alpine - Dietrich Vorarlberger Kostbarkeiten

Goats roam the pastures, mountain streams whisper by and wild flowers flavour the local
schnapps. Vorarlberg is an Austrian idyll steeped in tradition, says Rosemary Barron
PHOTOGRAPHY by Gary Latham
Above: the serene landscape
of Bregenzerwald. Opposite:
local horn players keep up
an Austrian musical tradition
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food & travel
Left to right:
cheese producer
Brigitte Gmeiner;
pretty cornflowers
grow at Metzler’s
dairy farm; taking
a stroll on the
promenade at
Bregenz. Opposite,
clockwise from top
left: traditional
horn player; views
after taking the
cable car; village
of Bizau; looking
towards Lake
Constance from
the stunning
orarlberg is dramatic, in every sense of the word. To reach
this small province of Austria from the country’s capital,
Vienna, a traveller needs to pass over or under the Alps.
From neighbouring Switzerland and Germany, the simplest route is
across Lake Constance (Bodensee), just like the one taken by the
ancient Alemanni (German-speaking) tribes who first settled here.
Over the centuries, a magnificent landscape of tiny mountain fields
and vibrant meadowland has been shaped and nurtured by dairy
farmers, and the fertile Rhine delta filled with lovely fruit orchards and
productive vegetable gardens.
A simple and pleasurable way to orientate yourself here is to take
a cable car up into the mountains. From Andelsbuch, less than an
hour’s drive south-east from Bregenz, the province’s capital, there
are magnificent views across Lake Constance to the Swiss Alps.
From the cable car, a stroll along well-marked paths will take you
across glaciated rocks past clumps of alpine herbs and flowers;
Travel information
Currency in Austria is the euro and time is one hour ahead of GMT.
Vorarlberg is the westernmost of the country’s nine provinces and
shares its borders with Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. Weather
in May is warm with average highs of 19˚C and average lows of 9˚C.
Getting there
Ryanair flies from Stansted to Memmingen, Germany.
EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Innsbruck, Austria.
Vorarlberg Tourism is the official tourist board for the province and
has useful information for planning your trip.
Austrian National Tourist Office offers practical advice and ideas
for exploring the country.
Further reading
Across the Eastern Alps: E5 from Lake Constance to Verona
by Gillian Price (Cicerone, £12). Use this walking guide to tackle the
whole trek, or just the lake and scenic parts of Vorarlberg.
Emmissions can be offset at, cost for this trip is £1.56.
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look out for Yellow Gentian, used in a favourite local schnapps.
Nearby, in the picture-postcard Bizau valley, chef Antonia
Moosbrugger tells me how she discovered her destiny. ‘I always
loved to cook but the moment I heard a woman speak on cooking
with herbs, I knew what I really wanted to do.’
Antonia’s kitchen, in the family hotel, Schwanen, is steps away
from flower-filled meadows and a stroll from pine-forest funghi
and herb-covered slopes. Wild garlic, apple-scented geranium,
chamomile, linden and fennel are just a few of the wild and garden
herbs you can taste in her dishes of lamb, mountain cheeses, and
Lake Constance fish. ‘The animals are good to us, we must be
good to them,’ she says, when I comment on the fine flavour of the
beef served with a nettle purée.
Later, Antonia uses the same skill in preparing a feast of game.
For the hunters and cooks of Bregenzerwald (wald, meaning forest),
a feast means the enjoyment of all parts of the animal, not just those
we usually consider the ‘best parts’. It can also mean the most
sought-after game of all, the chamois. A shy creature, able to meld
into a background of craggy rocks, the chamois is a hunter’s joy.
Our feast, in a lovely old barn high in the mountains, begins with a
carpaccio alongside thinly sliced wild mushrooms and tiny marinated
ones. Then comes a rich game consommé flavoured with roasted
malt leftover from brewing a local beer, followed by course after
course of wild deer, each cut having a distinct preparation. In the far
distance, we can see the sun setting slowly over Lake Constance,
as the breathtakingly beautiful landscape becomes safe once again
for the animals that call it home.
