From Bregenz, you can make one of the most interesting scenic excursions in Vorarlberg -- or in Austria, for that matter -- deep into the Bregenzerwald, or Bregenz Forest. It's not as well known as Germany's Black Forest, but it has just as much charm and character.

If you're passing through the valley on a Sunday, you'll see an occasional Vorarlberger going to church in his or her traditional garb. The headdress of the women is often striking, ranging from small crowns to wide-brimmed black straw hats. Unlike most of the rest of Europe, the people of this area wear white for mourning rather than black.

The forest takes up the northern part of the Vorarlberg alpine range. A state highway splits the valley of the Bregenzer Ache River, making driving easy, but the true charm of the forest lies off the beaten path in the little undiscovered valleys cut by the river's tiny tributaries. Don't expect a proliferation of trees in the Bregenz Forest: The Austrians have cleared a lot of the woodlands to make meadows, where you'll see contented cows grazing and the Alps towering in the background.

One of the most frequented areas for sports and recreation is the Bödele, which lies between the Valley of the Ache and the Valley of the Rhine. Skiers are drawn to the highlands in winter.

The best-known village of the Bregenz Forest, Bezau is surrounded by a landscape that's scenic in any season. Be careful not to confuse Bezau with a village nearby, at the end of the neighboring valley, named Bizau.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, you can hike, go mountaineering, swim, fish for trout, or play tennis or minigolf. In winter there's alpine skiing, with the Hinter-Bregenzerwald ski ticket covering a range of more than 50 lifts and cable railways. There are some 56km (35 miles) of cross-country ski trails, and you can also go tobogganing. A cableway from here will take you to the Baumgartenhöhe, at 1,632m (5,354 ft.).