Americans become a part of the Alps
LECH AM ARLBERG, Austria – Timex should patent their alarm clock in Lech. The chiming of bells from the church echoes through the valley, awakening us from our jet-lagged slumber. We awaken to the sound of the locals beginning their day’s work – hammers tapping, repairing decks for the upcoming winter and cow bells resonating in the cold morning air. Lech am Arlberg was a bucolic village long before it was known as an international ski area. About 1,380 inhabitants live in the community, Lech, at an altitude of 1,450 meters. Settlers arrived around 1300 and made their living from dairy farming and cattle breeding. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Lech became known for it’s skiing. This year, Lech am Arlberg received a gold medal and the title of “Most Beautiful Village in Europe 2004” at the European Entente Florale competition. Entente Florale/Towns and Villages in Bloom is a pan-European association dedicated to the holistic development of towns and villages. It isn’t only about floral decorations but also about development in harmony with nature and the environment.
Lech scored the highest number of points of all tourist towns, allowing it to proudly bear the title: “Most Beautiful Village in Europe.” Family hikingOur second day, we were blessed with fabulous weather. The warm-up hike introduced us to the green rolling hills, preparing us for the dramatic and stark rocky ledges of the higher altitudes. We were led by Martin Kurz, former Vail mayor Ludwig Kurz’s nephew, and Walter Gusner, who is as a ski guide in the winter. We were richly rewarded for our hike when we arrived at the Gasthaus Bodenalpe, where we feasted on spaetzle and freshly baked pastries. That evening, local dignitaries treated us to a special feast at the local brew house, Hûs Nr. 8 – pronounced “hoos ocht” – where schnapps and lager poured. Hûs Nr. 8 also served as the unofficial meeting place after hikes and after dinner.
Laughter and liquor are the most served items in this building, one of the oldest in the town. One evening, we were greeted there by the local band, which has visited Beaver Creek often and are visiting now during the World Cup races. Hiking is a family activity in Austria. Each day we hiked, we would meet locals out with their children and friends. We would gather mid-day at one of the huts located high in the Alps, where some local would stay for the summer, serving their home-cooked meals and cider. The breaks were often the high point of the day, leaving us a moment to revive from the hike and enjoy the views. The Alps have hikes for people of all abilities, as well as all age groups. The hills, at higher altitudes, are barren and rocky, and lower, they are mowed green landscapes speckled with cows and the animals’ traditional bells.Planting a forest
Our last day in Lech, we were treated to a special event. Slightly outside of the town, a new forest is being created. We were bused to the area, and each of us given a shovel. The rain was pouring and the temperature had dropped. As we huddled together we were each given a small tree. With assistance, we dug holes and planted our trees. Now, in the hills just above Lech, a new forest is growing, known as the Beaver Creek grove. We were each presented with a certificate and a number for our special tree. It’s all part of Lech’s environmental concerns with reforestation.After another satisfying meal served at the Hotel Aurora, we were invited to Ulli and Stefan Jochum’s house for a personal evening. The couple owns a bed and breakfast, which boasts an exceptional wine cellar. The bricks that line the interior of the cellar are ancient, and the wine is plentiful. One small nook houses a semi-shrine to a Colorado friend, Buz Reynolds.
They cracked open the wine for us, and, dressed in the local costumes, Stefan played his accordion as Ulli serenaded us with songs from Austria. A visit to Lech, although a new adventure for most of us, will be an easy place to return. A week in Lech is like a week with old friends and a new family. From those with whom we traveled to our generous hosts, we are now a part of the Alps, as they will remain with us, as well. To all of our friends in Lech, prost! We will return soon.==========================================To Learn MoreIf you’re interested in visiting Lech-Zürs during the ski season, a trip is scheduled Jan. 22 to Jan. 29. This trip is limited to 16 people, and a fall hiking trip for 2005 is also being scheduled.
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For more information, contact Ludwig Kurz at the Beaver Creek Resort Company, (970) 845-5973 or Ludik@vailresorts.com. Vail, Colorado