This terrain isn’t yet easy to farm – for centuries, farmers have
practised a three-stage transhumance. In spring, once the snow
has melted, cattle graze on the valley pastures. As the temperature
rises, they are moved to meadowland halfway up the mountain,
then again to the higher pastures for summer. In autumn, they return
to the valley, and the barn. These environments, with their diverse
and unspoilt flora, provide the healthiest diet possible for the
livestock, resulting in aromatic milk and a fine PDO cheese,
Vorarlberger Bergkäse. PDO sibling Vorarlberger Alpkäse is made
from milk produced only in alpine meadows.
Brigitte and Thomas Gmeiner know the names of each of their
handsome Friesland sheep. As we approach them, the curious
animals stop grazing and come over to inspect us. ‘In winter, they’re
mostly kept inside because of the climate, but
‘On higher moor, at about 750m, you’ll find plants thought to have originated over 2,000
years ago, a moss that replicates the work of a sponge (fun to walk on barefoot), and
a tiny plant that eats flies, because it can’t get its food from the ground’
food & travel
Left to right: venison
carpaccio; farmers’
market bangers;
schnapps maker
Harald Schobel;
apricot crumble at
Schulhus, Krumbach.
Opposite, clockwise
from top left: fishing
on the lake with
Franz Blum; Harald’s
chewy dried fruits;
Gabi Strahammer,
Schulhus; her
strawberries and
cream; Bregenz;
local fruit
‘Having by now become accustomed to eating meat that tastes clear and clean, ‘like it used
to’, I’m not prepared for the delicious speck that Gabi has for us. Later, when taken to the
much-appreciated pig’s former home, I’m not at all surprised to find the well-tended farm’
Where to eat
Prices are for three courses with a half-carafe of wine.
Fränzle’s Bistro Friendly, family-owned restaurant serving fish caught
that day in the lake by fisherman Franz Blum. Try the fried felchen
(whitefish) fillets and the smoked trout with horseradish sauce. £20.
Schanz 40a, Fussach, 00 43 664 911 04 62,
Pleifers Engel Chef-owner Klaus Pleifer sources quality ingredients
locally and uses them to good effect. Try the imaginative salads and
dishes made with the organic turkey from Flatz store nearby. £23.
Landstrasse 1, Hard, 00 43 5574 20 768,
Mangold Owners Michael and Andrea Schwarzenbacher serve dishes
that complement their elegant restaurant and plant-filled terrace. Try the
kalbsleber mit salbei (calves’ liver with sage) and bollito misto (made with
a ‘backside cut’ of beef from an alpine cow). There’s a good selection
of Austrian wines to try too. £33. Pfänderstrasse 3, Lochau, 00 43
5574 42431,
Neubeck Fish of the day here is from the nearby lake, and there’s
a well-sourced menu and choice of wines. The restaurant is located
centrally, and has a welcoming atmosphere. £29. Anton-SchneiderStrasse 5, Bregenz, 00 43 5574 43609,
Restaurant Schulhus Chef Gabi Strahammer uses moorland and
homegrown herbs in her innovative cuisine. A fine speck (ham) is from
her family’s Duroc pigs, and refreshing fruit juices from nearby organic
orchards. £29. Glatzegg 58, Krumbach, 00 43 5513 8389,
Schlosskaffee Hohenems Chocolate heaven in a stylish café with a
large and attractive terrace. Owners Gunther and Petra Fenkart use fine
local products such as sig (see food glossary), pear schnapps and kirsch
in their chocolates, cakes and ice creams. Enjoy light meals, sparkling
wines, and take a peek at chocolates being made. Schlossplatz 10,
Hohenems, 00 43 5576 72356,
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they have a pen, too,’ Brigitte explains. Nothing is wasted: their wool
is made into all sorts of artefacts, some useful, some decorative,
and soaps and lotions are made from the milk-whey. In the spirit of
the area (and with a little help from the government), the nearby
supermarket stocks these cheeses as well as other local produce.
Towards the north-east of Bregenzerwald, glacial moraines
(ridges of small stones) have created an ecologically rich area of
moorland where an ancient past feels real and close. Meltwater
flowing into the moraine contains very few salts and the stones
slowly become covered in layers of acidic peat. On a summertime
walk, you’ll find a wonderful variety of flora: orchids (farmers are
allowed to mow moorland fields only in autumn, so that orchids can
reproduce), meadowsweet, wild cranberry, elder, and purple moor
grass, or ‘pipe cleaner’, named for its use in the old days. On higher
moor, at about 750m, you’ll find plants thought to have originated
over 2,000 years ago, a moss that replicates the work of a sponge
(fun to walk on barefoot), and a tiny plant that eats flies, because it
can’t get its food from the ground. Walks are signposted, and
Krumbach is nearby, where chef Gabi Strahammer uses moor
plants to create enticing flavours in her restaurant, Schulhus.
