Vorarlberg is Austria’s red hot chilli pepper – tiny but feisty. It squeezes in between Switzerland and Germany, and shakes its bootie with that ol’ devil St Anton am Arlberg in Tyrol. It may have the smallest slice of the country’s pie, but it’s got the filling sussed: tranquil lakes, thundering rivers, forest-clad hills, snowy crags, castles and more cheese than you’ll ever need for your crackers are all squashed into this western wedge.
Most people take a bite out of Bregenz first, the big daddy of the Bodensee (Lake Constance), where locals board yachts for a quick spin and skinny dip after work, gazing up at the giddy heights of the Pfänder to ponder on whether life can get much better. From here, the only way is up to the Bregenzerwald; wiggling through a mysterious land of rolling velvet hills, granite spires and villages choc-a-bloc with dairies. But up on those hills, it’s not only the cheese that comes in cubes. Nudging up against woodsy farmhouses are the Bauhaus offspring: eco-friendly modernist houses that are revamping the landscape with straight edges, pale wood and glass walls. Stick-in-the-muds who once dissed them as overgrown Rubik’s creations now stand corrected, as the province has become an architectural trailblazer with environmental credentials.
Vorarlberg also rocks in the outdoors department. To the south rise the 3000m-high giants of the Silvretta range, where a hike in the Alps affords vistas of the silver-white peak of Piz Buin. While further east, muddy boots are swapped for designer skis and salopettes in fashionable Lech and Zürs, where poseurs carve up the slopes, bask in five-star luxury and let their hair down with massive snowball fights.