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Vorarlberg (German pronunciation: [ˈfoːɐ̯ʔarlbɛrk]) is the westernmost federal state (Bundesland) of Austria. It has the second-smallest area after Vienna, and although it has the second-smallest population, it also has the second-highest population density (also after Vienna). It borders three countries: Germany (Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg via Lake Constance), Switzerland (Grisons and St. Gallen), and Liechtenstein. The only Austrian state that shares a border with Vorarlberg is Tyrol to the east.

The capital of Vorarlberg is Bregenz (29,806 inhabitants), although Dornbirn (49,278 inhabitants) and Feldkirch (33,420 inhabitants) have larger populations.[2] Vorarlberg is also the only state in Austria where the local dialect is not Austro-Bavarian, but rather an Alemannic dialect; it therefore has much more in common culturally with (historically) Alemannic-speaking German-speaking Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Swabia, and Alsace than with the rest of Austria, southeastern Bavaria, and South Tyrol.

Vorarlberg is almost completely mountainous and has been nicknamed the ‘Ländle’ meaning ‘small land’.


The main rivers in Vorarlberg are the Ill (running through the Montafon and Walgau valleys into the Rhine), the Rhine (forming the border with Switzerland), the Bregenzer Ache and the Dornbirner Ach. One of the shortest rivers is the Galina. Important lakes, apart from Lake Constance are Lüner Lake, Silvretta Lake, Vermunt Lake, Spuller Lake, the Kops Basin and Formarin Lake; the first four were created for the production of hydroelectric energy. However, even before the dam for the power plant was built, Lüner Lake was the largest mountain lake in the Alps. Most of this hydroelectric energy is exported to Germany at peak times. At night, energy from power plants in Germany is used to pump water back into some of the lakes.

As there are several notable mountain ranges in Vorarlberg, such as the Silvretta, the Rätikon, the Verwall and the Arlberg, there are many well-known skiing regions (Kleinwalsertal, Arlberg, Montafon, Bregenzerwald) and ski resorts (Lech, Zürs, Schruns, Warth, Damüls, Brand, Kleinwalsertal and many more).

Lech is an exclusive ski resort on the banks of the river Lech. In recent years Lech has grown to become one of the world's premier ski destinations and the home of a number of world and Olympic ski champions. With some other neighbouring villages Lech created the largest connected ski area in Austria and one of the largest in Europe. Together these villages form the Arlberg region, the birthplace of the modern Alpine skiing technique and the seat of the Ski Club Arlberg. Lech is a popular holiday destination for Royal families and celebrities, for example Jason Biggs, Tom Cruise, Diana - Princess of Wales, and the former Queen Beatrix and the Dutch Royal family.

Damüls is also recognized as the municipality with the most annual snowfall worldwide: on average 9.30 metres (30.5 ft). The highest mountain is Piz Buin, whose rocky peak of 3,312 m (10,866 ft) is surrounded by glaciers. Vorarlberg is supposed to enjoy the greatest scenic diversity within limited confines in the entire Eastern Alps; it adjoins the Western Alps. The distance from Lake Constance and the plains of the Alpine Rhine valley across the medium altitude and high Alpine zones to the glaciers of the Silvretta range is a mere 90 km (56 mi).

Vorarlberg is divided into four large districts, from north to south: Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch and Bludenz. These districts appear on the automobile license plates in form of abbreviations: B, DO, FK and BZ.

The Großes Walsertal Biosphere Reserve covers 19 200 ha, 3400 inhabitants and around 180 farms (40% of which are organic). The reserve strives for a sustainable economy and tourism in the region and provides a platform for discussion about society, politics and science. The Biosphere Reserve Großes Walsertal has been a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 2000. Biosphere reserves are the ecological counterpart of the cultural world heritage sites.[3]


The population of Vorarlberg is 395,012 (as of December 31, 2018).[4] The majority (86%) of residents are of Austrian-Germanic stock with a cultural connection with Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west and Germany to the north. A sizable proportion of the population's ancestors came from the Swiss canton of Valais in migrations of "Walsers", including the Swiss French in the 19th century by invitation during the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There has been a sizable minority of Turkish descent since the 1960s.


