Gentle slopes and undulating hillsides testify to the transformations that have taken place in the alpine landscape since the Ice Age, when the glacier here extended from the heights of the Arlberg all the way to Lake Constance. Water gushes down from the slopes into little streams and ravines, into waterfalls and gullies.
Visually, the villages are dominated by the sedate, shingled farmhouses which typify the Bregenzerwald. These single buildings characteristically have the dwelling, stable and barn all under one roof. The church tower is still the focal point of attention in each village and the church interiors are reminiscent of the Baroque tradition which spread to Switzerland, Germany and even to Alsace through the work of the great master builder families such as the Beers, Moosbruggers and Thumbs in the course of the 17th century.
At the same time, however, the new timber architecture of the region has added some charming aspects to the villages. Residential houses and commercial buildings combine simple geometric lines with the tension of timber and modern building materials, of light, high levels of craftsmanship and of ecological awareness.
Many villages in the Bregenzerwald have names that end with the letters “-au”. The German word Au(e) indicates a location close to streams and rivers. Au and Schoppernau have a similar history which has united the two villages over the centuries.
The name Au goes back to ancient times. According to historical records, the very first lords, for whom the Bregenzerwald was merely a hunting ground, had a hunting lodge (Jagdhaus) there “in the Ouwe”.
A district of Au is still called Jaghausen today. Before they became permanent settlements around 700 years ago Au and Schoppernau were primitive huts used by alpine farmers in summer. The name Schoppernau is probably derived from Schaufau. The population in the two villages lived mainly from farming, forestry, hunting and from artisanry and trade. Tourism only began to take off after the Second World War. Today, the two villages are among the most important tourist resorts in Vorarlberg.
The best known figures of the region are the baroque master builders and Franz Michael Felder, a 19th century writer and social reformer whose brief life story can still leave people feeling shocked today.