In America, people always equate the Alps with Switzerland for some reason. When we told friends we were traveling to the Alps, they just made this assumption. In reality, the Alps spread across seven countries and 750 miles. On our recent trip the Alps this Fall, we skipped Switzerland altogether. Our little gang visited the sweetest Austrian mountain village called Lech Zürs am Arlberg, and it was an amazing experience. If you are planning a trip to the Alps, you’ve got to visit Lech Zürs in the off-season.
There is so much to do here besides skiing, not the least of which includes hiking – lots of hiking. There is first class cuisine, plenty of beer, high-end shopping, biking, swimming, fishing and more. Of course, in the winter this place is a ski haven full of snow activities. Chair lifts and gondolas shuttle skiers up to the heights for an authentic swoosh down some of the best ski runs imaginable. In the summer, visitors fill the local inns and pubs after active days exploring the mountains and wilderness.
But off-season is the time to go – at least it was for us. Kids are in school, snow is yet to dust the mountains, temperatures are reasonable, and crowds are minimal.
Why Visit Lech Zürs
With such a large mountain range, there are many towns scattered throughout the hills and valleys of the Alps. Lech Zürs stands out as truly special not only for its beauty – which is considerable. The town itself is a peaceful little hamlet that offers an ideal combination of traditional Austrian charm combined with modern sensibilities. Rolling green hillsides dotted with wildflowers slope down towards the hamlet of downtown Lech Zürs. Steep peaks surround the area, devoid of trees near the top due to the higher elevations. Rock formations, wooded meadows, Tyrolean cottages and cows wearing bells all conspire to make this place authentic and special.
Visit Lech Zürs in the Off-Season
Visit Lech Zürs in the Fall like we did to enjoy a quieter, calmer experience than any other time of year. There’s the beginnings of chill in the air, and we definitely needed warm coats at night. But without snow everywhere, we were free to wander this beautiful area without all the extra clothing, hats, gloves, mufflers and more.
Without the avid skiers or summer travelers, we did not wait in line for activities or a restaurant table. It was a relaxing and enjoyable visit full of action, delicious cuisine and so much beauty.
Hiking Trails in Lech Zürs
Hiking for Days (Literally)
There are more than 200 miles of hiking trails to enjoy in Lech Zürs, with varying degrees of difficulty and length. On our first full day here, we opted for a 9 (nine!) mile hike along the Lech River that led us through wooded hills, green meadows, rushing streams and even a waterfall or two.
Word of wisdom: come prepared. The hiking here is serious, and you should have the proper equipment for an enjoyable experience. Some suggestions:
- Hiking boots (duh)
- Comfortable socks
- Walking sticks
- Waterproof jacket
- Layers of clothing
- Hat and sunscreen
- Water bottle
Funny story about the hiking boots. Triton decided he did not need to bring his, opting instead to wear bright white sneakers. The owner of our hotel took one look at his shoes, and shook her head in dismay. Yet hike he did, and when we happened into an open pasture with horses and mules, they came running. We were a little spooked at first, before realizing they had headed straight for those bright white shoes. Clearly they had never seen anything like them (and neither had the hotel owner!)
He survived to prove it’s possible to hike without the necessary gear. But we wouldn’t recommend it.
Top Hiking Trails in Lech Zürs
We sampled several of the hiking trails and were glad we to visit Lech Zürs in the off-season. Taking our time without feeling rushed, we hardly saw another soul on any of our outings.
Starting at Lake Formarinsee, the Lechweg Trail runs all the way into Germany. We did the first leg, which takes about five hours to complete the 8.6 mile stretch back into Lech. It was such a peaceful and picturesque hike, and this lake has been voted the most beautiful place in all of Austria. The hike crosses the river over trestle bridges, covers terrain both wooded and rocky, and presented us with some of the most gorgeous sightings of birds, animals, fish and mushrooms.
