon realised what a big thing architecture and design is in this region after a visit to the Werkraum Haus, a house dedicated to craftsmanship in the region. In this exhibition space, you’ll find a range of exquisite fashion accessories right up to stunning furniture and kitchens.
In the village of Krumbach, architects from around the world were invited to design bus-stops. This resulted in the creation of seven distinct bus-stops, each with a unique character and theme. You can walk or take the bus to see these curious bus-stops.
Wellness is a big thing in Vorarlberg, judging by the number of wellness and health hotels scattered across the state. I stayed at two so-called ‘biohotels’ in Bizau and Lech, known for their commitment to wellness and health. Three Bregenzerwald hotels specialise in classic spa and health programmes. In the Gesundhotel Bad Reuthe, specialists use freshly-cut mud for various treatments!
The long walks, breathtaking scenery and wonderful food worked wonders on me whilst the fresh mountain air ensured I slept very well each night. If you’re looking for a rejuvenating holiday, I can highly recommend unwinding in Vorarlberg.
View the #AustrianTime video featuring me and my fabulous travel mate Angelika, and filmed by the very talented Joshua Morin.
Note: my trip to Vorarlberg was part of the #AustrianTime blog trip, a collaboration between the Austria National Tourism Board and iambassador. As always, all views expressed above are mine, and mine only.