Things to do in Lech in summer
The mountains roll together, one after another, creating a dramatic ring of peaks. A green ring of peaks, you could say.
Collections of jagged rocks, almost castle-like, can be seen at the top. Thick alpine forests flow down the slopes. They then open up to meadows that are currently full of bright flowers and all the animals they attract.
I’m in the village of Lech, in the Austrian region of Vorarlberg.
Vorarlberg may be the smallest state in Austria (other than Vienna) but it seems to have boundless natural wonders. From lakes (such as the famous Lake Constance at Bregenz), to rivers, and the mountains – which are often the focus.
From Lech, I catch the Rüfikopf cable car up the mountain, watching the wooden houses get smaller until they almost disappear.
At the top is a restaurant with panoramic views across the valley – impressive from this height of 2,350 metres. An open air viewing platform nearby offers similar vistas.
I set out along a hiking trail that cuts along the side of the mountain. It opens the door to something quite spectacular… literally.
Along the path is an art project where doors have been placed by the side of the trail. Nine artists from five countries have made the doors, each decorated differently.
Open them, look through, you’ll find views of the landscapes around Lech. Although, of course, they are the same landscapes you would see regardless.
So why are the doors here and what’s really on the other side? Well, that’s for you to decide. For each trekker who stops and looks through, there will be a slightly different experience and emotion.
As the organisers of the project say themselves: “A door can signal very many things. It can suggest comfort and protection as well as a welcome openness, but can equally represent an insurmountable obstacle.”
The doors are only here in summer, between mid-June and mid-October. In winter, they’re taken down to Lech and displayed by their respective sponsors.
And that’s because they’re installed along the route of the three-day hike called The Green Ring, which is only accessible in the warmer months.
If you’ve ever heard of Lech before, there’s a good chance it’s in relation to skiing. Lech has become one of the world’s most renowned and exclusive European ski resorts – frequented by royal families (Princess Diana was one of the most famous fans) and international identities (Vladimir Putin is one of the most infamous).
In winter, there’s a well-known skiing route called the White Ring, which is a 22-kilometre-long circuit of runs (including seven lifts) that takes you through the mountains around Lech.
The Green Ring is the summer version, where your legs (rather than skis) will take you through the mountains on a path that goes for 28 kilometres.
It starts at the top of the Rüfikopf cable car and is divided into three suggested stages. Many people will travel back to their hotel in Lech each night and then return to pick up where they left off. However, it is possible to camp on stage 2, where you’ll find a bivouac, if you prefer. (Wild camping is not allowed in Austria.)
Accommodation is not too hard to find in Lech in summer, though. If I was here in winter, I certainly would not be able to afford to stay in the centre of the village like I am now – even if there was availability.
But summer in Lech is much quieter – and, you could argue, much more enjoyable because of the peace this brings. There’s also no shortage of things to do during these long sunny days.
The Green Ring hike is probably the most famous summer activity in Lech but it’s not the only activity that the locals have developed to encourage visitors to come to the village for more than just skiing.
To help you explore the area, you can buy a ‘Lech Card’, which then offers you free access to a whole range of things in the region in summer. It costs €22 for two days or €34 for seven days.
For starters, you can use the Lech Card to travel on the cable cars, including the Rüfikopf cable car, where the Green Ring trail starts and you can see the first doors. (The normal price for the return cable car trip is €19, so you can already see how the card is going to start saving you money!)
As well as using the card for transport to the best hiking locations, you can also take part in some special themed hikes that are led by local experts on things like herbs, nature, and geology.
Local Lech resident Veronika Walch meets me and some other hikers one morning, carrying a small wicker basket.
Her specialty is herbs and, as we walk through the village, out into the meadows, and then along a forest path, she points out the local plants.
Some are used for cooking (and we taste a couple of them that Veronika picks for us). Some are used for healing. And, much to my pleasure, it turns out some of them are used for making schnapps and other liqueurs.
In fact, as we pass a mountain hut at one point, Veronika points out a little wooden box that has a bottle of schnapps inside that you can drink, with an honesty box for a €1 donation per shot!
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I wish I was here in Lech a bit longer to try some of the other themed hikes. In fact, I wish I could make the most of the Lech Card and everything it offers.
In total, it offers all of these benefits for free:
- Use of cable cars
- Use of blue bus that connects the region’s villages
- Entry into the Zugertal Valley
- Themed hikes
- A guided e-bike tour
- Entry to the Lech forest swimming pool
- Entry to the Lechmuseum, the Walsermuseum, and the public library
- PLUS discounts from other local businesses
Not that you would want to try to pack too much into your time here in Lech. Even though there’s lots to do, a large part of the enjoyment is in experiencing the nature at your own pace, opening the door to a new world and leaving your worries back on the other side.
I certainly feel that way on my last evening in Lech, as I sit down for dinner at the restaurant at Hotel Aurelio. I’m not staying here (it’s certainly the nicest hotel in Lech – if not the whole country – and a little outside my usual budget) but I’ve still come for a meal.
One of the things Aurelio’s is known for is its family style ‘Table Buffet’ where the food is world-class but it’s eaten with a sense of community. And that’s something that I’ve found has run through my whole time here.
When I went for lunch at a restaurant called Zit Lo, it was clear that the locals come here to catch up with friends as much as they do for the fresh produce and authentic cooking.
When I visit the Backstube Lech bakery to see all the effort that goes into supplying the bread for most of the village, I meet the owner Martin Walch. It turns out he is the nephew of Veronika, who takes the guided herb hikes.
And, when I sit down for breakfast at my wonderful hotel, Aparthotel Filomena, I find Martin’s bread and rolls waiting for me with the other fresh food to prepare you for a day oh hiking in the fresh air. It all comes full-circle.
So, where do I think that the doors here in Lech take me when I open them and walk through? Well, it feels a bit like stepping into a family home.
With a generous welcoming community, lots of ways to engage with the local traditions, and a beautiful safe environment, I am delighted to have the opportunity to go through feel like a welcome guest.