Having by now become accustomed to eating meat that tastes
clear and clean, ‘like it used to’, I’m not prepared for the delicious
speck that Gabi has for us. Later, when taken to the muchappreciated pig’s former home, I’m not at all surprised to see her
father’s well-tended farm, nor that their Duroc pigs show a friendly
interest in me. Gabi follows the speck with fresh noodles coloured
green with very finely chopped home-grown lovage (leibstöckel,
literally ‘love-stick’). Lake Constance trout is flavoured with basil, and
veal dressed with tiny, wild chanterelles from the woods close by.
A local cider instantly refreshes after a walk on the moors – and so
too does a juice made with wild fruits and meadowsweet.
‘In their season, perfumed Conference pears,
Elstar apples, strawberries, plums, and apricots
all find their way into Harald's slicing machine,
and are dried into chewy explosions of flavour’
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‘The same sense of old
tradition, new ways of
doing things, can be
seen everywhere. At
the Metzler dairy farm
in Egg, the energy
generated from stored
hay provides all the
farm’s heating and hot
water requirements’
Where to stay
Biohotel Schwanen Bizau Modern hotel combined with warm
hospitality from the Moosbrugger family. Chef Antonia Moosbrugger
sources from ‘bio’ suppliers. Try the sauna designed by architect
Hermann Kaufmann. Doubles from £160, half-board. Kirchdorf 77,
Bizau, 00 43 5514 2133,
Deuring Schlössle Perched above Bregenz’s old town overlooking
Lake Constance, this gourmet destination features fine dining and fine
views to match. Doubles from £160. Ehre-Guta-Platz 4, Bregenz,
00 43 5574 47800,
Gasthof Hirschen Schwarzenberg An ideal setting for some very
traditional dishes, including käsknöpfle (cheese dumplings, made to
share), home-smoked beef with chicory, and pancakes with local jam
and cream. The hotel itself has homely rooms with wood panelling and
stylish bathrooms. Doubles from £130. Hof 14, Schwarzenberg,
00 43 5512 2944,
Hotel Gasthof Krone Elegant hotel in a beautifully restored building.
Helene and Dietmar Nussbaumer-Natter – chef and manager respectively,
– are third-generation family owners of this fine example of local
architecture. The restaurant serves dishes made with locally sourced
ingredients and there is a seasonal menu. Doubles from £147. Am Platz
185, Hittisau, 00 43 5513 6201,
Hotel Schwärzler Comfortable and quiet, a pleasant 12-minute walk
from the lakeside promenade. A generous breakfast buffet includes
locally produced jams, butter and breads. Keep in shape in the wellness
area with sauna and massages upon request. Doubles from £114.
Landstrasse 9, Bregenz, 00 43 5574 4990,
Clockwise from top left: the authentic facade of Gasthof Adler
in Schwarzenberg village; walking around lovely Bizau; creatively
presented venison shoulder; a morning exploring Schwarzenberg
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Vorarlberg’s heritage includes its magnificent wooden buildings
that, during the last century, came to be seen as old-fashioned.
Twenty-five years ago, the first family homes were built of wood in
a new, eco-friendly and stylish way. Krumbach, where you can see
many of these architect-designed houses, even has a series of bus
stops to make any local council envious. Architects from Belgium
to Japan were asked to design one that paid tribute to the region’s
landscape and tradition of craftsmanship. Never has public
transport been so appealing.
In her cookery school nearby, Karin Kaufmann looks to the past
for flavours and inspiration. ‘Everybody knows this dish,’ she tells
me, referring to gebackene erbsen (‘fried peas’), ‘but nobody knows
the technique.’ In fact, the peas are really tiny pieces of fried flour
dough, and require a special utensil, a metal pan with holes in the
bottom. Holding this pan over hot sunflower oil while you shake
through the moist dough is risky, so Karin has had a new utensil
made, copying the old one, but with a long handle.
