Molly and Alex were our first visitors of the year and stayed with us for nine days at the end of March! We knew that they would be great companions for an all-day hike in the mountains so we began planning a short getaway to the Alps.
The morning after they arrived we packed-up the car and headed south for what was expected to be a spring-like weekend in the Montafon valley of Austria. It was Molly and Alex’s first visit to the Alps, and our first to the Vorarlberg.
This corner of Austria shares a border with Germany, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein and is a popular area for skiing and winter activities. We stayed in Bartholomäberg, a mountainside village that overlooks the small city of Schruns in the valley. The hills of Bartholomaeberg are grassy pastureland that are home to residences and several small farms. Higher there are wooded hiking trails with rocky terrain near the top. It had several options for Winterwandern ‘winter hiking’ (snowshoe trails and groomed winter hiking paths) which made it the perfect base for the next few days.
We were there during the last week of March, a quiet time to visit. Some of the Alpine Huttes and Gastofs that serve as hiking destinations were closed for a week of ‘spring break’ before re-opening for the summer tourism season. We were in search of a traditional Austrian house to stay in and found a cozy two-bedroom apartment in the lower level of a country home. The family operates a small farm with cows and small animals. They gave us a genuine welcome and shared that we were their first visitors from the USA! It was an extra treat when Sabine baked us the most amazing loaf of spelt bread on our last night.
Hiking Day 1: Wannaköpfle
The next morning we packed lunches and set off early for a day-long hike. We began from the town center of Bartholomaeberg (1087 m) and reached the peak at Wannaköpfle (2031m) a few hours later. The valley was clear of snow so we decided on a snowshoe trail that would take us through the most scenic hiking areas.
There was snow sooner than we expected!! We alternated taking the lead to forge a path for our not-so-waterproof hiking boots. The snow was losing it’s density from the morning thaw and the unpredictable depth created a number of humorous challenges and surprises! The winter trails stopped with the peak in sight, so we finished our climb through unchartered snowbanks.
We were the first ‘spring’ hikers to Wannaköpfle!
Really, our “hike” was a lot of climbing through snow drifts and the tripping, falling, and laughing that goes with it — or Molly helping me rescue my foot from a deep snow well. (Snow shoes should have been essential at this point!) Thanks to the thaw we were able to walk on gravel part of the way which was a nice break for our damp feet.
(Below) Halfway there— Time for a rest and a snack.
Our destination! We found some mossy rocks where the snow had melted and made it our seat for lunch and munched while we took in the surroundings.
It was one of the mildest days of the month, and though we were surrounded by snow, the midday sun made the mountain perch a warm oasis. It was sunny, breezy, and nearly 60°F. We snapped photos and watched paragliders float over the valley. It was a memorable moment for all of us — the views were completely worth the climb!
Hiking (+ Beers) Day 2
The next day, we all slept in. With sore legs and sopping wet boots, we opted for an easier ascent by taking the St. Gallenkirch Valiserabahn (a ski gondola) to another scenic Winterwandern path. We were now on the other side of the valley in a ski area. The path turned out to be less than 1km of hiking so we decided to spend the afternoon drinking beer at the Alpine Huttes!
We met a lively German man who took our group photo and recalled his trip to California as a young man in the 1970’s. When he was there he bought a Mercury convertible to drive along the coast. He laughed at his impulse because he had no idea how he would ship his new car back to Germany, but it all worked out and the week prior he had been cruising from his home near Lake Constance through the Alps! 🙂
Afterwards we rented Rodel, the traditional wooden Austrian toboggan. One winter attraction of the Montafon is a place that offers NachtRodeln a few evenings during the week, where you buy an inexpensive chairlift pass and ride to the top of a 5km toboggan run. We rented our Rodel on site where the tradition is to drink a shot of Schnapps before you set out. You can watch a few clips of the action in Molly’s video below!
Relaxing in Bartholomaeberg
Our accommodations were in a serene, quiet part of Bartholomaeberg. The village is referred to as the sun balcony of Montafon because of its southern exposure. The location had nice panorama views of the valley and we could have happily camped out there for the rest of the week! For Derek and I, it was our last visit to the Alps for the foreseeable future which made it all the more special. We were happy that we were able to share this memorable time with family.
After our trip to the Alps, we spent the next few days in Würzburg with Molly and Alex. They are a ton of fun and we loved having them as visitors!!
(Above) Photos by the wonderfully talented– Molly and Alex