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If you fancy a long weekend vacation in Austria, you cannot go wrong with a combination of Mellau and Feldkirch in Vorarlberg, Austria.
The cute Alpine village of Mellau enclosed by hills and mountains will provide all the peace and quiet you may need, while vibrant Feldkirch will amaze you with its architecture and picturesqueness.
In both places, you can expect high-end Austrian cuisine, as well as friendly locals and all the proper infrastructure.
I explored the area on a sponsored trip with the local tourism board as part of the Propel Conference.
Feldkirch and Mellau are best combined into a long weekend getaway, ideally of at least four days. Based on your preferences and travel style, you can combine them in the following ways:
Keen hiker? ➡️ Choose Mellau as your base and make a day trip to Feldkirch.
Into small towns, history, and cute cafés? ➡️ Do it the other way round – stay in Feldkirch and leave a day to discover Mellau and its surroundings.
By the way, this guide applies to spring, summer, and autumn. While there are some amazing slopes and other winter activities in the area, especially Mellau, I have zero experience and can’t report on it.
Both Mellau and Feldkirch are located in the Vorarlberg Province in Austria. It’s the country’s westernmost province near the border with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany.
So, what is so special about the two places? Let’s start with Feldkirch:
Feldkirch is a small Austrian town like no other. It’s Austria’s westernmost town and it takes only 3 minutes to drive to Lichtenstein from there.
There’s a lot more to it:
Perfect Maze of an Old Town
The medieval town is remarkably preserved. It’s a pure joy to get lost in the winding alleys of Feldkirch’s Old Town charmingly tiled with cobblestones.
Feldkirch was founded in the 1200s when its castle was constructed and had a city wall built around it until the 19th century. You can still observe some of its remnants. E.g. a cute chubby Cats Tower (Katzenturm) currently serves as a bell tower and sounds its large bell for as long as three minutes on Fridays, weekends, and special occasions.
The town used to have five gates, of which two have remained. To the Swiss side, it’s the photogenic Salt Gate, right next to which you can admire the Gothic Church of Our Lady from the 15th century. On the other side, it’s the Mill or Swine Gate.
Market Square is where you’ll find most of the action. It’s been the town’s heart and soul since the 13th century! Every Tuesday and Saturday morning a lively market takes place there.
You can easily notice that Feldkirch was a rich town. Thanks to its strategic position on a trade route, it benefitted from trade travelers passing through and paying taxes on their goods.
There are a few unique things about Feldkirch:
First of all, there are many charming fountains. I’ve spotted at least five. Wedged into building walls or standing alone, they often serve as ideal bathtubs for local pigeons.
Second, you can find a passage named after James Joyce!
The town practically enabled Joyce to write his novel, Ulysses. During WW1, the Irish writer traveled through Feldkirch and was nearly arrested at the train station. Later, when visiting Feldkirch, Joyce himself claimed “Over there, on those tracks the fate of ‘Ulysses’ was decided in 1915”.
Similarly, there is Arthur Conan Doyle Alley named after the famous author of Sherlock Holmes, who went to a grammar school in Feldkirch and also published his first literary works there.
You don’t have to wander the streets of Feldkirch on your own – hiring a guide is easy. Ask at the info center at the Montforthaus for Countess Mechthild (or her partner Count Hugo von Montfort) who’ll guide you through the city in costume and will bring to life the stories of Feldkirch’s rich history. At the end of the tour, you can try your hand at crossbow shooting.
Feldkirch is full of architectural wonders. You’ll see the unique-looking buildings all around you when you navigate the small streets of the Old Town. Step e.g. into Schmiedgasse and Schlossergasse to see what I’m talking about.
At the end of Schmiedgasse, you’ll come across the Late Gothic Cathedral of St. Nikolaus built in the 15th century. Feldkirch’s original City Hall was constructed at the same time, but it burned down and had to be rebuilt from scratch in the 1800s. The current version didn’t hold back on the number of coats of arms adorning its facade.
The many enchanting merchant houses confirm Feldkirch’s prestige back in the day. Most facades come from the 19th century.
Modern architecture should not be discounted when in Feldkirch. Take the Montforthaus as an example. The structure is sure to amaze you the minute you see it.
The curvy design made up of glass and wood beautifully matches the older buildings nearby. No wonder it has won a few architecture awards, most notably the Austrian State Prize for Architecture and Sustainability. Currently, it serves as an event and conference venue, and even houses the local tourism info center.
Cafés and Restaurants
The highest concentration of cafés, bars, and restaurants can be found at the Market Square. Especially in warm summer months, it’s wonderful to sit outside and watch the small-town buzz.
I haven’t tried too many eateries in Feldkirch, but Rio Restaurant still stands out. You can look forward to a culinary experience featuring local and Italian cuisine including pizza. Rio works as a bar too and, you won’t see this coming, as a movie theater!
Locals recommend also the restaurant Magma, which is of an international flair, complete with vegan options. It’s supposed to be a wonderful breakfast place, too.
And, if you like dining with a view, head to the top of the Montforthaus – the terrace will give you a birds-eye perspective of the town while enjoying a great meal or sipping a drink of your choice.
The picturesque castle can be found on a hill right above Montforthaus. Its name means “Shadow Castle” in English.
While it was built as a protective castle and served as a residence and a workplace of the local rulers, the Counts of Montfort, it changed its purpose with time passing.
Since the last Count of Montfort didn’t have an heir, he sold the whole county to the Habsburgs in 1375. Then, the castle was used as an office and later as barracks, a house for the poor, and even a prison.
Nowadays, you can visit the Schattenburg Museum located in the castle, as well as a restaurant called Schlosswirtschaft.
There’s even a small vineyard by the castle.
Setting in Nature
Strolling along the river Ill is one of the most pleasant things to do in Feldkirch. How lucky the people are who get to live there!