78% of the population are Roman Catholic, which puts Vorarlberg in line with the national Austrian average of 73.6%. The second-largest denomination, with a share of 8.4%, is Islam, mostly Turks. 7,817 (or 2.2%) of Vorarlberg's inhabitants are Protestants.


For several years, the Vorarlberg economy has been performing well above the Austrian average. While the overall Austrian GDP in 2004 rose by 2.0% in real terms, Vorarlberg recorded an increase of 2.9%. This came as a surprise, particularly as the major trading partners in Germany and Italy did not fare well. Owing to this robust economic performance, Vorarlberg was able to boost its gross regional product in 2014 to 15.2 billion euros according to the Economic Policy Department of the Vorarlberg Chamber of Trade. This translates into a nominal increase of 3.4% (cf Austria as a whole +5.2%).[5] The regional product per inhabitant in Vorarlberg is 41,000 EUR, exceeding the Austrian national average by 8%. Vorarlberg and especially the Rhine Valley is one of the wealthiest areas in the world, with a very high standard of living. By far the biggest company in Vorarlberg is Alpla (plastic packaging), followed by Blum, Grass, Gebrüder Weiss (transport and logistics), Zumtobel Group (lighting systems), Doppelmayr (cablecars), Rauch (beverages) and Wolford (textiles).

Currently, five breweries are located in Vorarlberg: Mohrenbrauerei August Huber (in Dornbirn, since 1834)[6], Brauerei Fohrenburg (in Bludenz, since 1881), Brauerei Egg (in Egg, since 1894), Vorarlberger Brauereigenosschenschaft - Brauerei Frastanz (in Frastanz, since 1902), Grabhers Sudwerk (in Bregenz, since 2017).

Overall, the economic expansion of Vorarlberg is "very positive and for the future rated more dynamic than for the other federal states".[7]

In addition to the flourishing textile, clothing, electronics, machinery and packing materials industries of the Alpine Rhine Valley, there is also a broad agricultural base, especially in the Bregenz Forest (Bregenzerwald), which is noted for its dairy products (especially due to the "KäseStrasse Bregenzerwald",[8] an association of farmers, restaurateurs, craftspeople and traders promoting the Bregenz Forest agriculture and its local products) and tourism.

Another important economical and cultural factor is the three-level agricultural structure of the mountain-regions in Vorarlberg. It is also known as Alpine transhumance and describes a seasonal droving of grazing livestock between the valleys in winter and the high mountain pastures in summer. Many cultural habits like Yodel, Alphorn or Schwingen were developed during this time. This seasonal nomadism led to the rich culture, architecture and love for nature found in Vorarlberg. A significant cultural icon unique to this area is the festive movement of cattle, from the pastures to the villages. This tradition is popular with tourists.

The energy sector is one of the founders of Vorarlberg's economy, in which hydropower is the most important source of energy. This is mainly used for the production of peak current. Vorarlberg was the first region in Europe where more sustainable energy was produced than consumed. Green electricity from Vorarlberg is therefore also sold to the German Westallgäu, to Switzerland and to other Austrian provinces. The largest electricity producer in Vorarlberg is Illwerke AG. They produce 75% of the electricity in Vorarlberg, mainly by hydropower.[9]


Owing to their location isolated from the rest of Austria, most people in Vorarlberg speak a very distinct German dialect that other Austrians might have difficulty understanding, since the dialects in the rest of Austria form part of the Bavarian-Austrian language group, whereas the Vorarlberg dialect is part of the Alemannic dialect continuum. Alemannic dialects are also spoken in Liechtenstein, Switzerland (as Swiss German), Baden-Württemberg, the south west of Bavaria and the Alsace region of France. The Vorarlberg dialect is further divided into a number of regional sub-dialects (e.g. that of the Montafon, the Bregenz Forest and Lustenau are some of the most distinct) which tend to differ considerably from each other. In fact even within these regions the dialects may vary from one town or village to the next.