The same sense of old tradition, new ways of doing things, can
be seen everywhere. In an innovative system at the Metzler dairy
farm in Egg, the energy generated from stored hay provides all the
farm’s heating and hot water requirements. The hay then becomes
fodder for the cows and goats. Further to the west in Höchst, Harald
Schobel has used his engineering skills to design a system for
slicing and drying fruits from the pretty orchards surrounding his
family home. In their season, perfumed Conference pears, Elstar
apples, strawberries, plums, and apricots all find their way into his
slicing machine, and are dried into chewy explosions of flavour.
‘Drying fruits is an old family tradition,’ he explains, ‘but in the past,
with only a home-heating system, it was a hit-and-miss affair. Now
I build special boxes so I can heat them slowly and retain the
nutrients and flavours.’ Vorarlberg, unlike the rest of the country,
produces very little wine, but everyone is allowed to make 100 litres
of schnapps a year. Like many locals, Harald’s father used to distill
for fun, making schnapps from homegrown Saubirne pears. Harald
has extended the orchard, and is now one of the few commercial
distillers to continue this traditional flavour.
Riebel, made from roasted corn, is another old taste finding
favour again. ‘I’m interested in things that get lost,’ Dr Richard
Dietrich tells me, as we admire his vary-coloured corn in Lauterach,
in a protected area of small huts and allotments criss-crossed with
cycle paths. ‘My father kept two cows, hay and a few pigs, and had
an orchard for fruit and cider-making – a very typical set-up for this
area. He used black peat for fuel and red peat for fertiliser and, like
everyone else, grew corn.’ Corn arrived in Vorarlberg in the
17th-century, and farmers came to develop a
Clockwise from
top left: lady in
traditional dress;
breathing in the
fresh air; a lakeside
café; knocking
back a pear
schnapps; where
the fruit grows;
flickers of flowers;
salad at Biohotel
Schwanen in Bizau
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Clockwise from top left: Angelika
Kauffmann Museum, Schwarzenberg;
fisherman Franz Blum enjoys his job;
corn stored in the rafters for making
riebel; Dr Dietrich inspects his crop
Where to shop
Dietrich Dr Richard Dietrich makes the riebel (see food glossary), juices,
schnapps and preserves that he sells in his shop. Enquire about tastings
and guided walks through his gardens. Lerchenauerstrasse 45, Lauterach,
00 43 5574 63929,
Flatz An attractive and well-stocked shop selling quality local products,
including Schobel schnapps and Fenkart chocolates, fresh vegetables
and some prepared dishes. An ideal stop if you are planning a picnic.
Landstrasse 30, Hard, 00 43 5574 65974,
Gmeiner Brigitte and Thomas Gmeiner produce sheep’s-milk yoghurt
and cheese in their alpine dairy next door to their farm. Try creamy
schafbergkäse, fresh schaffrischkäse stored with organic herbs,
and schafgrieche, a five-day-old cheese. Kirchdorf 60, Bizau,
00 43 5514 2509,
Käsladen Maria Vögel An Aladdin’s cave of local cheeses and other
products, in a beautiful village. Hof 18, Schwarzenberg, 00 43 5512 2960
Metzler Cheeses to try include the wälderkäsle, a regional speciality made
from goat’s and cow’s milk, and there are natural cosmetics made from
whey and local herbs. Book on a tour (run for groups of two or more) to
experience life on the farm, or take part in cheesemaking workshops.
Bruggan 1025, Egg, 00 43 5512 3044,
varietal well suited to their climate. ‘Roasting whole-kernel corn
before grinding, fine or coarse, makes a crunchier mash than
polenta,’ says Dr Dietrich, ‘and potassium- and magnesium-rich
riebel has always been a farmer’s preferred breakfast; sometimes,
when times have been hard, his only food all day. Now we like
riebel with compotes of elderflowers or wild berries, and in cakes
with fruit such as pears.’
A short distance east of Lauterach, Lake Constance fisherman
Franz Blum has one of the loveliest workplaces in the world. ‘I was
15 years old when I took over the family fishing business from my
father,’ he tells me, as he cleans and guts his fish for market later
that morning. His day is long and hard. Before sunrise, he takes his
4.5m, flat-bottomed boat through the high reeds of the Rhine delta
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into shallow Austrian waters, where he pulls in the night’s catch and
re-sets the nets. He then moves further out onto the lake.
Once through the sheltered delta wetland – full of moorhens,
swans and herons – the lake can be windy and rough even in
summer. With no motor, Franz’s boat requires skill and strength to
navigate. ‘But every day I can watch the sun rise over the snowcapped alps, and the sun set across the lake,’ declares a happy
Franz, ‘and today we have an exceptional catch.’