We rode the gondola and chair lift up from the village of Lech, and hiked from there through the Tannberg Mountains. This is the original land belonging to the Walser People, who inhabited this area since they came here in the 1300s. To be honest, we didn’t go very far before we happened upon one of the most beautiful Alpine mountain huts and just had to stop for a bier. On the hike back down the mountain into town, we were accompanied by a herd of local milk cows with bells ringing around their necks. It could not have been more perfect.
The Green Ring
This hike starts from the top of the Rüfikopf mountain, which can be reached by cable car from the village of Lech below. When you get to the top, you can just imagine what it looks like to ski here. The mountain slopes are steep and perfect as they wait for the snow to fall. But the hiking up here is great too, and the hiking trails form a ring from peak to peak. Each of the major peaks are within a few hours hike, or you can do what we did and just follow the trails nearby to enjoy the expansive views.
For more information on the hiking trails and other reasons to visit Lech Zürs, visit their website here.
Best Restaurants in Lech Zürs
No Chain Restaurants Here
For a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere, Lech Zürs has a surprising number of excellent restaurants. And by excellent, I mean outstanding. We had some of the best meals of our trip here, and that is saying a lot considering all the great places we ate! Just like the village, the people and the surroundings, the food here is fresh, wholesome and beautiful.
This charming home-turned-restaurant has been standing for more than 400 years. Serving food for nearly 100 years, Hus Nr. 8 offers a menu of traditional Austrian favorites with a few twists thrown in for good measure. Of course, I had to sample their version of Weinerschnitzel, and here it was deliciously crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It was served with a berry compote on the side, which was a delicious accompaniment. Others in our party enjoyed the pastas, including one made with mushrooms that was to die for. But perhaps the biggest hit here was the soup made with fried spinach and cheese dumplings in a tasty broth. It was so good we had to go back the next day for more.
A little cab ride from Lech town center, this restaurant is tucked up a hillside overlooking the valley and Lech River. They are known for their outstanding version of Scotch eggs, which were served in a creamy spinach base and pomegranate seeds.
But the star of the show here is their fried chicken, which might be the best I have ever tasted. Plated simply with parsley and lemon, it was better than any American version of fried chicken that my grandma or anybody else’s has ever served me. Coupled with fantastic service and an extensive wine list, this restaurant is not to be missed when you visit Lech Zürs.
Known as the most beautiful Alpine lodge in Austria, we can concur this restaurant is so authentically charming. Window boxes with red flowers, antler decorations and servers in lederhosen and dirndls all make the experience uniquely Alpine.
The food here is another knock-out combination of flavors and textures. The bratwurst with sauerkraut was the best we had on the entire trip, served with strong mustard and a sprinkling of fresh horseradish. Another hit was the ‘Käsknöpfle’ (cheese spaetzle) which is like a far better version of mac-n-cheese. The traditional Austrian dessert called Kaiserschmarrn is fantastic here as well. A kind of scrambled pancake, it is served in pieces sprinkled with powdered sugar and jam. Yummmmm.
The Best Hotel in Lech Zürs
We stayed at the Hotel Aurora in Lech Zürs, positioned downtown and within walking distance of shops, restaurants, hiking trails, gondolas and transportation. Remember, the town is not very big so it’s easy to get around on foot. The hotel itself is stately and beautiful, surrounded by a garden with the greenest grass we have ever seen. Flower beds full of blooms dot the landscape, along with fountains, benches and world-class sculptures.
The Hotel Aurora itself is beautifully appointed with well designed public areas and guest rooms. As we entered the hotel to check in, we were greeted by a sunny sitting room of considerable size with roaring fireplace and comfy furniture. There’s something about being in the mountains and smelling that distinctive scent of real logs burning in the fireplace – it just makes me feel so happy and secure. As were shown to our room, the level of detail on the main floor was continued up to the guest floors.
Our room at Hotel Aurora was a suite with lots of windows and natural light, which we love. As early risers we are not travelers who need blackout curtains, although those were available. We love to wake up naturally as the sun rises and look out the windows to enjoy the local view. In this case, the local views are spectacular vistas of the Alps mountains, green hills and local gardens.
