Bregenz to Feldkirche

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Bregenz to Feldkirche

Vorarlberg Province  Once over the Austrian border, we're in Austria's westernmost province, tiny Vorarlberg. The name means: "Before the Arlberg" (Alps), which is exactly where it is.

Bregenz  This is the capital of Vorarlberg. Its scenic location on the Bodensee brings tourists and vacationers every year. The lake washes up against the foothills of the Austrian Alps, and Bregenz is situated on a narrow strip of land between the two.

Rhine River Basin  The road we're on after Bregenz takes us across fairly flat land, a reminder that this is the Rhine River Basin. Off to the west, some 3 or 4 miles, is the Rhine itself. Here, we're near the source of this important waterway, which starts out at the Bodensee (Lake Constance), flows west through Switzerland, turns north at Basel, and continues flowing north as it forms the border between France and Germany. Then it angles west, flows through Holland, and reaches the North Sea at the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

Bregenzerwald  This "Forest of Bregenz" is visible to the left: heavily wooded mountains rising up from the Rhine Basin. This is a popular vacation spot, especially for hiking, picnicking, and for those interested in seeing the traditional way of life that still goes on in its remote villages. These isolated mountains and towns of Austria and Germany preserve what little is left of "yesterday's Europe", simply because they're cut off from the more metropolitan areas. The women still wear their head-dresses to church, the men walk with their knotty canes, and old-fashioned crafts like wood carving and painted housefronts continue.

Dornbirn  With a population of 30,000, this town is the economic center of the Vorarlberg province, and its largest in size. The town's pride is the fact that it has kept its neat, mountain-town look in spite of all the industry. Its annual textile fair is one of the most important in Central Europe.

The road continues to skirt the base of the mountains, the Rhine Basin still to the west. Hohenems, Gotzis, and Klaus are little hamlets you go through, still traveling parallel to the Rhine River. Look for the pear trees, clustered in orchards, which grow on the wide plain. This part of Vorarlberg is known as "Paradise" because of its mild landscape — the broad plain, and above all the greenness of vegetation which makes the area resemble the English countryside. How different from the rocky mountains off to our left!

Rankweil  The most famous feature of this town is a pilgrims' church, the Burgkirche (Castle Church), which stands above the castle. The castle belonged to the Counts of Montfort in the 14th century. Beginning at that time, the church was gradually built, perched high up on a steep rock. It is valuable as an example of medieval architecture, as well as a historic shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary that used to draw pilgrims by the hundreds. The pilgrims felt especially virtuous for having braved the steep paths to reach the church: no one willing to make that trek could be wicked!

Feldkirche  This is one of the major towns of the Vorarlberg province. Since the Middle Ages, the town has been a center of learning, boasting a famous Latin school. Law and law instruction was the major subject, including diplomacy and political administration. The Jesuits ran the school, and the administrators it turned out went on to manage the civil service of several European countries.

The road will take us down the street called Hirschgraben (Stags' Ditch), one of the oldest. Look here for traces of the old town walls, including the Katzenturm (Cats' Tower—on your left), so-called because of the lions' heads on its canons. Look for the tiny square next to this tower, and for the lovely 17th-century houses leading off from it.

Towering above the town is the Schattenburg Castle, built by the nobles who controlled this part of the Alps in the late Middle Ages.


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