Austria Summer Walking
Summer walking holidays in Kitzbühel and Zell am Zee with Crystal Holidays
This was our first trip to the mountains of Austria and it turned out to be one of the best walking breaks we have ever had. The weather was kind, the hotels were great, the food was wonderful and the mountains are brilliant.
Flying from Manchester to Salzburg is a short hop, usually less that 2 hours. Salzburg is supposed to be a great place to visit but we were going to the mountains. Our 40 minute transfer to Kitzbühel and our hotel for a three night stay gives you a taste of the landscape. Deep river valleys and forested mountain slopes line the road and the small villages and farms look like they have been provided by the tourist board for a film set.
We stayed at the Hotel Hofer in a quiet corner of the lower town and enjoyed a large room with a balcony. The Hotel Hofer is operated on a B&B basis but evening meals can be provided. Mike Thomas who manages the Hotel Hofer is a great asset to any visitor, he knows everything and everybody and can be relied on to have a solution to any problem and an answer to any question. The friendly staff are all British and we could not fault they way we were looked after. Good coffee and a good continental breakfast are included and Mike will also run up a good cooked breakfast too.
Kitzbühel itself is better know as a ski resort and in the winter the place takes on a different character. Summer sees the walkers and mountain bikers start to arrive and the snow melts to reveal a lovely town filled with classic Austrian buildings and churches. The supermarkets, there are several in and around the town, offer a great range of food and drink with many prices similar to the UK. Eating out is good and you can choose from quick and simple to expensive and classy. The town has been given the nickname 'Glitzbühel' due to the designer shops that are set along the shopping streets but there are lots of cheaper shopping choices too. Our verdict was 'comfortable, quiet and relaxing'. Kitzbühel also makes a good base for touring the region by car but we did not come to drive we came to walk.
Which brings me to the two main features of Kitzbühel that we were interested in. The town sits in a crook in the valley between the Kitzbüheler Horn and the Hahnenkamm peak which tower on opposite sides of the valley. Both can be reached on foot, by bike or by cable cars. We went the lazy way and chose the cable cars although we did walk down from the summit of the Kitzbüheler Horn to the middle cable car station. The cable cars allow you to get to the summits and high plateaus quickly and then enjoy walking at altitude along the network of tracks and paths. The route information is signposted everywhere with accurate distances and timing to the next location. You will have to work hard to get lost. On our first outing in mist and rain we made our way from the top cable car station through the Alpine Flower Garden towards the Hornköpflhütte where we had a great lunch finished with a large dish of hot pancakes served with fruit and preserves. Real power food I kept telling myself.
We decided to walk down to the middle station and take in some of the great views across the valley. After such a lunch a minor adventure was called for and it was felt that we should go off the track and cut a corner, heading down to the ski chair lift station which is closed during the summer. The going was steep and tougher than expected but our reward was to see a pair of Marmots enjoying a quiet sunbathing session. At the chair lift we made a small error in reading the signpost and started to climb back up to the main cable car but another signpost sent us quickly back on the right trail to the lower cable car station.
At this altitude the sun can be very intense and we were glad to have used factor 20 sun block and to have carried a couple of litres of water. Our passes let us into the platform and we were soon gliding back to the town and a very cold beer in the cable car bar. Our first taste of Austria made us realise why so many people return here year after year. The quiet tranquility of the mountains and the cosy luxury of Kitzbühel make a great combination.
The opposite side of the valley offers a ride in what appears to be a vertical cable car to the Hahnenkamm. In winter this is the start point for one of the steepest downhill ski runs in Europe. In summer it is the base for a spiders web of trails that spread along the ridges away from the Hahnenkamm. The views are brilliant and you can see a vast panorama of alpine peaks and valleys.
If you need a break from the mountain walking Kitzbühel is a good centre for rail travel to the neighbouring towns and Salzburg is only a short rail journey away. Four golf courses are available to visitors, the town course is a pretty 9 hole course. The Schwarzee golf course is an impressive championship course with a setting that rivals any golf course in the UK. If they had played golf in 'Lord of the Rings' this would have the course of choice!!! A short trip out of town brings you to the Kitzbühel wildlife park where you can see the wildlife conservation programme at work. You walk in an open compound with herds of deer and various species of mountain goats for company. The more carnivorous guests such as Linx are in their own enclosure as are the wild boar and some of the less domesticated wildlife. There is also a children's area where we fed ponies, pot bellied pigs and small goats. The visitors can be fed and watered at the parks attractive restuarant. A perfect outing if you need a break from the trails.
