Nobody could argue that Austria has given short shrift in its contribution to the finer things in life. After all, it’s the country that gave us Mozart, Maria von Trapp and her tuneful troupe, lederhosen, the Viennese Waltz and, my personal favourite, apple strudel. But there’s so much more to this fairy tale country than just that.
I visited the Tirol region of Austria, located in the heart of the Alps and often described as a wonderland of lakes and mountains. Come winter, it draws in an army of keen skiers and winter sports fans, but the attraction of this sprawling region doesn’t stop once the snow melts and spring appears.
To the contrary, as the edelweiss shoots up, so does a rich and really quite magical environment with waters so crystal blue and vistas so evidently stolen from a perfect picture postcard, it often feels like you’re looking on through 3D glasses.
And finding ways to discover this beautiful landscape is one of the highlights of a summer holiday in the Tirol. The mountain-top views are surely the region’s million pound asset, giving you staggering views out across the whole region. Where we began our stay in Seefeld, we got the Rosshutte mountain railway up to the Seefelder Joch before walking onto the Seefelder Spitze, from where you can catch a glimpse of what feels like the whole world.
For active folk with sturdy shoes, there are plenty of opportunities to nosey round the mountain tops on foot, bicycle, or if you’re feeling brave, even paragliders. Or else, feet up with a coffee and a plate of kaiserschmarrn (a delicious Austrian dish, roughly translated as ‘smashed pancakes’) half way up overlooking the views will do quite nice too, thank you.
Taking a short taxi ride out of Seefeld lets you see in detail the rich flora and fauna of the Karwendel Nature Park you might spied from afar at the top of the mountain. Following a nature tour is a good way to get to know this area with the help of an expert and if you’re luckier than us, you may even get spot a chamois deer or a golden eagle while you're there.
It’s definitely possible to explore this region on every mode of transport thinkable and I’d recommend trying out as many as you can. E-bikes are especially good fun for getting around Achensee, a collection of five Tirolean villages dotted around the majestic Lake Achensee, where we spent the second half of our trip.
While the battery power certainly makes pedalling up the hilltop all the more easier (especially if your knees aren’t what they used to be), it’s the fly back down that leaves you euphoric, the wind whipping past your face as you plunge back into the charming village of Pertisau. Just leave enough time to grab an elderflower syrup and take a peek in the rustic Senhutte Faltzhurn in between.
Alternatively take a dip in the lake, stroll along the cliff-side tracks (just take some decent trainers and a good sun hat) or for a more leisurely journey round Lake Achensee, take the steam train and boat.
The Achensee Steam Cog Railway that travels from nearby Jenbauch back to the lake is the oldest steam cog railway in Europe, created in 1889. Huffing and puffing out black soot (the smell of which is enough to bring back foggy memories of much-treasured childhood steam train trips) all the way up to 440 metres, it’s a spectacular way to see one of the region’s most darling views. And it was built to tie in with the Achensee Shipping Company’s timetable, meaning you can comfortably hop straight from one to the other.
It’s worth mentioning that the Tirol’s way of life is carefully planned to leave you looking forward to a hearty meal, a relaxing unwind (possibly with the help of a traditional massage using shale oil fracked from the nearby lake), and something of an early night by the end of the day. Thrill-seeking night owls might be best placed staying nearer to the capital of Innsbruck or at least in a bigger town like Seefeld, since smaller villages like those round Achensee tend to retire to bed relatively early, ready for a prompt start so you can climb ev’ry mountain the next morning.
Speaking of hearty meals, a fast or at least a restrained diet is recommended before you get to Austria (really, don’t even bother with the in-flight sandwiches). The locals tend to insist on at least five courses per meal and don’t really do just a snack for lunch. The seven course traditional Austrian meal we enjoyed in the stunning Hotel Bergresort where we stayed in Seefeld (and were thoroughly spoilt rotten inevery respect) is a feat for even the hungriest of bellies but well worth the indigestion when you get dishes that look like this...
But at least you can swim it all off in idyllic pools like this fresh-water lake one...
But really, my favourite part of Austria is the sense of nostalgia that clings to the Tirol. From the traditional Austrian dress that most hoteliers will greet you in, to the endless Tina Turner that blasts out of the hotel radio, to the wonderful motto of the Achensee railway that this region seems to live its life by–“our world is fast enough- we live slowness”– there is a feeling of time standing still here. And that, I think, is the most perfect condition for a holiday that gets you away from it all in what is a truly magical place.
- Thomson Lakes & Mountains offers a week at the 5* Hotel Bergresort in Seefeld from £688 per person and from £778 per pserson at the 4* Hotel Post am See in Pertisau on Lake Achensee including half board accommodation, flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. For more information on the Austrian Tirol, please visit www.visittirol.co.uk, for Pertisau on Lake Achensee visit www.achensee.com and for Seefeld visit www.seefeld.com
- There's more travel ideas in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.