Traditional costumes ("Tracht") have a long history in Vorarlberg. Many valleys and villages have their own kind of garb, each with special characteristics from certain style periods. The Bregenzerwälder garb is the oldest, it originated in the 15/16th century and is also called "d'Juppô" (Bavarian: "Juppe"). The Montafon garb is inspired by the baroque era. A whole set of Tracht consists of several elements: the "Juppe" (the apron), a headgear (caps, hats), a blouse, a "Tschopa" (jacket), and stockings. The hairstyle (for example braided hair) can also be part of the Tracht.

In the 1970s, very few Vorarlbergers wore Tracht. The reason for this was strict regulations with regard to the people wearing Tracht. For example, Bregenzerwälder ladies with short hair ought not to wear Tracht, because their hair was too short for the suitable hair style ("Wälderzöpfe"). It was only when the regulations were loosened and the clothes were individualised in the 1990s that wearing Tracht became more popular. Today, traditional garb is mainly worn on festive occasions. In Riefensberg, Tracht is still traditionally manufactured.[10] There is a "national association for people wearing traditional costume" (Landestrachtenverband) that supports Vorarlberg's Tracht wearing inhabitants and music chapels.[11]

The influence of the Alemannic cuisine of neighbouring countries works more on Vorarlberg cuisine than Austrian cuisine. Cheese and other dairy products play a major role in traditional Vorarlberg meals. Typical dishes from the Vorarlberg region are: Käsespätzle or Käsknöpfle (noodles of flour and eggs with cheese and onion), Riebel (dish of corn and wheat semolina, served spicy or sweet), Flädlesuppe (broth with savoury pancake strips), Grumpara mit Käs (peel pastry with cheese), Öpfelküachle (apples baked in pancake dough, topped with sugar and cinnamon). Mostbröckle (pickled and smoked sausage), originally from Switzerland, is also a very popular product.[12]

  • Bergkäse (literally "mountain cheese"). The texture of the Bergkäse is rather hard, sometimes with small holes or cracks, with a strong taste, which is sometimes nutty. In the strict sense, Bergkäse is a cheese produced in the low mountain range (between 600 and 1500 m). Examples of Vorarlberg's Bergkäse are the Vorarlberger Bergkäse or Großwalsertaler Bergkäse named "Walserstolz".
  • Alpkäse (literally "mountain pasture cheese" or "alp cheese"). Alpkäse is a hard cheese that resembles Bergkäse in taste and texture. The difference between these cheeses lies in the period and place of production. Bergkäse is produced year-round, so even in winter, when the animals are in the stables and fed with hay. Alpkäse is a seasonal product, only produced in the summer between May and September on high mountain meadows above 1500 m (Alpine pastures or alps), where the animals graze Alpine herbs. An example is the Vorarlberger Alpkäse.
  • Sura Kees (literally "sour cheese"). Originally from the Montafon valley, Sura Kees has been known there since the 12th century and resembles the Tyrolean gray cheese. It is a low-fat cheese with a mild aroma reminiscent of cream cheese, its taste varies from mildly spicy to sour, always with a salty undertone. The Sura Kees is usually served with vinegar, oil and onions, or alone on black bread or eaten with potatoes.[13]

The architectural curriculum in Vorarlberg has a strong reputation all over Europe. It has made a label for a demanding architecture of a fruitful confrontation between traditional construction and modern interpretation with the "Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule" (literally: new Vorarlberg building school). The Vorarlberg school evolved organically the second half of the 20th century, always involving craftsmen and locals in the building process. Today, it is regarded as one of the most important pioneers of the New Alpine architecture. With the typical architecture of Vorarlberg still recognizable, it combines tradition and modernity: clean lines, glass and local wood. Its harmonious mix creates interesting contrasts as in half-timbered houses. Comfort and quality of life are important criteria. Currently, many private houses and public buildings are renovated by architects, favoring local timber and limiting energy expenditure.[14] Well-known award-winning architectural projects include the Kunsthaus Bregenz, Vorarlberg museum in Bregenz, Michelehof Hard and Hotel Krone Hittisau.[15]

