Food in harmony with nature: in the Kleinwalsertal Valley, Austria

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Mindfulness, simplicity and sustainability. These are aspirations for many travellers who seek an authentic experience in natural surroundings as a balance to the rushed pace of everyday life. In the high alpine valley of Kleinwalsertal in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, I found a chance to enjoy the calm of nature and connect with some of the people who live in this valley. While Kleinwalsertal is well organised for visitors, the emphasis is on sustainability, with farmers and local producers who are guardians of the landscape, and a GenussRegion food movement that’s about keeping things simple and local.

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria

We met up with Herbert Edlinger, a former chef who now works with local farmers to showcase the natural food of the valley, taking visitors on foraging tours. Herbert told us how first came to the Kleinwalsertal valley in 1979, expecting to work for just a season, but ended up staying and worked for 9 years as a chef in a local restaurant.

To preserve the landscape of this valley, farmers need to work in harmony with nature, so Herbert came up with the idea of marketing local produce and creating unique foods that would use the herbs, plants and berries that are found here.

The cows that graze in the summer pastures feed on 45 different alpine herbs, the flavours coming through in the cheese and the meat that’s produced in these mountains. It’s good for business too, since a farmer who is able to make and sell his own yoghurt and cheese will earn €1 per litre of milk, rather than only 30 cents if he sells the milk alone.

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria

The name Kleinwalsertal means “small Walser valley” and refers to the Walliser people who settled in the valleys of Vorarlberg. They migrated here around 1300 AD from the Swiss cantons bringing their own dress, customs and dialect. Our walk through the valley takes us past wooden Walser houses that are over 400 years old, the traditional design allowing for a room at the back where the animals would be housed.

Some of the older houses are faced with wooden shingles, with small windows designed to keep out the cold and traditional green shutters. If the wood of the house is almost black, it’s not because of any stain or preservative, but because the pine wood darkens naturally with age when exposed to the sun. The older windows have small sections that open for ventilation in the warm summer months – “Alpine air conditioning”, we were told.

Read More: Antony Gormley and Art in the mountains of Vorarlberg

Foraging in Vorarlberg

Foraging in Kleinwalsertal valley

As we wander along the forest path, Herbert dives into the undergrowth and plucks some pungent leaves of wild garlic for us to smell. This is the plant that he uses to make his popular wild garlic pesto that he sells in the weekly market and from his website. From a few small pine trees, hardly more than bushes, Herbert plucks the young pine shoots which can be cooked with lemon, sugar and water to make a spread that’s also a home remedy for coughs.

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria

Herbert leads us to a spot on the stony riverbank where the water is shallow but fast flowing and we stop for lunch. Out of his rucksack appear slabs of cheese from the local farms, some young and creamy, others rich and mature. There are dried sausages and solid slices of nutty bread, studded with pumpkin seeds and walnuts, which we eat with mustard scented with mountain hay. To drink there’s a fresh Grüner Veltliner white wine and to finish Herbert’s sweet schnapps made with green walnuts.

If you want to eat food in Kleinwalsertal that’s authentic and local, look out for the GenussRegion mark in shops and restaurants. The movement includes farmers who are rearing high quality beef and cheeses from the Alpine cattle, the mountain huts that you might pass on your hike that serve local and regional produce, or the restaurants that take pride in serving the flavours of the region. Find out more about where you can find the GenussRegion mark in Kleinwalsertal.

Read More: Antony Gormley and Art in the mountains of Vorarlberg

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Walk with Herbert Edlinger, Kleinwalsertal, Vorarlberg, Austria

If you go: Herbert Edlinger runs his foraging walks from 18 May – 2 November. They take place every Thursday at 9:30 am starting from Walserhaus Hirschegg or by appointment for larger groups. The walks last about 4 hours and costs €25 per person including refreshments with local products. More information on the Kleinweisertal website. You can also find information and buy local produce from Herbert Edlinger’s website.

I hope you enjoy this video about summer in the mountains in Vorarlberg