The Wildschönau Valley is characterised by it's agriculture. Majestic old farmhouses are a common sight and the meadows and fields of the gentle hillsides are perfectly tended. "Wild und schön" - wild and beautiful by name and nature.
There are 260 working farms in the region all of which fall under the category of mountain farms. They stem from the original farms plus farmland gained from clearing forests.
The Stödl Farm on the Oberau Sonnberg mountain is the highest farm at 1334 metres altitude and the Oberholzalm Farm at the foot of the Gratlspitz Mountain is the second highest at 1329 metres.
Almost every farmhouse has a bell tower on the roof and a cross on the gable.
It's a lovely tradition on these smallholdings that every farm animal is given a name, bearing witness to the close relationship between the farmer and his livestock.
With one or two exceptions, all of the farms are now accessible by road
The title "Erbhof" means that a farm has been in the same family for at least 200 years.
The Z'Bach Mountain Farming Museum tells a story of the simple and often arduous farming life through the ages. Things are better now, although it is almost impossible to earn a living solely by farming here. Many farmers have a day job too. The character and beauty of the Wildschönau's rural landscape is due for the most part to the region's farming families (Souce: Wildschönau Heimatbuch Hans Mayr)
The Wildschönau has more summer grazing pastures than most other regions in Austria. The high meadows are well loved with walkers and sightseers.
Because of it's shale rock formation the Wildschönau has particularly good pastures. There are 46 high pastures where cattle, horses, sheep and goats spend the summer months. These areas are mostly quite unspoiled and therefore a magnet for walkers seeking the undisturbed peace and quiet to be found there.
Every pasture or "alm" has grazing rights for a certain number of animals. The WIldschönau farmers hold a total of 1600 grazing rights. The rich milk produced on the alm is made into delicious cheeses. Earlier the cheesmaker was responsible for the milk from his "own" cows, nowadays it is more economical to work together in one large dairy.
Hundreds of animal are driven up to the high pastures at the end of May or start of June. The highest is the Seefeld Alm in Auffach at 1979 metres. Cowherds are employed by the farmers to tend the animals for the 100 days of summer and can earn very well doing so. The cheesemaker's art needs no explanation.
One of the very best cheesemakers is Johann Schönauer who works on the Schönanger Alm in Auffach. The largest alm in the region, this one is owned by 25 farmers and is 680 hectares. The 260 cows produce 2000 litres of milk daily, all of which is made into prize-winning Emmentaler, Camembert or Tilsiter cheeses.
On the Brixentaler Holz Alm aka. the Cheese Farm in Niederau guests can join a guided tour twice weekly and taste the delicious wares afterwards. Nothing tastes quite as good as an excellent cheese on the high pasture.
Tradition plays a huge role in the lives of the local people in Tirol and the Wildschönau is no exception. The customs can't all be upheld nowadays but numerous clubs and societies keep the traditions alive.
In 1900 the Oberau artist and patriot Mathias Riedmann founded the historical "Wildschönauer Sturmlöder“ a folklore group based on the of the Tirolean Freedom Fighters in the Napoleonic Wars. Their uniforms and weapons were replicas and sometimes original articles from the year 1809.
The Sturmlöda were the last remnants of the Resistance to Napolean's allies the Bavarians. Led by Andreas Hofer, this army of peasant farmers and vigilantes fought bravely but were bitterly defeated in 1809. They followed their leaders' call to arms with only scythes and pitchforks as weapons and were a poor match for the Bavarian militia.
The modern day troops are popular guests at various folk festivals in the area.
The Wildschönau Rifle Company was first mentioned in history books in the year 1745. The traditional society was active until the 1930s and then reactivated in 1959 by local doctor Bruno Bachmann in celebration of the 150 anniversary of the Battle of Bergisel in 1809. The Rifle Company is an integral part of society life in the Wildschönau Valley.
Tirol's first music high school, 4 brass bands, 15 choirs and numerous small bands and ensembles all mean that music is a way of life in the Wildschönau Valley. Music is played in practically every household and has a decisive role in every social event in the Valley of Music.
The locals are passionate about brass and folk music above all. Every week throughout the summer, in every village the four brass bands give an open air concert.
At the Taste of Tirol market at the Hotel Tirolerhof, mountain masses or concerts by various choirs there is always a harmonious background of music.
The Wildschönau is home to the Krautinger Schnapps, a beet schnapps distilled exclusively in the region. It was the Empress Maria Theresia who, in the 18th century bestowed the distillery rights upon 51 local farmers. 15 of those original farming families still produce the schnapps today. It is known far and wide as a cure-all and elixir, a remedy for any number of maladies from stomache ache to the flu. A dedicated festival takes place in autumn when the year's best schnapps is chosen.
It was the Krautinger Schnapps that helped the Wildschönau Valley to the coveted title "Genuss Region"