The Bregenzerwald Cheese Road
The people of Bregenzerwald have long been famed for their dedication to quality.
Whether it’s the details in their paintings, the sturdiness of their construction, or the ingenuity of their furniture, the craftspeople and artisans here have a reputation greater than you might expect for such a sparsely-populated pocket of forest.
But it was this very geographic isolation that forced the residents of the Austrian region to become self-sufficient. And as they spent the cold winters in the snowy alpine mountains on their crafts and their arts, they became some of the finest in Europe.
This dedication to quality – you might even say ‘perfection’ – extended beyond the construction of buildings and the creation of art (both of which the people of Bregenzerwald are still famous for).
It also stretched to food. Generations ago, summers were spent growing and making enough to feed the mountain villages when they were cut off in winter. The farmers, taking inspiration from the artisans of the region, treated their food production as more than just a necessity and also as a craft.
One of the most famous products of the Bregenzerwald became their cheese. The Bergkase (which means ‘mountain cheese’ but is actually made in the region’s meadows) has been sold all around Europe for centuries.
There are said to be more cows than people in the Bregenzerwald. As I drive around and look out the windows at the lush farms, I can believe it.
The specks of black or brown stand out against the deep green background in the distant meadows. Closer to the road, cows turn their heads slightly as we rush past, although I’m sure it’s just a reflex because they seem far too focused on chewing their cud to give us a second’s thought.
Travelling the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road
Dairy farming is such an important part of this region that the local producers have come together to create something for visitors called the ‘Bregenzerwald Cheese Road’.
It’s a way for people to explore the region through its local produce – food and drink. And, despite the name, there’s much more than just cheese.
It’s also a slight misnomer in that it’s not a road, as such, but more of a collection of dairies, farms, and other local operators that share a passion for quality. There are more than 160 partners that are presenting (and protecting) the taste and culture of the region.
I’m not here in the Bregenzerwald for long enough to visit them all. (I assume any visitor would find that hard.) But I am easily able to fill my entire time meeting with passionate locals, tasting their regional produce, and enjoying their artisanal approach to life.
Let me give you an example of how you could put together an ideal day, exploring the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road and the other local delights in the region. Eating and drinking, discovering the art and architecture, and doing it all surrounded by the stunning forest landscapes.
Breakfast at Gasthof Adler
Like the farmers of the Bregenzerwald, you day can start early here. Breakfast at the Gasthof Adler (Adler Guesthouse) in Krumbach is not just hearty, it’s also extremely local. You know this because you can see where your food is coming from if you look out the window.
The Adler’s farm is in the meadows around their guesthouse and you will find animals like cows and pigs there. It might be best not to look, though, if you’re a bit sensitive about where the delicious bacon is coming from.
The Gasthof Adler has excellent rooms and is one of the places I would recommend for accommodation.
The Krumbach Moors
For visitors to Bregenzerwald, the mountains and the forests are clear to see. But there’s another type of nature here that is just important but not as obvious.
It’s the moors – and some of the most important ones are around the town of Krumbach. They are critical for the environment here because of the way they soak up the water and retain it.
The local residents know the importance of the moors and they have built special ‘Moorsitze’ or ‘moor seats’ where you can sit and look at them. If you take your shoes off and walk barefoot across them, you’ll feel the soft spongey texture on your skin.
The best time to experience the moors is first thing in the morning During the summer months, some of the local hotels arrange a special breakfast combined with a moor exploration – and there are also guided tours each Thursday.
The Bregenzerwald Cheese Road doesn’t have to be just about eating cheese – it can also be about making it.
At the Metzler Farm in the village of Egg, they run courses where you can go through all the steps to turn the farm’s milk into a final cheese product. I decide to give it a go for myself.
The cheese-making classroom has modern equipment and each of us gets our own workstation where we will heat up the milk, add the necessary ingredients, and fish out the curds from the whey.
It’s easy to follow the instructions but it makes me realise that producing cheese is a bit more complicated than I had thought. I can see why there is an art to it and how the people of the region were able to stand out in a part of the world where cheese is an important part of the cuisine.
It’s worth mentioning that the Metzler Farm is also well-known for its cosmetics made from whey, so you can also learn more about this and do some shopping while you’re here.
Assuming you haven’t eaten too much cheese already, it’s probably now time for lunch. One of the best restaurants in the region is Ernele in the town of Hittisau, which has a focus on local products.
The restaurant’s chef, Felix Gross, takes a nose-to-tail approach and sources all of his ingredients from within 100 kilometres. He also has his own garden where many of the vegetables come from.
The design of the restaurant is inspired by the woodworkers of the region. It’s part of the larger Romantik Hotel Das Schiff, which is another good option for accommodation.
Krumbach bus stops
As you travel through Bregenzerwald, you’ll get a sense of how seriously the people here take architecture.
What makes it particularly intriguing for visitors like me is the mix of modern and classic. It’s not unusual to see a house clad with brown wooden shingles right next to a bright metallic design.
Nowhere is the passion for architecture better represented than in the bus stops at Krumbach.
When the village needed to replace its local bus shelters, it asked seven international architects if they would each design a new one. Each said yes and came up with a bold idea that local builders then turned into reality.
You can visit each of the seven bus stops and I think it’s a really inspiring way to spend an hour or so. I have written a story about the project, if you would like to find out more.
Gin and schnapps tasting
I appreciate the love that the people of Bregenzerwald have for their schnapps. It perhaps even rivals that for their cheese.
And it makes sense when you think about how cold it can get here in the winter and how a shot of schnapps is the best thing to warm you up from the inside.
At Gasthaus Löwen in the village of Au, the owners have a small distillery where they make their own schnapps and gin – and they have quite a range of flavours.
On the upper floor of the historic wooden house, I get shown all the different herbs and other plants that are used in the distilling of the different types of gin and schnapps. On the ground floor, I get to taste quite a few of them.
It’s a fun way to start the evening… and, if you’re not careful, end it too!
You can pop in and taste some of the gin and schnapps anytime and there are guided tours of the distillery on Thursday and Friday afternoons.
For dinner, the restaurant at the Schwanen Biohotel in Bizau is the ultimate in healthy local cuisine. The menu is organic and is constantly changing, depending on the produce and ingredients that the chef is able to source in the region.
The aim of the restaurant is to make it feel like the kitchen or family dining room of a warm house. I think it successfully blends the welcoming nature of the local communities with the professional care taken in the preparation of meals and service.
The food is some of the best you will find in Bregenzerwald and it has been recognised with several awards. You can even choose their special offer where you’ll get a tour of the kitchen and five unique courses chosen by the chef.
This is another good option for accommodation, particularly if you are looking to have a healthy retreat and would like to make use of some of their allergy-free, detox, or weight-loss options.
Hotel Gasthof Krone
And, of course, you will need somewhere to sleep in the Bregenzerwald. I have already mentioned a few places that are good options.
For my visit, I stayed at the Hotel Gasthof Krone and I would highly recommend it. It brings together everything I have discovered in the region under one roof.
From the cheese selection at breakfast, to the handmade wooden furniture, the wine list at the restaurant, and the excellent local produce for lunch and dinner.
It’s nice to be sleeping somewhere the captures the essence of what you have discovered throughout the day. You can check the details here.
There is much more in this wonderful part of Austria than I could possibly tell you about. These are my suggestions and you won’t be disappointed by any of them.
But take a drive on the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road, stop at the dairies and the farms, eat and drink, and see why this is one of the most delightful regions to explore.