Near the town of Wörgl, in the east of Tirol, the main road branches off south into a side valley. The visitor is immediately struck by the lush meadows and dense forests stretching out across the valley floor. And the flowers, the flowers! Everywhere you look you see dashes of vibrant colour decorating the balconies of the traditional wooden farmhouses. Those are my first unforgettable impressions of the Wildschönau region. For people unfamiliar with the local geography, the valley is divided up into four “church villages”: Niederau, Oberau, Auffach and Thierbach. Here are my personal top tips for anyone visiting the beautiful Wildschönau region.
Hotel Marchfeld, Oberau
The Hotel Marchfeld could be described as a typically traditional Tirolean hotel – but that doesn’t do it justice. Run by Rainer and Uschi, the hotel offers everything you could wish for and a lot more besides – from a delicious breakfast in the morning and personal tips from your hosts on the best things to see and do in the region to a genuinely warm welcome and friendly service. As soon as you arrive at the Hotel Marchfeld you will immediately see that for Rainer and Uschi running a hotel is much more than just a job – it’s a passion, a calling and a pleasure.
Why visit? Traditional Tirolean decor, lots of natural woods, beautiful flowers on the balcony and a delicious breakfast.
Who’s it right for? Everyone who appreciates a genuinely warm welcome at a small but perfectly formed hotel.
Tip! Ask Rainer and Uschi about the best local places to eat (the hotel only serves breakfast).
Verena and Hannes from the Biobauernhof Hinteraltensberg Hof surprised me when I met them. Everything they do and say is just so natural, friendly and genuine – a million miles from plastic hospitality and fake smiles. They run an organic farm on a mountain above Auffach at over 1,000 metres above sea level. The location, of course, is stunning. The view from the balcony is majestic. And, to be honest, I am almost lost for words to describe the homemade jam, bread and sausages they serve. Children will love the large play area in front of the main building, while guests visiting at the right time of year can help pick the juicy apricots from the large tree in the garden.
Why visit? Stunning nature, peace and quiet, plenty of time to think, fabulous food.
Who’s it right for? Especially families with children who want to spend time in nature and are looking for a friendly welcome.
Tip! Visitors who are planning on spending plenty of time on the farm have the option of booking half-board. Verena is an excellent cook.
Sollererwirt in Thierbach
Perched at 1,180 metres above sea level, Thierbach is not only the smallest but also the highest of the four church villages in the Wildschönau region. For me, personally, it is a place that I have always found myself drawn back to. The silence, the light and the scenes of daily life in the small village have a special quality that has fascinated me since I first came here. You can imagine how happy I was to find out that Thierbach is also home to one of the best restaurants in the valley, the Sollererwirt. As well as excellent food and drink it has a number of pretty guest rooms and even a holiday apartment – perfect for a hearty meal followed by a good night’s sleep.
Why visit? Traditional, friendly, welcoming – everything a proper Tirolean guesthouse should be.
Who’s it right for? Everyone who enjoys genuine, honest regional food.
Tip! Book a table in the Speckbacherstube room. Don’t forget to duck as you enter – the door frame is a little smaller than normal! Make time to come back in winter, when Thierbach is transformed into a genuine winter wonderland.
I don’t mind admitting that the Thalmühle restaurant doesn’t boast the most idyllic of settings – but please don’t let that put you off. I have been coming back here for years. My favourite dish among the many traditional specialties on the menu is the Brezensuppe (pretzel soup), which is famous throughout Austria. The restaurant is run by the friendly Naschberger family.
Why visit? A classic destination for foodies in Tirol with consistently high quality for many years.
Who‘s it right for? Everyone who enjoys genuine Tirolean food and maybe wants to try a few local dishes which are rarely found on the region’s menus these days.
Tip! You simply have to try the Brezensuppe (pretzel soup) – it’s the restaurant’s signature dish.
The Wildschönau region is famous for one drink above all others: schnapps. It comes in many forms, the most famous of which is the Krautinger (turnip schnapps) that has become famous beyond the valley. Opinion on this schnapps with its unmistakeable taste is strictly divided: some can’t get enough of it and even believe it has medicinal benefits, while others turn their noses up at the strong smell.
There are around 20 distilleries in the valley producing Krautinger schnapps. The largest is located at the Steinerhof farm run by Josef Thaler together with his wife. Guests can also stay the night in one of the guest rooms on the farm. Over the years Josef has developed great expertise when it comes to distilling fine turnip schnapps. The reward for his hard work and perseverance has come in the form of several awards. His schnapps is served in some of Europe’s best restaurants, including the Tantris in Munich with two Michelin stars.
Another schnapps distillery known throughout the Wildschönau region and beyond is the Zwecklhof run by Siegfried Kistl. I first met him about 20 years ago, when he made some of the best cherry schnapps I had ever tasted. Over the last two decades he has continued to tweak and experiment in order to produce the best possible schnapps using the finest fruit sourced from South Tirol in Italy all the way to the Wachau region in Lower Austria. My favourite is the sloe schnapps. Last winter Siegfried Kistl tried his hand for the first time at gin – and was delighted with the result. The result is that a new generation of connoisseurs has started coming to the Zweckelhof to try this new variation with a twist of lemon or orange zest. Next winter Siegfried plans to have a go at making rum. He has already ordered the oak barrel he needs – and to be honest I can’t wait to try the result! “Rum from Wildschönau” is certainly a combination I never thought I would hear!
Small and Beautiful Specialty Shops
Drehform woodturning workshop, Oberau
Margit Gschwentner runs the Drehform woodturning workshop and sells the fruits of her labour in a small shop she recently opened next door. There are so many amazing things here that I find it hard to choose a favourite, but I am always drawn to her minimalistic wooden bowls and polished wooden boards perfect for serving cheese, dried sausage and bacon. Margit works with a wide range of fruit trees and is happy not only to give customers tips on how to look after the wood but also to invite them into her workshop to see how they are made.
Wildschönauer Backstube, Oberau
The Wilschönauer Backstube bakery is a popular meeting point with a delicious range of homemade goodies.
Wildschönauer Bauernladl, Oberau
The handmade cheese from the Schönanger Alm hut can also be bought at the Wildschönauer Bauernladl farmer’s shop. Other specialties on offer include honey and dried bacon from the region.
Last, but certainly not least, a panoramic view of the Wildschönau valley.