A modern example for Vorarlberg architecture is located in Dornbirn. From 2010 onwards, Vorarlberg had been investing in research on renewable energy sources and energy-efficient houses in order to achieve self-set climate targets. In 2012, the first modular wooden hybrid complex of eight floors was built: The LifeCycle-Tower ONE (LCT ONE). It is 27 meters high and made of wood and concrete. In this architectural design, load-bearing elements are not covered. The benefits of this innovative project are environmental and energy efficiency, 90% less CO2 emissions, a much shorter construction and industrial production time of the components.[16]

Occupying the Werkraum Bregenzerwald since 2014, the travelling exhibition Getting Things Done demonstrates the quality of Vorarlberg's architecture by means of 230 selected projects. It offers a distinct view of how building culture has evolved from the late 1950s until the present. Organized by the Austrian Cultural Forum network, the exhibition will be show in over 20 locations around the world.[17]

The Vorarlberger Institute for Architecture and the Vorarlberg Tourist Board developed in collaboration architecture trails including village spaces, art & culture, timber & material, old & new, crafts & innovation and nature & landscape. These tours take visitors to both urban and rural regions in order to illustrate architectural variety in Vorarlberg by select examples. These examples are characterized by a functional mix, spatial versatility, formal radicalism, ecological far-sightedness and social integration.[18][19]

With regards to traditional architecture, Vorarlberg is known for many baroque architects. These architects created their own take on the canonical church ground plan, referred to as "Vorarlberger Münsterschema". An important builder's guild was the "Auer Zunft" (Guild of Au), founded in 1657 by Michael Beer. The Auer Zunft trained around 200 baroque architects, stonecutters and carpenters in the 17th and 18th century. The craftsmen of the Auer Zunft created a large number of buildings in Vorarlberg, in Switzerland, in Alsace and in the South German region.[20][21]

The independent architecture of the "Bregenzerwaldhaus", the "Walserhaus" and the "Montafonerhaus" are particularly relevant to historical architecture.[22] Their designs trace back to the 15th century. The traditional materials used for building these houses are stone and wood. They're important features of the mountainous Alpine landscape.[14]

Art Nouveau

The style that dominated in Vorarlberg at the turn of the century is characterised by the "Heimatstil", the southern German variant of Art Nouveau. An example for this style is the Löwenapotheke in the Rathausstrasse in Bregenz by Otto Mallaun. Other notable representatives of Art Nouveau architecture in Vorarlberg are: Ernst Dittrich in Feldkirch (e.g., Feldkirch's Regional Court, State Directorate of Finances) and Hanns Kornberger in Dornbirn (e.g., the mansions "Grabenweg Nr. 8" and "Schulgasse Nr. 17)" and in Hohenems (e.g., the former hospital).[23]

In 2014, the municipality of Krumbach in the Bregenz Forest constructed seven bus stop sthat were designed by international architect offices in partnership with local partner architects and craftsmen. The project goes under the name of BUS:STOP Krumbach. These extraordinary bus stops received special recognition as part of the Austrian National Architecture Awards as well as the National Award for PR.[24]

The Skyspace Lech is a walk-in art installation by James Turrell in Oberlech. A skyspace is an enclosed space which is open to the sky through a large hole in the ceiling. The architectural design puts the colour-changing light at the walls and in the sky during sunrise and sunset into focus.[25]

Vorarlberg provides cultural attractions of all kinds. The Bregenzer Festspiele is the best known festival of the region and poses one of Austria's cultural highlights since 1946. It annually takes place in the months of July and August. With operas and musicals such as Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), West Side Story and Carmen, the Bregenzer Festspiele draws hundreds of thousands of spectators every year. Noteworthy is the Seebühne, an impressive stage in Lake Constance where scenes are played.[26] The Poolbar Festival is a modern music and culture festival in Feldkirch. Being held annually between July and August, it attracts around 20,000 visitors featuring music, exhibitions, poetry slams, fashion and an architectural prize.[27]

