Austrian Province to Fete Schubert

Associate editor Caroline Scutt visited the province of Vorarlberg, the venue for the Schubertiade Festival and most of the Schubert 200 Exhibition, which will mark the 200th anniversary of Franz Schubert's birth. Her report follows:

Reed Travel Features

BREGENZ, Austria -- Tucked away in the western corner of Austria and nestled between Switzerland and Germany, the province of Vorarlberg retains a way of life that has all but vanished in much of the Western world.

Here the town of Feldkirch, which dates to the year 842, is the main venue for Schubertiade, an annual event that attracts throngs of visitors to celebrate the music of Franz Schubert.

The town, which has a population of 27,000, is situated along the River Ill below the protective walls of Schattenburg Fortress, which was erected in the 12th century and once was the seat of the dukes of Montfort.

Today, the fortress houses a museum and a restaurant.

Even on a gray, cold day in February, Feldkirch is a charming town that offers a wealth of historical sites and postcard images.

Stepping into the heart of town, Marktgasse, surrounded by tall Gothic buildings and arcades, I was back in the Middle Ages.

St. Johanneskirche, built in 1218, stands at one end of the Marktgasse overlooking arcades that house shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes.

Leaving the town center and walking along the winding, cobblestone streets past the Church of St. Nikolaus (ca. 1287), the Wasserturm guard house (already standing in 1482), the Rathaus (town hall, 1493) and the courthouse (built around 1900) was like strolling back through time.

During my visit here, our group stayed at the Hotel Alpenrose, which is ideally located on a side street just a block from the center of town.

The four-star inn has 25 individually decorated rooms.

The surroundings aren't luxurious, but the property offers such touches as breakfast served on fine china, interesting pieces of furniture and a lounge where guests are encouraged to use the piano.

The owner, who introduced herself only as Mrs. Gutwinski, was charming and I felt like a guest in her home -- a very old home at that, dating to 1550.

Hotel Alpenrose can be booked through Best Western at (800) 528-1234 or directly by calling (011) 43 552-272-175; fax (011) 43 552-272-1755.

The inn is adjacent to a grammar school, and on the morning of our group's departure, I walked outside to find our motorcoach surrounded by curious kids trying to get a look inside. Apparently, tour buses don't find their way into Feldkirch very often.

Located about 45 minutes from Feldkirch is the village of Schwarzenberg.

As I wandered through the village, my initial impression was that I had found my way into an alpine scene re-created by the likes of Disney.

Against a backdrop of majestic mountains, 19th century wooden houses with lace curtains at the windows line quiet streets.

Even new buildings must be built to code, using mostly wood, and blend well with the older structures.

As I wandered through the tiny town square, past the Baroque church, and watched a man stopping his horse-drawn cart to let the animal drink from the village fountain, it hit me that all this old-world atmosphere was not put here for the benefit of tourists.

In fact, I was told that if I had been here on a Sunday, I would have seen women in traditional alpine dress on their way to church services.

Schwarzenberg, first mentioned in the writings of a monk in 1270 and one of the oldest villages in the region, has a population of only 1,600.

The village is located in the Bregenzerwald, a forested area soaked in natural beauty that has captivated many artists, including painter Angelika Kaufmann and writer Ernest Hemingway.

The Gasthof Hirschen inn, located on the town square, was one of the places where Hemingway stayed during visits here.

The 250-year-old inn has 30 bedrooms that are individually decorated with elegant dark-wood furniture.

Rates, including breakfast, range from about $65 per night, per person, double, to $208 per night for an apartment.

The property is a member of the Romantik Hotel group, which can be booked through several U.S. operators, including Euro Connection, (800) 645-3876, and European Connection, (800) 345-4679.

Clients planning to attend Schubertiade also might consider staying at one of the many bed and breakfasts or farmhouses that surround the village.

Rates at bed and breakfasts start at about $13 per person, per night.

Since Vorarlberg attracts hikers, cyclists and such, farm holidays also are popular in the region. However, the accommodations can be basic by American standards.

The farms are rated by local tourism officials. A booklet featuring pictures of individual farms and descriptions of the facilities can be obtained through Vorarlberg Tourism.

The farms can be booked individually or through a main reservations office, which charges a $25 service fee.

Rates range from about $11 per person, double, to $50 per night for an apartment for up to four people.

The reservations office can be reached at (011) 43 557-227-76214; fax (011) 43 557-277-6249. For a catalog, contact the same numbers.

Commissionable festival packages can be booked through Vorarlberg tourism by calling 011-43-557-442-5250; fax 011-43-557-442-5255.

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