Edith Thomas, Perth, WA
The mountains of Austria are surely one of the world’s loveliest places to make you want to pick up your walking poles, put on your trusty boots and explore the well-marked tracks. It is hard to decide between walks as the choice is endless, from an easy stroll to an adventurous hike to the top of the mountains. On our previous trips to the region, our hikes had to be close to the towns. Then we discovered the great hospitality and incentive of the Austrian Tourist Offices in encouraging visitors to enjoy numerous great hikes in different locations of this beautiful country.
Visitors to Innsbruck have the opportunity to join other hikers from all over the world on guided walks. Each day there are two options; one a short, easy hike, while the other caters for a more adventurous trek high up in the mountains. Your walking boots didn’t fit in your luggage? No problem. Walking boot hire is included and encouraged on hikes if you don’t have your own. They come in all sizes and, after the walk is finished, the boots are disinfected ready for the next hiker who comes along.
At our hotel we acquired our free Innsbruck Club card, which entitles you to free guided walks and discounts at some venues. In the morning we made sure we were on time for the meeting in front of the Congress. The coach pulled up on time and soon we were heading up to the mountains, picking up more hikers along the way. We had to make a hard decision—which of the two walks did we want to tackle; the easy option or the more adventurous? Friends, who opted for the easier option, were full of praise for their guide. He was very knowledgeable about the local environment, knowledge that he was happy to share. He explained how the citizens decided to encourage restaurants to source local produce. Now, in many of the restaurants that we visited, the menu includes the names of the local suppliers. I hope this idea will catch on here in Australia! It would be nice to support our local farmers.
Our walk took us on a lovely mountain path where the mist among the trees gave the walk a mystical feel. Eventually we arrived at a mountain hut where the hosts were most welcoming and we appreciated the opportunity to buy our lunch and a glass of beer or a cappuccino. Here, after stamping our hiking diary with the hut’s special seal, we received our bronze hiking pin. Our hike continued after lunch with glimpses of the Europa Bridge, the second biggest in Europe, stretching over the valley.
Our next hike started with a cable car ride to the top of Mount Patscherkofel providing a bird’s eye view of the Winter Olympic luge track winding down the mountainside below. The views were spectacular. Although it is a guided walk, there is no pressure. Hikers can walk at their own pace and all meet up at the end for our ride back to town.
Unfortunately we had time for only one more hike in this beautiful area. It started off on a bitumen road, but soon we found ourselves in a picture postcard setting in the Stubai Alps, where we were surrounded by high mountains with waterfalls cascading among the tall trees and a glacier ahead. We hiked to where the base of the glacier used to be 30 years ago, or so the locals told us.
As this was our third walk, we received a silver pin for our achievement. When we return and finish 10 hikes in all, we qualify for our gold pin, which hopefully one day we can return to earn.
We left the Alps and based ourselves in Lienz, gateway to the Austrian Dolomites. The town is surrounded by craggy peaks. I picked up a brochure in the local tourist office and the picture of a mountain hut on the cover caught my eye. It was named the Karlsbader Hütte, and I had an immediate desire to try to visit it. To our delight we found that the tourist office offered a transfer service, for a small fee, to some of the great hiking areas in the mountains.
We started our hike at the Dolomitien Hütte, which was perched precariously on the edge of a high cliff. The hike from here to the next hut, though energy sapping because of the altitude and terrain, offered amazing views along the way. High up on rocky sides of the mountain we observed rock climbers, visible only through binoculars. It looked far too dangerous to us, especially as we were passing rocks covered with plaques honouring adventurers who had perished up in the mountain pursuing their passion.
Eventually we reached our destination, the Karlsbader Hütte, feeling so small and insignificant surrounded by the rocky peaks. The restaurant offered a full menu, and the plum strudel was “to die for” according to some of my sweet toothed friends. All too soon though we had to make our way back to meet the transport back into town.
It is possible to spend time up here, staying overnight and arranging for luggage to be transported to the next hut while you walk with just a daypack. We did not have the time. There are many more hikes that we would have enjoyed, but our time was too short—maybe next time (A word of warning, make sure you tell the driver in the morning that you will be returning in the afternoon. We did not do that so, not expecting us, the office sent just a small van up the mountain. Somehow we managed to cram in more bodies then it was meant to carry.)
Lienz is a good base to visit Austria’s highest peak, the Grossglockner, a snow peak, over 3000m metres high. For the real adventure seeker, there is the opportunity to hike through the snow to another mountain hut. Good hikes in the area gave us another memorable day. Some caught the cable car up the mountain, while others took the opportunity to hike the trails on the lower slopes at the picturesque little hamlet of Heilegenblut.
Lake St Wolfgang is a pleasant place to relax, although this does not mean you have to take it easy. Early morning up on the hill behind the town, one will meet deer grazing on the luscious grass. There are numerous walks, some easy around the lake, others tougher, going high into the mountains.
Nothing stands in the way of hikers; sometimes the track leads through peoples’ front gardens or through farmers’ barns. Everyone welcomes hikers in this part of the world.