We entered our suite into a living room complete with couches, comfy chair, coffee table and desk. French doors opened from this room onto an enormous deck. And by enormous, we mean enormous. There was enough room on that deck for lounge chairs, a couch, a table and chairs and still room to dance if you wanted. (We did not dance, but we did sit out here in the warm sun to sip hot coffee and savor the views.)
Our bedroom was also spacious, and almost spartan in design. This was really no matter, since the living room was plenty large to accommodate us. The bathroom was the largest in Europe we’ve ever seen, with separate tub, shower and toilet areas. The vanity even had enough room for two sinks.
When traveling in Europe, it is often the custom for hotels to include breakfast in the room fee. We love this perk, because the breakfast buffets in European hotels are typically of high quality with many food choices. This was the case at Hotel Aurora, and here we enjoyed the traditional muesli, along with fresh fruits, yogurts and breads. There were also delicious cold cuts of prosciutto, salami, and other meats accompanied by many different varieties of cheese – from bland to sublime.
However at Hotel Aurora, guests can also opt for the dinner package as well. This is where the restaurant really shines, and the chef here showed their chops by serving us some really incredible tastes. Each night, guests are offered a choice of two starters including a hot soup, two entrees, and two desserts. We had the lamb for dinner, with crispy potatoes and sauteed vegetables. Dessert was a chocolate mousse that melted in our mouths with flavor and light consistency. The food here is simply superb.
There is a small but charming bar at the restaurant entrance with limited choices of liquors, but an extensive wine list. We did not go thirsty throughout our stay, sampling wines from the region that we could not pronounce but loved tasting.
The Spa at Hotel Aurora
Located on the lower floor of the hotel, the Spa at Hotel Aurora is not large but is surprisingly well appointed with all the right features. Warmly lit for maximum relaxation, the areas are cozy and comfortable. After showering off, we started with a cold plunge in an icy bath followed immediately by some time in the dry sauna. After a brief respite in a cooling outside area, it was back into the steam room for more muscle relaxation after all that hiking.
Then we tried something new – an infrared light treatment. You sit in a wooden chair that is backlit with infrared beams, which heat up and penetrate your muscles to deep-heat you from within. It felt weird in a good way, and after all that hiking this whole experience was just the ticket. I slept like a baby that night.
Now you see why we think this is the best hotel in Lech Zürs. We would stay here again in a heartbeat – it really was that enjoyable of a visit.
If You Visit the Alps in the Fall…
If you plan to visit Lech-Zürs in the off-season, there are a few things you should know.
It will be very quiet, because the Fall is like the calm before the storm. Even many of the locals are taking vacation during this timeframe before the winter ski season starts, so don’t expect to see a ton of action.
The weather can change quickly. Warm sunny days can get colder when the clouds roll in, and rain is common. You just wear layers and roll with it.
There are very few American tourists here, but most people do speak English. We had zero issues communicating, and locals were more than happy to help us struggle through the German words.
Bring an extra suitcase for all the cool stuff you will buy. Bulky sweaters, scarves and hats take up some room, along with all the other cool Austrian things you will collect along the way. We came home with an extra carryon full of goodies.
Planning Your Visit to Lech Zürs
If you visit Lech Zürs, we highly recommend you get everyone in your group a Lech Card. The card includes free transportation and discounted entrance fees, deals at local partners, guided tours, sports activities and more. The price is just 33 euros for a 1-2 day pass, and longer time frames are also available.
We can also recommend two great resources for when you visit Lech Zürs:
Lech Zürs Tourism Bureau has a great website full of ideas and suggestions.
Best of the Alps is another great resource for planning your trip, how to get there and other cool stops along the route.
If you’d like to consider a road trip while touring the Alps, read our overview on Hiking the Alps.
Yodle Ay Hee Hooooooo!