Lech Zürs am Arlberg is a small place that attracts big names to its ski slopes. The Jordanian Royal Family. Formerly, Princess Diana. But summer in Lech is often overlooked. New flavours, traditional herb walks and innovative art installations spice up these hiking routes in Austria. Locals call it "the door to pure nature."
Overhead the sun shifts between sliding clouds, while boots thump on soft, Alpine earth. Violet flowers, bright white flowers and hard-to-categorise soft-brush flowers dot the fresh green grass. Your guide straightens and shows you what she's found: cumin seeds, wild in the mountains. Red clover found by the path.
Near the church, a small wooden box swings open to reveal pay-as-you-go schnapps. And nearer the mountain peak, a brightly painted door swings open to show nothing but bright, brilliant air.
This is summer in Lech, Austria. And while earnest hikers strike out at first dawn to tackle the Green Ring, there is a more leisurely, luxury (lazy?) way of getting beneath its skin.
And that's what I'll show you now.
If you love the outdoors but don't want to spend all your time in boots, I have you covered. Read on, dear friend, read on!
Disclosure: My visit to Lech was courtesy of a paid project with Captivate and the Official Tourism Portal of Vorarlberg. It formed part of a larger project to discover the different flavours of Austria. Check out the #TasteofAustria hashtag! However, as ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Otherwise, what's the point?!
Veronika Walch runs herbal walking tours from the heat of Lech into the mountains and across to her workshop where she also runs cooking classes.
Walks typically start by the bubbling, gushing river in town and while Austrians may not consider it to be a hike, you'll be walking for 3 -4 hours at a gentle, steady pace. So bring comfy shoes!
If hiking really isn't for you, be fortified by the schnapps honesty box half way along and take shade from the sun in the forest. There, tall pines snuggle in together and waterfalls skip over stones.
There's also the chance to revitalise with tea, made by Veronika herself from herbs she gathered, dried and pressed 3 -4 days earlier.
It's fascinating to see what you can find on the mountain, even close to the town. Cumin. Red clover. Wild thyme. Meadow sage. Hogweed.
It's just as fascinating, if not more so, to see the contraptions and gadgets that line Veronika's workshop. Part science experiment, part eco retreat (even the toilet paper holder is made of wood) a morning spent hiking and an afternoon recharging is bliss.
If you haven't caught the John le Carre adaptation The Night Manager, starring Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Coleman, you really should. Don't read another word! Skip away from the blog and off to Netflix or wherever!
That thought aside, the Hotel Aurelio doesn't feature in the series. But it should. Oozing opulence, luxury and service second to none, entire ski-in ski-out suites are available here that could double as a glossy museum exhibit.
The restaurant, aptly named Aurelio's Restaurant, serves meat from local farmers, fresh water fish and other high quality local produce. Classics include veal goulash and schnitzel, but you'll also find burgers on the menu.
Insider tip: leave time to sip an aperitivo in the lounge. A lovely way to spend an evening.
Recommended reading: Graz Restaurants to Fall in Love With, Austria
One thing soon becomes clear in Lech. People know each other very well. And have a calm, relaxed approach to life. There must be something in all that mountain air...
An example involves the family who own and run the Backstube Lech and the Cafe Gotthard in town. They supply Lech bread to almost every hotel in town yet are happy to show people behind the scenes.
Just because we were press? Nope. Anyone who gets in touch beforehand is invited to glimpse behind the powdery doors.
And, of course, anyone can sit in the cafe with coffee and ice cream, watching clouds slide over mountain peaks on the horizon.
Recommended reading: How to Explore 100km of Cheese and Feel Good About It in Austria
Insider tip: try the round Lech bread with a giraffe-patterned top. It's sourdough bread with rye.
One of the best things to do in Lech in the summer is to soar up to her peaks. And relish the simplicity of getting in a cable car without wearing ski gear!
Gondolas leave from the centre of town and the one to the Rüfikopf has the added advantage of an art exhibition at the top, right at 2350 metres with a panoramic view. If you're feeling more active, the first part of the Green Ring starts here too.
For a shorter trip, It's an easy walk (fifteen minutes or so) to the ridiculously beautiful Monzabonsee mountain lake. Along the way, look out for a curious collection of doors that open into... thin air and panoramic views.
Note: the art exhibits change every few seasons so check in town before you head up if you have your heart set on something.
The Lech Card: Putting it All Together
The Lech card costs 22-35 euros depending on the duration of your stay. The card gives access to hikes, pools, museums and cable cars and allows you to use the blue village bus. It's free for children under 14. You can purchase the Lech card from the Lech Zurs tourist office or potentially your hotel.
In summer, the local dairy at Kriegeralpe makes its own alpine cream cheese. Unfortunately, bad weather intervened when we were there. So do please check it out and let me know how it was!
Recommended reading: Buschenschank Steiermark: A Beautiful Austrian Tradition
The closest airports to Lech are Altenrhein, Innsbruck and Friedrichshafen. However, a popular routes involves the international airport in Zurich. To drive from Zurich to Lech takes about 2 and a half hours or 3-4 hours by train.
The nearest railway station to Lech is Langen am Arlberg. From Alternhein it takes about 1 hour and 25 minutes, from Innsbruck it takes about 1 hour and 35 minutes and from Frierichshafen it takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
If flying internationally from Zurich, it takes about 2 hours and 10 minutes. The Alrberg Express is a bus you can take to Lech during the winter season that runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For more information on the bus you can call +43 (0) 5582 226 or e-mail: [email protected] There are also Austrian, German and Swiss railways available and the links for times are:
Of course, one main way is to hike. That is a part of what the mountains are for! Alternatively, free shuttles run to and from most hotels or else visitors can use taxis or rental cars or the blue village bus to connect to local villages. The centre of Lech is small (and beautiful!) so it's easy to walk around, even for less enthusiastic hikers.
Hotel Filomena is a centrally located, friendly, cosy and affordable place to stay. Hotel Aurelio exudes Alpine glamour and is also within walking distance of the centre, albeit a little further up the hill.
Beautiful hiking routes with flavour galore, including behind the scenes. Scenic, dramatic art installations on the mountain peak.
In short, "a door to pure nature."
Recommended reading: The Best Places to Visit in Austria
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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