Vorarlberg is the westernmost state (Land) of Austria. Though it is the second smallest in terms of area (Vienna is the smallest), it borders three countries:
• Germany (Bavaria)
• Switzerland (Graubünden and St. Gallen)
• Liechtenstein, as well as the Austrian state of Tyrol.
State AT-8 (ISO)
Governor Herbert Sausgruber (ÖVP)
Area 2.601 km²
The main rivers in Vorarlberg are the Ill (running through the Montafon and Walgau valleys into the Rhine), the Rhine (forming the border to Switzerland), the Bregenzer Ach and the Dornbirner Ach. Important lakes, other than the Lake of Constance are Lüner Lake, Silvretta Lake, Vermunt Lake, Spuller Lake, the Kops Basin and Formarin Lake; the first four were created for the production of hydroelectric energy. Even before the dam for the power plant was built, Lüner Lake was the largest mountain lake in the Alps. Most of this hydroelectric energy is exported to Germany at peak times. At night the surplus (and therefore cheap) energy from the caloric power plants in Germany is used to pump the water back into some of the lakes.
As there are several notable mountain ranges in Vorarlberg, such as the Silvretta, the Rätikon, the Verwall and the Arlberg, there are many famous skiing regions. The highest mountain is Piz Buin, whose rocky peak of 3,312 meters is surrounded by glaciers. Vorarlberg is supposed to enjoy the greatest scenic diversity within limited confines in the entire East Alps at the border to the West Alps. The distance between Lake Constance and the plains of the Rhine valley across medium-altitude and high-alpine zones to the glaciers of the Silvretta range is a mere 90 km. Vorarlberg is divided into four large districts, from north to south: Bregenz, Dornbirn, Feldkirch and Bludenz. These districts appear on the automobile license plates in the form of abbreviations: B, DO, FK and BZ.
For several years, the Vorarlberg economy has been performing well above the Austrian average. Whereas the all-Austrian GDP in 2004 rose by a "mere" 2.0% in real terms, Vorarlberg recorded an increase of 2.9%. This comes as a surprise, particularly as the major trading partners in Germany, Switzerland and Italy have not been faring well. Owing to this robust economic performance, Vorarlberg was able to boost its gross regional product in 2004 to 11.5 billion EUR according to calculations by the Economic Policy Department of the Vorarlberg Chamber of Trade. This translates into a nominal increase of 5.0% (Austria as a whole +4.0%). The regional product per inhabitant in Vorarlberg is 31,000 EUR, exceeding the Austrian national average by 8%. In addition to the flourishing textile, clothing, electronics, machinery, packing materials industries of the Rhine Valley, there is also a broad agricultural base, especially in the Bregenzerwald, which is noted for its dairy products ("Bregenzerwälder Cheese Route" and tourism. The tourist industry employs a considerable number of Vorarlbergers. The greatest tourist attractions are the mountains and the numerous ski resorts, the largest (and most famous) of which are:
• the Bregenzerwald,
• the Arlberg region (including the high-class ski resorts Lech and Zürs),
• the Brandnertal, and
• the Montafon.
Some famous skiers from these regions include Anita Wachter, Egon Zimmermann, Gerhard Nenning, Mario Reiter, Toni Innauer and Hannes Schneider.
78 % of the population is Roman Catholic, which puts Vorarlberg in line with all-Austrian average (73.6%), 7,817 Vorarlberg inhabitants are Protestant (2.2 %). The second largest religious denomination is Islam which accounts for a share of 8.4 % (mainly Turkish immigrants).
Due to their isolated location from the rest of Austria, the most of the people in Vorarlberg speak a very distinct German dialect which other Austrians have a hard time understanding. It is in some way similar to the German dialects spoken in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Baden-Württemberg and the Alsace region in France (they are all Alemannic dialects, whereas the dialects in the rest of Austria form part of the Bavarian-Austrian language group). In fact many towns or even villages in Vorarlberg have their own distinct sub-dialects.
Vorarlberg was a part of Further Austria, and parts of the area were ruled by the Counts Montfort of Vorarlberg. Following World War I there was a desire by many in Voralberg to join Switzerland. In a referendum held in Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919 over 80% of those voting supported a proposal that the state should join the Swiss Confederation. However, this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian Government, the Allies, Swiss liberals, the Swiss-Italians and the Swiss-French.