Would we come back to Kitzbühel in the summer again? Yes without a second thought!
Next stop Zell am Zee
As part of our two centre holiday we were transferred by mini bus to our next destination the lovely lakeside town of Zell am Zee. Sadly the sunshine did not follow us but this is mountain country and you have to expect everything from snowstorms to blistering sun all in one day!
We stayed at the centrally located Hotel Fisherszwirt on an all inclusive basis in a very comfortable room overlooking a quiet, pedestrianised shopping street. The hotel is a well established family run place and we enjoyed every aspect of our stay. Good food and a relaxed atmosphere. All the rooms have an ethernet connection point so if you bring a laptop you can have a fast connection in your room, there is also a free wi-fi connection in the lobby and bar area.
Another great thing about staying at the Hotel Fisherszwirt is the Zell am Zee town pass which is given free to all guests. It allows you free travel on all the local buses, free entry to a list of attractions, free trip on the lake steamer, free use of some of the cable cars and a host of other goodies that add up to around 200 Euros of freebies!!! The Fisherszwirt is one of only three or four hotels that provide the free pass so add it into your calculations when travelling!
Zell am Zee has a different character to Kitzbühel and is not quite the same glamorous draw for the winter ski crowd however it is a pretty place and the lake adds another dimension to being there. A large lake steamer does regular circuits of there lake stopping at a few jetties to drop off passenger and collect others. It is a very relaxing hour just to sit back with a beer, yes there is a good bar with food on board and let the landscape slowly drift by. If you enjoy watersports the lake has several centres offering sailing, canoe and kayak hire and they also do lake boarding where you stand on a large surfboard and paddle around, wind surfing is also available when conditions allow.
On our second full day at Zell am Zee the weather was very poor, low cloud and persistent rain closed most of the cable cars and the higher points were closed due to heavy snow, snow even in mid summer! I decided to fight off cabin fever and explore the area by doing a circuit of the lake. It is an easy walk of around 14 kilometres on tracks and for a short distance on the far shore on pavements alongside the road. The track takes in a marshland nature reserve and lets you see the local landscape at your own pace. I found a small coffee shop at about the halfway point where the owner insisted I sat in for my coffee in spite of being soaked. I deferred to sit outside at a table and enjoy more rain. For about half the distance the path is split into two, one for walkers and one for cyclists. The cyclists get a little unhappy if you are on the wrong one! All in al a sort of must do walk and one where you can't get lost.
The other great attraction for visitors to Zell am Zee is a trip to see the waterfall. Not just any waterfall but the Krimml waterfall. Falling over 380 metres it is Europes' highest set of falls and is ranked fifth in the world. A mountain path set by the Austrian Alpine Association allows visitors to climb the the top section of the falls at appoint called Schettkanzel. The viewpoint here is 1460 metres above sea level, Ben Nevis, Britain highest mountain is 260 metres lower at 1200 metres! From the start point to the top takes around an hour at a reasonable pace but allow more time to just gaze at the spectacle.
On our final day we were back on the cable car and off to the Schmittenhohe. The peak sits above Zell am Zee and is a popular start point for lots of trails. You will find parascenders and paragliders up here too. The cable car is one that has been designed by the Porchse car company and the car caters for wheelchair users too. There is a lift at the base station that allows wheelchairs access to the platform although once at the top station the tracks around the summit are very uneven.
The one summit we missed was that of Kitzsteinhorn. We could see glimpses of it from the Schmittenhohe but the weather conditions had closed the access road and the cable cars were also closed so it will have to wait for another visit.
Both towns are enjoyable and our visit was a great introduction to what Austria has to offer. We missed the Spa's and many other attractions and activities but there is only so much you can put into one week. The mountain walking is a real joy in terms of the scenery, the access and the cable cars that take all the issues of climbing to the start points so easy. Quiet, well marked trails with brilliant food at the mountain huts makes you want to keep coming back for more.
Both the hotels we stayed with provided a host of walking guides and maps plus information on other activities and attractions. Information about or the lift passes and other local tickets are also available.
We flew from Manchester with Thomson Airways and we travelled with Crystal Holidays for our accommodation in Austria. Crystal is a specialist travel company for the region and they are experts at both winter and summer Austrian breaks.