How to Spend It in... Bregenzerwald
We live by the clear, icy water of the Bregenzer Ache river, which runs through the Bregenzerwald. It’s a collection of 23 villages, watched over by the Austrian Alps. Ours is called Bezau, which has about 2,000 inhabitants and sits at 650m above sea level.
The landscape is what led me to develop our spa and wellness retreat as the fifth-generation custodian of my family’s hotel – Hotel Post Bezau – as well as Austrian-made natural skincare products that are now sold all over the world. We make them with plants and herbs that grow in the surrounding Alpine regions: things like arnica, with which my grandmother used to make tinctures, and St John’s Wort, which grows wild here, marigold, camomile and essential oils of spruce and pine.
If hiking, skiing and fresh air is your thing, there’s a fantastic chalet, Schnepfegg 52, in Schnepfau at the foot of the Kanisfluh massif, one of the highest mountains in the Bregenzerwald. It’s a restored 18th-century house where you can sleep in the mountains and really immerse yourself in nature.
But aside from the landscape, there’s also a lot of culture and great architecture and restaurants in this region. Breakfast is something I love here. It’s heavy – a traditional farmer’s breakfast – but delicious. There’s a lovely little café called Alpe Seefluh just up the hill in Fegg where we order Riebel, a traditional Austrian porridge made of cornmeal, milk, butter and salt. You soak the cornmeal in milk overnight, and then in the morning you pan-fry it and serve it with Apfelmus [apple sauce]. The pan goes in the middle of the table and you just dig in.
The other thing to try if you come here is Käsknöpfle [cheese dumplings]. Jagdgasthaus Egender Schönenbach serves delicious ones – the restaurant is part of an old hunting lodge, chic and simple with bare wood walls and floors. For a more fine dining experience, the restaurant at Schwanen Bizau, which serves a menu of only local, organic food, probably makes the best in the region.
There’s this wonderful combination of old and new that’s very particular to the Bregenzerwald. It’s a region that’s always been open to novelty. The 18th-century painter Angelika Kauffmann lived here – she was very much connected to people like Goethe and brought new ideas and inspiration back.
I think that culture of openness is partly why it’s remained a prosperous region where young people want to live and not move away. It’s laid-back, it’s full of nature – but it still has this modern, “connected” aspect. The Bezau Beatz festival, a weekend of non-mainstream music that happens every August, is a really good example. And I love to visit the Werkraumhaus in Andelsbuch, an exhibition space designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor as both a meeting place and a space to showcase local Bregenzerwald craftsmanship. You might see a beautiful table that was made here, or chairs. It captures the essence of the area so well.
My favourite local café is Viktors Chocolat, which has a modern, understated sensibility. And it serves the best coffee in town – I might pop in there for an espresso after lunch – and of course they sell delicious chocolate, too.
For shopping, there’s an incredible wooden clog maker in Bezau called Devich – the family has been making wooden shoes for four generations. The clogs are made with leather and goat fur and were traditionally worn by farmers but they’ve become very hip here recently. The materials are always slightly different and so each pair is unique.
But, especially at the weekends, you’re much more likely to find me outside than in. My favourite mountain is the Mittagspitze. I can see it from my office. It’s elegant, and it’s nice to climb – not too steep. The panorama from the top is incredible – you can see the whole region, across the Alps and down to Lake Constance. It’s the perfect way to reconnect with yourself after the day, and that’s what you find in this place – that nature always has the therapy you need. It’s woven into the fabric of our lives.