WILL WALK FOR CHEESE
A fairytale landscape of mountains and moors is the perfect setting for hungry hikers
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.
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.”
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