Later, we eat some of the catch for lunch on the wooden deck
of Fränzle’s Bistro beside a lake inlet. Lightly fried felchen fillets,
potatoes and a garden-greens salad follow smoked trout. ‘I leave
it two days in brine then smoke it over beechwood for two and
a half hours at 60-80˚C,’ he says. It’s then served with
‘A magnificent landscape of mountain fields and vibrant meadowland has been shaped
by dairy farmers, and the fertile Rhine delta filled with lovely fruit and vegetable gardens’
Clockwise from top left: sunset over Bregenzerwald; celery, garlic and salad leaves for sale at the market in Bregenz; wild flowers at Metzler’s
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Clockwise from top left:
getting a lift; evening
beckons; a village church;
its exterior; local cheese;
goats are a staple of rural
life; taste their superb cheese
‘My father kept two cows, hay and a few pigs, and had an orchard – a typical set-up
for this area. He used black peat for fuel and red peat for fertiliser and also grew corn’
Food Glossary
homemade horseradish sauce. As we enjoy lunch, a couple of
small motorboats arrive from Switzerland, 30 minutes away. Theirs
was an easy journey compared with Franz’s, but their owners know
where to find the freshest and best fish on Lake Constance.
Rosemary Barron and Gary Latham travelled courtesy of Vorarlberg
Tourism. Find more details at, and at
Don’t miss
Frau Kaufmann’s cookery school Based in a handsome old
building, Karin Kaufmann introduces you to local traditions and dishes
prepared with a modern sensibility. Buchenrain 339, Egg, 00 43 676
49 54 144,
Käsekeller Lingenau Modern cheese-maturation cellar with an
impressive stack of 30kg wheels of Bergkäse and Alpkäse (alpine
cheeses) behind a glass wall. Enquire about tastings. Zeihenbühl 423,
Lingenau, 00 43 5513 42870 41,
Krumbach Moor Walk on the moors, and take time too to enjoy the
area’s architecture and imaginatively designed bus stops. See website
for information on moor guides, if desired.,
Schobel Höchstgenuss Small farm with a distillery. Take a tour and
try Harald Schobel’s dried fruits and prize-winning schnapps made
with fruits from his own orchards. Call to make an appointment.
Frühlingsgarten 7, Höchst, 00 43 664 12 45 515,
Werkraum Haus Showcase for the work of local craftsmen and
women. Hof 800, Andelsbuch, 00 43 5512 263 86,
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Bergkäse Mountain cheese made
in huge wheels. Aged six months,
it tastes smooth and mellow; at 12
months, a little sharper, at two years
it resembles a young parmesan.
Felchen A member of the salmon
family, the ‘whitefish’ is found in
Lake Constance. Lightly batter
then fry the fillets and serve with
pickles and potatoes, or simply bake
small ones whole.
Kartoffel The humble potato is
a favourite local vegetable; and
also known as ‘grumpra’ in the
local dialect.
Käsknöpfle Little cheese
dumplings flavoured with mountain
cheese and onions; traditionally
made on Fridays, to take the
place of meat.
Rauchen Forelle Trout from Lake
Constance, lightly brined and
smoked; served locally with
horseradish sauce.
Riebel A staple in the old days.
Similar to polenta but crunchier,
it is eaten traditionally for breakfast.
Good with all sorts of meats and
vegetables, and with fruit compotes.
Roggenbrot Rye bread,
a healthier choice – frequently
found on local tables.
Schwarze Nüsse Black walnuts,
an ‘old-taste’ sweetmeat and
condiment for wild meats,
felchen and aged Alpkäse.
Picked green and stored in
cinnamon-syrup, they are labourintensive to make.
Siegenkäse Goat’s cheese
(in the German language);
also known as ‘gosskäs’ in
the local dialect.
Sig A rich, red-brown paste,
slightly sweet and with a hint of
liquorice, made by boiling the
whey left over from cheesemaking until only the milk-sugar
remains. A winter wonder made
originally by farmers.
Weiner schnitzel Thinly sliced
veal, breaded and deep-fried,
and served with potatoes and
salad. An Austrian classic.
Wild meats The term used
locally, including on restaurant
menus, for hunted deer, stag,
chamois and other game.