If the name of this Austrian charmer doesn’t leave you tongue-tied, the mountain vistas that surround it are sure to take your breath away. Located in the Tirol province and sitting at 1040m above sea level, Elbigenalp is the largest of the 13 small villages that decorate the Lech Valley – total population about 5000 – which stretches from Steeg to Fornach. A popular summer holiday spot for Queen Maria, the mother of the Bavarian King Ludwig II in the 19th century, the town also has a rich wood carving tradition and is home to two of Austria’s finest carving schools.
A world away
The nearest airports are at Innsbruck and Friedrichsafen (just inside the German border) and getting to the valley involves a one-and-a-half to two-hour road transfer through one of the beautiful high-Alpine crossings in the eastern Alps. Elbigenalp is located on the right side of the valley on the green banks of the opaline River Lech. To cap it off, in spring and summer, the surrounding mountain peaks (which rise as high as 9000ft) base are blanketed with a rainbow of Alpine flowers.
A public bus system runs the length of the Lechtal (Lech Valley) 14 times a day. It also covers the five side valleys and connecting villages. This is handy for hikers who wish to start and stop at different points. Most hotels can organise transfers to and from the airports in Innsbruck and Friedrichshafen for guests. Keep an eye out for the less frequent but free ‘Lechtal Bus’. If you want to make the most of the glorious environment, there are also several bike hire shops to get you mobile.
Schnapp some of this up
Given the setting, it’s not surprising that the local eateries serve up lashings of hearty, agrarian traditional Austrian fare. Schnitzels aside, be sure to try some Tirolean Speck (dried bacon), Kasspätzeln (home made pasta with cheese and onions roasted in an iron pan), and some fish plucked from the Lech River. To wash it down, there’s a healthy range of Austrian beers to choose from, and of course, schnapps (often brewed in the valley). The Hotel Stern (www.hotel-stern.at) recently opened its own schnapps cabin, hand-built by the owner for guests to enjoy a nightcap while he plays the accordion. If you dare, ask him for a sample of his rare home-brewed gentian schnapps. It smells like earth, mostly because it’s made with 17kg of roots.
The great outdoors
In winter, the Lech valley is a popular ski destination (Elbigenalp is just 30km from the ski resort Lech am Arlberg), but when the snow melts it reveals one of the best outdoor adventure playgrounds in Europe, with mountain biking, cycling, white-water raftng, canyoning, Nordic walking, paragliding and more Alpine hiking trails than you could hope for.
Worth a look
Elbigenalp School of Carving
The best wood carvers in Austria come from this school, and you see why at an exhibition of students’ work that runs year-round. Some works are for sale, but if you can’t buy what you want from the school, the valley floor is lined with carvers selling wares.
Trick of the eye
Many of the traditional homes and other buildings in Elbigenalp are decorated with illusionist architectural painting. The beautiful hand-painted designs that adorn the facades are meant to give an impression of great wealth, and it works. Just take a stroll down any street in the town and you’ll see some examples.
– DAMIAN TULLY-POINTON