Leafy promenades in Bregenz ...

The first thing that struck me about Bregenz were its leafy promenades. On the lake front, voluptuous chestnuts jostle for space with blossom trees. Below the dense canopy, flower beds inject colour to the otherwise vivid green lake front. Above on the 'Hausberg' Pfaender, hillside cannot be seen for forest. And along residential streets, oak trees give the houses privacy. Tim and I spent the recent long weekend in this leafy wonderland. Two nights in the functional 3* Hotel Garni Bodensee were plenty to explore Vorarlberg's dainty capital, with a population of only 28,000.

Perhaps best known for its Festspiele, held in July and August, Bregenz reminds of a seaside town, with its manicured lawns, flower beds and promenades. Lake Constance is indeed large enough that I could pretend I was beside the sea - the lake is too long to see clearly from one end to the other. Otherwise quiet streets came to life with the New Orleans Festival, a jazz and blues event that was held over the weekend. I wasn't terribly impressed by the performances (they featured lots of copies of mainstream pop songs), but the festival made for a lively atmosphere - if only Austria would ban smoking in public places though, because I am sick to the back teeth (literally) of having to breathe in so much smoke when at an outdoor concert, bar, etc. Am I allowed to say it strikes me as slightly primitive?

Saturday afternoon was beautifully sunny and warm, so we picnicked beside the lake before taking the cable car up the Pfaender. From the top you can see just how big the lake is and, in the opposite direction, the vivid green beauty of the Bregenzerwald mountains. There is an alpine zoo at the top of Pfaender (featuring marmots, wild boars and red deer) which we explored before walking down. That evening we ate outside at the Wirtshaus am See - lovely food and lakeside views (same problem with smokers).

From bright sunshine to stormy skies: Sunday was spent battling the elements while walking beside the lake to the Nature Reserve at Mehrerach. With the wind whipping up dramatic waves against a steely sky, it really felt like being at the English seaside. In the afternoon we climbed up St. Martin's Tower, a tower and chapel with frescoes dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. The museum was slightly dreary and all in German, but from the top floor there were lovely views of the quaint Upper Town - the medieval quarter of Bregenz. Entry to the old town is through a stone archway, in which a 1950s antiques dealer hung a mummified fish (which still hangs there - creepy!).

After our exertions we enjoyed cake in Theater Cafe on Kornmarktplatz - without doubt the best cake shop in town. I had a nut nougat cake - little more than slices of nutty cake glued together with a rich, Nutella-like substance: heaven in a slice. We ate that evening in another good restaurant, Pizzeria Trattoria Toscana, where the pizzas were tasty. Luckily for our last day we were granted with sunny spells and biked to Lindau, a town on an island across the lake. It is only 10km from Bregenz along concrete paths, so doesn't feel far. Lindau is pretty but touristy (you have to pay to use the public toilets). It features dramatic architecture in the old lighthouse, statue of a lion that greets boats entering the harbour and the old town hall. It was refreshing to spend the weekend in Austria, a country that still feels familiar to me and Tim, and that always looks pretty no matter what the weather.
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