Moreover, the whole Southeast of Feldkirch is enclosed in nature. There, you’ll find the beautifully green Reichenfeld Quarter and a Wildlife park with 23 species of local animals.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to explore Feldkirch’s greenery and will have to leave it for another trip.
If you’d like to spend the night (or four) in Feldkirch, the hotels below combine a great location and a high rating. Click each to find out the price on Booking.com:
Getting to Feldkirch
Feldkirch lies on the railway and is well connected to Vienna (Austria) and Zürich (Switzerland).
Moving on to Mellau, Austria, we’ll have to slow down. That’s just how life goes in this Alpine village and it’s how it’s ought to be. You as a visitor should go there purely for the reason to relax and take in the beauty of Austrian mountains.
Lovely little Mellau has only about 1,300 inhabitants. A church with a long pointy tower is located at its heart, just like you’d expect in this corner of the world.
There, fountains are made for people to admire and for cows to drink from. And vice versa.
So what’s so special about Mellau?
Wonderful Greenery of Mellau and Mellental Nature Reserve
The Kanisfluh Mountain with its 2,044 meters is the highest of the peaks surrounding Mellau. Wherever in the village you find yourself, it’ll always be watchfully towering above.
You can ascend from the valley with the help of a cable car – Mellaubahn. In the season (June – October), it’s operational every day and the upper station even features two restaurants.
Hiking trails run to all sides from the upper station of the Mellaubahn called Roßstelle. One of the marked paths takes you all the way to the top of the Kanisfluh mountain – the whole hike should take 3.5 – 4 hours.
If you prefer biking to hiking, you can enjoy a network of well-maintained mountain bike paths.
But even a simple ride up in the cable car will already offer magnificent views. Stay at the top as long as you can, admiring the views of Mellau and the peaceful Alpine meadows.
One tip – if you cannot see the top of the cable car from the valley because of clouds, don’t bother going up, you’ll see nothing! I got my lesson and had to try again on another day.
If you stay at a hotel in the Bregenzerwald area for at least three nights, a guest card is included in your stay – it covers public transport and even cable car rides.
You may come across cows in the lower altitudes and mountain goats in the higher ones. They’re a special breed called the Alpine ibex.
Another direction to explore is on the other side of the main road Bregenzerwaldstrasse. Walk along the river Bregenzerach, pass by the carpet factory called Teppich Lotteraner Wüstner and soon you’ll see a waterfall! I didn’t manage to get close enough, but it looks majestic even from afar. The walk takes about 45 minutes.
Nature is at your fingertips in Mellau. I had time to explore only the bare minimum. But I sincerely wish I’ll be able to return and enjoy the green Alpine paradise some more.
Architecture in Mellau and Bregenzerwald
Even Mellau, a little mountain village, boasts some amazing works of architecture. The typical Alpine character is kept in the village even with the construction of new houses. Local sustainable materials are preferred, as well as a special local way of using small timber tiles on the facade.
The whole Vorarlberg region is known for its architecture, actually. There used to be a movement called the Vorarlberg school of architecture started in 1657, and even nowadays, one in every four houses is designed by architects.
To get to know the local way of life, which architecture is a huge part of, follow the Umgang Mellau, a marked route leading past notable houses and structures in Mellau. You can pick up a map of the locations in the local tourist info center or check out Umgang Mellau’s website.
Each of the stopping points is marked by a waist-high metal column. Push the button and look into the peephole – it hides an info leaflet. How creative, right?
The whole circular route through Mellau is 3.2 km long and takes about an hour and a half to finish.
The Umgang Mellau is part of a bigger series of 12 routes through the villages in the region called Umgang Bregenzerwald.
Plus, Mellau’s architectural wonders are not limited to buildings. A more practical one, albeit a bit invisible to a tourist, hides in the reconstruction of the local river flow after destructive floods in 2005.
If you could go to only one restaurant in Mellau, let it be Naze’s Hus. Located in a traditional Bregenzerwald House a few hundred years old, the restaurant is beautifully traditional in terms of the interior and the dishes served. I couldn’t get enough of the cheesy Kässpätzle. Any cheese lover would kill for a bite!
(Here’s the recipe)
There are a few more restaurants, of course, mostly in local hotels. I can highly recommend Hotel Bären, especially for a lovely coffee & cake combo. Oh, and don’t get me even started on their rich breakfast.
Now, hear this: In Mellau, you can come across a vending machine selling local delicacies such as cheeses, hams, sausages, and even soups! Whoever came up with that was a genius. Find the vending machine by the road Übermellen, right opposite the Spar supermarket and the Volksbank ATM.
Relax & Rejuvenate: the Mellau Style
Other than unwinding actively in the mountains, you can enjoy a relaxing retreat at Hotel Bären, where I stayed too. The boutique hotel has a perfect location in the center of Mellau and features all the amenities you may need, on a high-quality level.
You can enjoy their sauna and a relaxing room with a view of the Alps. There’s even a yoga studio on the premises of Hotel Bären and they organize yoga retreats! Can you imagine a more perfect spot to fully immerse yourself in yoga?
Getting to Mellau
Driving is a good idea when getting around the Bregenzerwald region. The public transport network works well too, you’ll just need more planning.
To get to Mellau by public transportation, take a train to Dornbirn or Bregenz, and then a bus to Mellau. The bus ride takes an hour from either of the two towns.
Both Mellau and Feldkirch will enrich your travel life with authentic experiences. Each is unique in its own way – very Austrian, yet with many unparalleled features which are typical for Vorarlberg. They are real hidden gems lying off the beaten path of the usual traveler.
So, what do you think? Don’t you just want to visit Mellau and Feldkirch right away? I sure do. If I had no other trips planned, you’d probably find me there.