The first I heard of Bregenz, I’ll confess, it was to do with the opera and James Bond. It wasn’t until I got there, as part of a trip to western Austria, that I realised the menu of options available when it came to things to do in Bregenz.
There was the opera, sure, a floating affair on Lake Constance held every year. There was also the usual draw on the mountains, the crisp fresh air that makes travel to Austria such a pleasure.
But there was also culture and wholesome relaxation by the bucketful.
Bregenz may just be the least city-like city I’d ever found.
So let me spill her secrets to you now. And provide you with a handy guide to the things to do in Bregenz.
If you like Bregenz, you may enjoy the cultural city of Graz
Not all the way around, obviously. It’s 63km long and also ventures into Switzerland and Germany (where they call it Lake Bodensee.) But an afternoon works well, and there’s even a lakeside “beach” to dip into.
The opaque cube of the KUB challenges the waterfront, its letters standing for Kunsthaus Bregenz, which roughly translates into art house. The exhibits inside range from press mash-ups about body-image to DVD cases of Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Last year, the art escaped the confines of the KUB to straddle the mountains in the guise of 100 bronze figures of Antony Gormley.
Fresh, modern and innovative, Bregenz wants to say. We don’t just have stages, we have floating stages. We don’t just have a lake, we have a lake with two names (Lake Constance and Bodensee), a lake that borders Germany and Switzerland, with Liechtenstein not far away.
We have fun, we have fashion – and we still have an atmospheric Old Town that we’re almost too cool to tell you about.
If you like escaping into nature in Austria, check out the Salzkammergut Lake region
The posters and publicity point to the future but Bregenz shouldn’t be in such a hurry to brush off its past. Old Town Bregenz still oozes with charm with its cobbled streets, painted shutters, stone fountains and traditional murals. Deep peach and soaked turquoise facades provide a thoroughly lived-in, Austrian look.
There’s even a whisper that the restaurants here serve Wiener Schnitzel. But I wouldn’t sound cool enough for Bregenz if I told you about that…
With a dagger deep in his chest, he leans back, eyelids closed, a staircase eating into his cheek. Crowds gather beneath to take photos as his hand clasps a slab of writing and the lights of Switzerland come on in the distance.
He is this year’s setting for the Bregenz summer festival, a floating stage that rises out of the calm Lake Bodensee, ready to depict the drama of the opera Andre Chénier. Previous years have seen La Bohème, Aida and of course, Tosca performed here, where Daniel Craig scrambled across a colossal burning iris as James Bond in Quantum of Solace.
I love the fresh approach to art and life that I’ve found while travelling across Austria. But I also have a soft spot for their old world charm. And I don’t know why they’re in such a hurry to forget all about it…
Disclosure – I visited Bregenz as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Because this job would just be too darn boring otherwise! ;-)
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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