While driving along the Switzerland-Austria Border, T+L discovers the best of the region’s artisans, architecture, and food.
Day 1: St. Gallen to Bezau (44 miles)
Your first stop after the rental-car counter at Zurich’s Kloten Airport? The city of St. Gallen (90 minutes east) for a café mélange (black coffee topped with whipped cream) and a pastry (or two) at the 50-year-old Confiserie Roggwiller (17 Multergasse, St. Gallen; 41-71/222-5092; pastries for two $14), known for regional specialties such as Gallen Biber, a gingerbread-style confection made from honey dough and almond filling. The highlight: St. Gallen’s Carolingian-era Abbey of St. Gall (6a Klosterhof, St. Gallen; 41-71/227-3381), built in the ninth century. It has more than 2,100 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in its Baroque Hall. Down the street, a 400-year-old building houses the tavern National Zum Goldenen Leuen (30 Schmiedgasse, St. Gallen; 41-71/222-0262; lunch for two $45), the ideal spot for a Weisswurst and home-brewed Huss-braui beer (for the passenger in your car).
After lunch, hop on the E60 toward the small town of Rorschach, on Lake Constance; just beyond Rorschach is a wooden bathhouse where you can stop for a restorative dip. In the afternoon, cross into Austria and turn onto Route 13 toward Bregenz, a lakeside town with contemporary art museum Kunsthaus Bregenz (Karl-Tizian-Platz, Bregenz; 43-5574/485-940). The glass-and-steel building, designed by renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, showcases rotating exhibits—this year the focus is on artists from Asia. It’s just 23 miles southeast on the B200 to the Alpine town of Bezau. Check in to the 54-room Hotel Post (35 Brugg, Bezau; 43-5514/22070; hotelpostbezau.com; doubles from $320, including breakfast and dinner), where the fifth-generation owner Susanne Kaufmann has infused just the right amount of modern flair into this classic country inn: staff are decked out in traditional Austrian garb (dirndls) and rooms are appointed with blond-wood tables and white leather sofas. It helps that Kaufmann’s brother, superstar architect Oskar Leo Kaufmann, oversees the design. For dinner, there’s local favorite Engel (29 Platz, Bezau; 43-5514/2203; dinner for two $122), which specializes in hearty Austrian classics including cured pork belly and potato salad.
Day 2: Bezau to Feldkirch (37 miles)
Sneak in a morning massage at the hotel’s popular spa (book in advance), which sources ingredients for its organic antiaging skin-care line from the nearby Bregenzerwald forest. The emphasis on local continues at breakfast with bakery-fresh bread, regional cheeses, and house-made jams. Before hitting the road, head to town for some shopping, and pick up a pair of handmade wooden clogs—made of untanned cowhide—at Devich (186 Ellenbogen, Bezau; 43-5514/2236). The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town of Lingenau nearby is a must if only for cheese co-op Käsekeller (423 Zeihenbühl, Lingenau; 43-5513/42870), housed in a minimalist building also designed by Oskar Leo Kaufmann.
Next stop? Lunch at the 250-year-old Hotel Hirschen (14 Hof, Schwarzenberg; 43-5512/2944; lunch for two $113), in the main village square of Schwarzenberg. Across the street, Textil Hirschbühl (2 Hof, Schwarzenberg; 43-5512/2994) sells everything from knitted children’s clothing to Austrian glass schnapps sets, all sourced by owner Theresia Hirschbühl. Travel 32 miles south on the A14 to the town of Feldkirch, where you’ll stay at the centrally located Great Value Hotel Alpenrose (4-6 Rosengasse, Feldkirch; 43-5522/72175; hotel-alpenrose.net; doubles from $155), a short walk from the medieval Schattenburg Castle (1 Burggasse, Feldkirch; 43-5522/71982; dinner for two $64). Every night, locals fill the castle’s grand dining room to sample (what are said to be) Austria’s largest schnitzels.
Day 3: Feldkirch to Vals (77 miles)
Drive south down Route 28 (through Liechtenstein) and back into Switzerland toward the Alpine town of Maienfeld, where the fictional character Heidi grew up. While Heididorf (Heidi’s Village) may be a touch kitschy, it’s definitely worth exploring the well-marked mountain paths where, according to the story, she and Peter used to play. Less known to travelers is the area’s Pinot Noir, made by more than 130 vintners; stop at Kunz-Keller (2 Flascherstrasse, Maienfeld; 41-81/330-1555) and pick up a couple of bottles to sample later. Zigzag your way up the mountain on Grosswiesstrasse Hintergasse, then turn left toward the pint-size town of St. Margrethenberg. The hilltop farmhouse restaurant Buura-Beizli (7313 St. Margrethenberg; 41-81/302-2815; lunch for two $40), set against a backdrop of rolling hills and bleating goats, serves organic food from its farm. Try the veal goulash and barley soup with carrots and bacon.
Take the A13 south toward Flims; though it’s known as one of the best ski destinations in Switzerland from November to March, the spring is just as spectacular. At Lake Cauma Park, hike the pine-studded path to the funicular, which drops you down at Lake Cauma, where you can catch a paddleboat tour or simply take in the view. Back at the top, head south and stop in tiny Uors for an early dinner at Casa da Luzi (Surcasti; 41-81/931-2459; dinner for two $107), where Swiss chef Beat Reinmann serves whatever’s fresh that day. After dinner, it’s only seven miles south to the Modernist spa hotel Therme Vals (Vals; 41-81/926-8080; therme-vals.ch; bath for two $85), designed by Peter Zumthor. End your day with a soak at the hotel’s legendary hot springs.