The annual Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg is the most important Franz Schubert festival worldwide. A Schubertiade is usually dominated by Franz Schubert or his compositions. It is an informal meeting where casual music is played or recited by friends clubs or musicians, both on a professional and amateur level. The first Schubertiade took place in Hohenems in Vorarlberg in 1976.[28]

The most visited museums in Vorarlberg are the Kunsthaus Bregenz, the vorarlberg museum, inatura (interactive nature adventure show and natural history museum) in Dornbirn and the Jewish Museum of Hohenems. Smaller museums include the Angelika Kauffmann Museum in Schwarzenberg, the Hittisau Women's Museum, the Rolls-Royce Museum and Mohren Biererlebniswelt in Dornbirn, the Egg Museum in Egg and the Juppenwerkstatt Riefensberg (manufacturer of traditional garb), the Felder museum in Schoppernau, the Schattenburg museum and the Heimatmuseum Bezau.[29][30]

The Wälderbähnle or Bregenzerwald Museumsbahn (Bregenz Forest Railway) is a narrow-gauge heritage railway that today links Schwarzenberg to Bezau amidst a picturesque alpine scenery.[31]

For an overview, see List of museums in Vorarlberg.


The tourist industry employs a considerable number of Vorarlbergers. There are around 12,000 employees working in this industry which represent approximately 11% of the total workforce (107,575 in 2015). Arrivals are slightly higher in winter (1.23 million in 2015) than in summer (1.14 million in 2015). The real difference lies in overnight-stays indicating that Vorarlberg is a strong winter destination. Overnight-stays in winter reach as high as 5.11 million which is quite large when compared to the summer season with 3.7 million overnight stays.[32]

The largest (and best-known) touristic regions are:

The greatest tourist attractions are the mountains and the numerous ski resorts. In the cold season, winter sports enthusiasts will find ideal conditions for their favourite sport: skiing, cross country skiing, freeriding, snowboarding, ice skating, sled dog rides, carriage rides, tobogganing, snow and fun parks.[33]

Vorarlberg's largest ski resorts include[34][35]:

The ski resorts Silvretta Montafon and Ski Arlberg (which is partly located in Tyrol) are the two largest ski areas in Vorarlberg. Ski Arlberg is the largest connected ski area in Austria since the season of 2016/17. It offers 305 km of slopes and 111 lifts. It includes Lech, Zürs, Oberlech, Warth, Schröcken, Stuben and the Tyrolean municipalities of St. Anton and St. Christoph.[36]

The places Lech and Zürs are known for their exclusivity and luxury, for which reason many prominent people go to these ski resorts.[37] An example of this is the Dutch royal family which goes on skiing holidays every year and has been staying in the prestigious Gasthof Post for four generations.[38] A famous ski race is Der Weiße Ring ('The White Ring') where skiers race from Lech to Zürs. The 22 km long route is named after its ring-shaped track and the snowy conditions in this region. It is considered to be particularly difficult.[39]

The Ski Ride Vorarlberg is a combination of skiing, touring and freeriding while crossing Vorarlberg. The route starts in the Kleinwalsertal in the north, continues through the Bregenzerwald, over the Arlberg and the Klostertal to the Montafon valley in the south. The guided tour usually takes up to 7 days and is intended for experienced skiers.[40][41]

Damüls-Mellau is a notable ski area in terms of reliable snow conditions. In 2007, Damüls was named 'snowiest village in the world'.[42] During the measuring period, the average snow height per winter season was approximately 9.30 m.[43]

Skiers from these regions include Anita Wachter, Egon Zimmermann, Gerhard Nenning, Mario Reiter, Hubert Strolz, and Hannes Schneider, as well as the ski-jumper Toni Innauer.[44]

