Innsbruck to Feldkirche

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Innsbruck to Feldkirche

This forms the Austrian half of the route from Innsbruck to Lucerne. It passes through two Austrian Alpine provinces, the Tirol and the Vorarlberg. You follow the Inn valley as far as Landeck, then climb to St. Anton on the edge of the Vorarlberg. In spite of being motorway, it is a very scenic drive. If you wish to travel over the Arlbergpass (and it's really worth it for the views) rather than take the tunnel, add a good 30 minutes to your journey time. Leave fairly early if you want to have some time free in Liechtenstein as well. Innsbruck to Feldkirch is about 95 miles; Feldkirche to Lucerne about 110 miles.

Between Innsbruck and Landeck there is little of overwhelming historical interest. To the north are the limestone mountains of the Nordkette; to the south the High Alps with two famous valleys, the Stubaital and the Otztal. The High Alps are full of glaciers (many offering year-round skiing) and, as you would expect, the highest mountains in Austria (the Wildspitze 12,382 feet). The valley is fairly wide and the mountains distant.

Stams Abbey (15 miles) above the road to the left. The largest abbey in the Tirol, easily recognized by its baroque onion dome towers. The monks are Cistercians.

Landeck (45 miles) the gateway to the Arlberg Alps. The castle and the smaller fortresses perched on peaks around the town announce an important strategic site. Here you leave the Inn valley to push west across the mountains.

After Landeck, you follow the beautiful valley of the Rosanna, the Stanzertal, gradually rising towards the pass. The mountains now to the immediate left and right reach over 10,000 feet. Before you reach St. Anton the relatively new Arlberg-Strassentunnel (completed in 1978) begins, going under the pass for 8.5 miles to emerge in the Klostertal in the province of Vorarlberg. If you are short of time, take this route. If not, you should take the pass. The views it offers are stupendous.

St. Anton (59 miles) the skiing center of the Arlberg and one of the major ski resorts of the whole Alpine chain. It has 11 cableways and 66 ski-lifts, more than anywhere else in Austria. Some of the runs are as high as 8,500 feet. This is the place where modern serious skiing techniques, in the form of the so-called "Arlberg method," were born. The man who invented this methods was a local called Hannes Schneider, the real pioneer of Alpine skiing.

St. Christoph further up the mountain, a sort of annex to St. Anton. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. Just beyond is the crest of the pass, at an altitude of 5,882 feet. As you descend you can see thick concrete walls protecting against the threat of avalanches.

This is now the province of Vorarlberg, the "Ländl" or little province, smallest and most westerly province of Austria (1,000 square miles). It has about 330,000 inhabitants. There are three main towns: Bregenz the capital on Lake Constance, Feldkirch and Bludenz ahead of you now. The Vorarlberg is the gateway to Switzerland. In fact in many ways it is more Swiss than Austrian. The local dialect is a version of "Schwyzer-Dütsch" which has nothing to do with other Austrian dialects. The main product of the region is chocolate. (The biggest employer here is the textile industry.) In 1918, in the reorganisation of Europe after WW I, the Vorarlbergers voted to join the Swiss Confederation but were prevented by the Allied powers and they remain within the Austrian fold.

In the Middle Ages, the guardians of the pass were the Hospitaller Knights of St. John whose job it was to look after cold and weary travelers. Their place of refuge and shelter was at Klosterle at the foot of the pass. The name of this valley is Klostertal, "Monastery Valley."

Bludenz lies at the end of the Klostertal. You pass slightly to the right of town but if you are lucky you might be able to smell the local specialties. Suchard and Milka chocolates are both made here.

Feldkirche (95 miles) is the last town in Austria. It's an old medieval town, dominated by the C12 Schattenburg castle. Beyond it is the Rhine, Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein.

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