MCoA - Vorarlberg My Corner of Austria

My Corner of Austria:  Joan Roetzer-Sweetland in Hohenems (Vorarlberg)

From East to West – a retiree relocates to the Vorarlberger Unterland, Hohenems, Bezirk Dornbirn.

What brought you to your corner of Austria?

Picture the scene, during the 1st pandemic lockdown, on a warm, sunny, extremely quiet Sunday afternoon, 2 retirees are sitting on the terrace enjoying a nifty Aperol Spritz.  Daughter and her family 6 hours away in Ravensburg (Baden-Württemberg, Germany).  Husband mentions that perhaps, as we are retired, it might be an idea to consider moving closer to daughter, while remaining in Austria (note:  husband from Upper Austria, in Lower Austria/Vienna for some 40+ years; wife originally from Kent, in Austria for some 38 years, supposedly fluent German).  Discussion then centred on where?  We only knew Vorarlberg from short trips to the Bregenz Festival. After considerable time, online searches and discussions, including with daughter, an apartment was found which met the criteria we had set ourselves and weren’t prepared to give up – after all, we were moving from a large house with a large garden close to Vienna, to an apartment – how would we survive! And here we are. Located in Hohenems, on the top floor with a view and all mod cons.

What traditions or customs are typical for your corner of Austria?

We are still learning this, so difficult to answer, so will twist it to our experience with workmen.  But I do agree with Jo Todd here, especially about that Gsi bit – until you’ve experienced a true Bregenzer Wälder workman asking you rapid-fire questions in this incomprehensible dialect, expecting sensible answers and not blank stares, you’ve not lived.  The laughs we have had are legendary. But, in all honesty, every workman we dealt with in the building and furnishing of the apartment has been superb: from soon-to-be-father Martin the electrician, to Klaus, the I’d-rather-be-skiing carpenter, to Bernd the-impossible-to-understand plumber who shouts ‘Servus’ whenever, and wherever, he sees you, to the wonderful talking-to-himself-continually upholsterer Stefan, (so continual that you miss the questions he asks). Everyone was helpful, tried to make our lives easier and speak so we could understand them when really necessary – they understand their handicraft and are proud of their work.  In general, we have found everyone to be far more approachable and friendly than in the east, that includes everyone we met in the Town Hall.  Disconcerting though, at the start, was the fact that everyone is ‘per Du’ with everyone else.

What would you recommend a visitor who was visiting to see and do?

Hohenems lies in the middle of the Austrian part of the Rhine valley. After a long period of decay, the town is being revitalized and offers a number of interesting options for a visit.  These attractions include a castle ruin – Alt Ems; then there’s Neu-Ems castle, also known as Glopper castle, rounded off with the Renaissance palace dating back to the 16th century in the town centre, which is next to the St Karl parish church.  Hohenems also boasts Vorarlberg’s first coffee house,  first bank and insurers, and the first book printers. This was due to a rather large Jewish community which established itself here, as it was one of the first towns where property ownership by Jews was permitted. In the Jewish quarter, many of these villas and houses are being renovated and have a wonderful history to tell.  This part of life in Hohenems is well-documented in the Jewish Museum. Here in this quarter, which forms the old town centre, you can also find a good selection of small independent shops.

There are many walking and hiking paths all round town for the energetic, as well as a recreation area in the Rhine delta. Also, if so inclined, there is a small museum dedicated to old mill techniques.

Culturally, Hohenems is well served with the Schubertiade festival, a chamber music festival with the chamber music orchestra Arpeggione, the puppet and poetry festival Homunculus ( and the Emsiana festival.  And last, but not least, there’s a Franz Schubert museum, which also houses exhibitions with the legacy of the opera singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Walter Legge (classical music record producer): this is all housed together with the Schubertiade museum in the Villa Rosenthal. Well worth a visit. There are also some permanent modern art exhibitions, e.g. Arche Noah Collection.

Where do you recommend to go and eat or to have a drink?

Other than the usual Asian, kebap and pizza outlets, for good food, located on the road towards Götzis is the Gasthaus Adler, booking is necessary or you will be disappointed!  It’s in a typical old wooden Vorarlberger house, and you can drive past it easily!  The garden is inhabited by free range chickens. In town, at the bottom of the Marktstrasse, there’s the Landgasthaus Hirschen, again, booking is recommended.  Both have rather good lunchtime menus on offer. 

Further afield, and more expensive, there’s Restaurant Guth in Lauterach, – well worth a visit. Or for serious money, there’s Mangold in Lochau/Bregenz. Both give Steirereck in Vienna a run for their money!

For a good coffee break, and some wonderful chocolate, a visit to Fenkart on Schlossplatz, is a necessity.  The Marktstrasse in the old town centre also has some small independent coffee places, as well as a café/bistro/vinothek.

How can your corner of Austria be reached (by car or public transport)?

Jo Todd covered this well on her Oberland piece, but we would add for car travel from eastern Austria, to use the A94 in Germany (joining from Braunau in Austria), skirting round Munich on the A99, merging into the A96 towards Lindau, which joins up to the A14 outside Bregenz. It’s a bit quicker than crossing Austria.

Does anyone famous come from your corner of Austria?

There are quite a few famous people born in Hohenems, although they might have grown up somewhere very different. A small selection of the many include Rudolf von Ems, medieval poet and minstrel; Christian Klien, who drove for various F1 teams between 2004 and 2010. Hans Jörg Schelling, former Austrian Finance Minister; and the chef Eckart Witzigmann, who holds three Michelin stars, and whose career took him to Bad Gastein, Lyon and Munich.

More importantly, there’s a very small nest of Brits here!  I’m sure they may have additions as they’ve been here longer than me.

Enjoyed reading this “My Corner of Austria”?

Joan recently moved to Hohenems in Bezirk Dornbirn in retirement, having previously lived in Vienna and Lower Austria with her Austrian husband. Previously she worked at an international organisation in Vienna.

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