In the summer, mountain sports like hiking, mountain biking, climbing and trail-running play a big role in Vorarlberg's tourism. In total, Vorarlberg has more than 5,500 kilometers of hiking trails in different heights for both experienced and inexperienced walkers. Many ski areas operate cable cars throughout summer which makes them ideal for mountaineers.[45]

All over Vorarlberg, theme hikes are being offered, e.g., culinary hikes, herbal walks, educational hikes for children, and night walks. The theme route "Gauertaler AlpkulTour", which extends through the cultural landscape of the Montafon in the Rätikon mountains, is a popular walking route among tourists. Lake Constance is a pivot for hikers, pilgrims, fishers and bird watchers. For a long time, it has served as a reference point for important pilgrims' paths, including the Lake Constance walking path, parts of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and the European hiking routes E1, E4 and E5.[46][47]

Offering some 1,500 kilometers of marked mountain bike trails, Vorarlberg attracts cyclists of all skill levels. Guided mountain bike tours are held in the Brandnertal and Klostertal. The Bregenzerwald bike school offers all kinds of bike-related activities including bike camps, technique courses and racing bike tours.[48]


The Hypo-Meeting is an athlectics competition which is held annually in May/June in the Mösle stadium in Götzis. It is organised by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and sponsored by the Hypo Vorarlberg Bank, thus its name. The first Hypo-Meetings have been organised as contests for men starting in 1975. The women's contests have been added in 1981.[49]

Since 2012/13, the Montafon valley is venue of the FIS Snowboard World Cup. The Montafon World Cup takes place annually in December. The races are held in the Silvretta Montafon ski area, starting a little below the Hochjoch summit and finishing near the cable car's mountain station. The difference in altitude between start and finish is around 200m. During the World Cup, visitors can watch the snowboarders and skiers during the day time and enjoy concerts in Schruns in the night time.[50][51]

In 2007, Dornbirn hosted the World Gymnaestrada event, in which about 21,000 gymnasts from 56 federations participated. Dornbirn hosted the event again in 2019. Over 60 nations signed up for it.[52]


Currently, the Vorarlberg University of Applied Sciences (German: Fachhochschule Vorarlberg) in Dornbirn is the only higher education institution in Vorarlberg. Originally founded as technical school in 1989, it achieved status of an officially recognized university in 1999. It offers Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Business, Engineering & Technology, Design and Social Work. About 1350 students have enrolled for the term 2018/19.[53] The Fachhochschule Vorarlberg is considered one of Austria's best applied universities in the field of technology.[54]


Before the Romans conquered Vorarlberg, there were two Celtic tribes settled in this area: the Raeti in the highlands, and the Vindelici in the lowlands, i.e. the Lake Constance region and the Rhine Valley. One of the important settlements of the Vindelici was Brigantion (modern Bregenz), founded around 500 BC. The first settlements in and around Bregenz date from 1500 BC. A Celtic tribe named "Brigantii" is mentioned by Strabo as a sub-tribe in these region of the Alps.[55] The area of Vorarlberg was conquered by the Romans in 15 BC and it became part of the Roman province of Raetia. It was later conquered by Allemanic tribes in c. 450 AD.

It then fell under the rule of the Bavarians and was subsequently settled by the Bavarians and the Lombards. It later fell under the rule of the Counts of Bregenz until 1160 and then to the Counts of Montfort until 1525, when the Habsburgs took control.[44]

The historically-Germanic province, which was a gathering-together of former bishoprics, was still ruled in part by a few semi-autonomous counts and surviving prince-bishops until the start of World War I. Vorarlberg was a part of Further Austria, and parts of the area were ruled by the Counts Montfort of Vorarlberg.

Following World War I there was a desire by many in Vorarlberg to join Switzerland.[56] In a referendum held in Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919, over 80% of those voting supported a proposal for the state to join the Swiss Confederation. However this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian government, the Allies, Swiss liberals, the Swiss-Italians and the Swiss-French.[44][57]

Following the Second World War Vorarlberg found itself occupied by French troops from 1945 to 1955, along with most of the federal state of Tyrol.

Notable people

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