WILL WALK FOR CHEESE

A fairy­tale land­scape of moun­tains and moors is the per­fect set­ting for hun­gry hik­ers

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION AUSTRIA -

BRE­GEN­Z­ER­WALD IS THE NA­TURE LOVER’S NIR­VANA YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

through­out the Bre­genz For­est in a fairy­tale land­scape of moun­tains and moors – the per­fect set­ting for those with a hunger for hik­ing, es­pe­cially if you re­spond well to gas­tro­nomic re­ward.

CHEESE COUN­TRY

It’s late spring and the snow has started re­treat­ing down the moun­tain, just not enough for our group to con­tinue our walk here atop Alpe Niedere where thick ice cuts our path. We’ve not long fin­ished break­fast at tra­di­tional inn turned hip­ster brunch spot, Jös­lar, but we de­cide to skip to the sec­ond stop on our culi­nary hike and re­treat in­side Ber­grestau­rant.

Cukrow­icz and Nach­baur-Sturm clearly loved the prize for their chapel de­sign. They re­turned after the chapel build to place their stamp on the in­te­rior of this cosy restau­rant with clean lines, oak cladding, and thick grey wool cur­tains.

Be­cause it wasn’t just any cheese. This is Alpine cheese coun­try with 30,000 in­hab­i­tants and 30,000 cows. Only 3 per cent of cheese in the Euro­pean Union is pro­duced with hay milk and Bre­gen­z­er­wald is the largest re­gion, with farm­ers fol­low­ing a three-stage farm­ing process. The cows spend Oc­to­ber to May in the val­ley, then graze in al­ti­tudes of up to 1000m in June be­fore be­ing taken up to the high­est level in July and Au­gust, and grad­u­ally back down.

As we sit be­side the cop­per fire­place, steam­ing wooden bowls of knöpfle and shots of schnapps – made with the en­zian flow­ers we spot­ted on our way in – are placed be­fore us. It feels like cheat­ing, de­vour­ing ladle­fuls of the cheesy spät­zle dumplings with fried onions, but I’m not go­ing to com­plain about skip­ping a few kilo­me­tres of hik­ing with a farm-to-ta­ble ethos this strong. “The cheese is made next door,” Cor­nelia tells us be­tween mouth­fuls. “It never leaves the moun­tain.”

SLOW NA­TURE

The ground is blan­keted in heavy morn­ing dew but the sun has al­ready painted the sky a vivid blue the next morn­ing in Krum­bach Moor. We un­lace our hik­ing boots and slip off our socks, leav­ing them in the open­sided wooden “moor room” to feel 4000 years of his­tory un­der our feet.

The chill of the wa­ter squelch­ing and spurt­ing from the spongy ground is lit­er­ally breath­tak­ing but there’s some­thing fun­da­men­tally in­vig­o­rat­ing about this walk.

The moors are the prog­eny of the last Ice Age – a boun­ti­ful land­scape built by thou­sands of years and lay­ers of peat and sphag­num moss, and bloom­ing with medic­i­nal plants and berries. In 2000, an or­gan­i­sa­tion was set up to pro­tect Krum­bach Moor, so now 13 moor guides and four moor land­lords are tasked with its preser­va­tion, while 14 seats are placed through­out the land­scape for quiet con­tem­pla­tion. “You won’t find a sign which shows you a way to the seat,” our guide Pe­tra says with a smile. “We call it slow na­ture. The seats, they want to be found.”

After­wards at Schul­haus restau­rant, a break­fast spread by Vo­rarl­berg’s most dec­o­rated chef, Gabi Stra­ham­mer, awaits.

The moor acts as Gabi’s pri­vate or­chard and herb gar­den. The plants there are so dif­fer­ent to what other chefs are us­ing, she can ex­per­i­ment with for­aged in­gre­di­ents like fir tips, sloe berries, mead­owsweet and moor cran­berry.

In Bre­gen­z­er­wald, it seems, food is not just about sa­ti­a­tion but about all the senses: the feel of the art­works hang­ing on the walls made from peat, the sound of Gabi’s pink “moor le­mon­ade” be­ing poured waft­ing over our con­ver­sa­tion, and the de­light­ful zing and fresh aroma of her lat­est moor ex­per­i­ment: clover ice cream.

It makes all that ex­er­cise rather in­ci­den­tal, ac­tu­ally.

THE WRITER TRAV­ELLED AS A GUEST OF THE AUS­TRIAN NA­TIONAL TOURIST OF­FICE

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