9th September cont’d – 15th September
We were both a bit restless this afternoon so we decided we would do a hike up the mountain behind us. It was only supposed to be an hour walk but we got lost again! We were on the right path for awhile, passing cows roaming free on the mountainside with their bells clanging as they walked. We saw a house being built where the workers had their Friday afternoon drinks sorted by cooling the beer off in an animal water trough. From there we got lost and ended half way up one of the ski runs with spectacular views across the valley and the towns below. Not to be put off, we checked the iPad and eventually found the right road. It was an enjoyable hike, albeit a bit longer than first planned but the cold beer at the end once we were home made it all worthwhile.
We were sad to leave our home of the past two nights but it was time to move on. We only had a short drive to the town of Sankt Johann im Pongau where the Liechtensteinklamm (gorge) is. Rather than drive to the carpark, we decided to walk so we found a spot to park just near the hydro electric plant. The path from here follows the Salzach river for 3kms before the path heads into the mountains. We again passed several ski fields, one even had the cable car running. Once passed the entry gate (€6 each) we headed along the timber boardwalk which burrows into the gorge, past swirling aquamarine waters, glistening boulders and 300m-high cliffs and through tunnels gouged into slate cliffs veined with white granite. The trail finishes at a 50m-high waterfall which is where we had our lunch before returning along the same route. We have found a nice wildcamp spot on the Salzach river and our views are awesome. Across the river are the grass covered hills with a scattering of Swiss style homes and huge rocky mountains in the distance. We seem to have befriended a little cat as well who kept us company for the afternoon.
Our plan today was to drive to Zell am See for a walk around the lake, however as we have found previously at the popular swimming lakes, parking was not easy to find. All of the carparks we had pinned had signs that said Motorhomes not allowed, so after driving around the lake, we headed to our next destination, the Großglockner High Alpine Road. We have found a spot to park for the night at the beginning of the drive so we can do the 35kms up and over first thing in the morning while the weather (hopefully) is fine and clear. Our view from Tilly is directly at a very large waterfall in front of us, and the mountains to our left. Once parked we went for a hike on a path that hugged the base of one of the mountain ranges in this area where the path took us through fields with cows and horses roaming freely and past a number of beautiful waterfalls. Several glaciers were visible on the mountain peaks and there is a bit of snow on the peaks as well. We spent a bit of time patting some horses on our return journey before spending the remainder of the day sitting outside. We met a lovely couple from the UK, Martin and Lynn and chatted to them for a few hours about their travels and ours as well. It’s always nice meeting up with people and hearing the stories of their adventures.
We set the alarm for an early start hoping for clear skies and were greeted with just that! Bright blue skies for our 48km journey on the Großglockner High Alpine Road. Voted the number one drive in the world, the road twists and winds its way to a staggering 2571 metres above sea level with 30 three-thousand metre mountains surrounding the Pasterze Glacier. Past lots of waterfalls and many stops along the way the scenery was just stunning, we were mesmerised by the mountains ahead and the valleys below. Our walk on the panoramaweg up to the lookout introduced us to some wild Marmots, and we were also fortunate enough to see some wild Ibex, similar in size to a reindeer but with less horns. The view from the lookout was breathtaking. Snow still covered some of the peaks and the mighty Großglockner, standing at 3,798 metres is the highest mountain in Austria. Even though the glacier has shrunk considerably in the past 100 years (over 1.8km of ice cover) it is still the longest glacier in the Eastern alps. There were many information boards as well as a visitors centre with exhibitions and explanations about the history of the area. The journey back down was the steepest descent we have ever done and poor Tilly’s brakes were smoking by the time we stopped near the bottom. It cost €35 to drive on this road through the Hohe Tauern National Park, but considering we spent over 6 hours in total (the drive included) it was well worth it.
We got our first views of the mighty Dolomites on our drive to Lienz down another steep mountain through lush green valleys where the Austrian alps were on one side and the Dolomites on the other. We walked into Lienz along the Isel river and wandered around the town for an hour or so. Back to Tilly for lunch and then we headed back up into the mountains via Gaimberg for our hike tomorrow. We were going to drive up to a cable car station for our overnight stop and do a hike in the morning, however the first 2kms of the road were in first gear it was that steep. We decided that if that was what the start was like, it would continue and with the thought of the wear and tear on Tilly, we decided not to continue. On the way back down (also in first gear) we had another change of plan. Rather than continue on to Slovakia tomorrow, we are going to spend a bit more time in Austria as we are both loving the country and the people, so iPad out, we plotted to drive to Felbertauern, near the Felbertauerntunnel where we will stay for the next two nights as we plan to do a big hike to another glacier tomorrow. We had a nice walk around the area and met a very friendly Austrian couple from Vienna who confirmed the hike we plan on doing is well worth it even though it will take 6 hours (if we complete the whole circuit!) Hope we sleep well tonight!
We had a mammoth day on what turned out to be one of the best hikes we have done. After breakfast and making lunch, we packed the backpacks and headed off on our hike. There are two ways to complete this round circuit, one is to go through the forest where the path is flat, then steep then flat and steep again and the other is just straight up so we chose the forest walk. It was a hard climb past several waterfalls, streams and we were lucky enough to see some more Marmots along the way. Once through the forest we hit the multi-coloured rocky outcrops with seams of Quartz on a path that would take us to the glacier. The climb up took us 3 hours and we had our lunch at the glaciers’ edge before venturing onto the lowest part of it. Treading very carefully we crunched our way across the ice which fortunately was covered with a layer of crushed rock although there were pockets of slimy mud on the edge. The Großvenediger glacier as you would expect flows down from the Großvenediger mountain which is 3666 metres so not much smaller than Großglockner. On our return journey we continued to climb up to around 2260 metres before heading back down on the steep path on the opposite side of the valley to our climb up. While coming down we watched a helicopter ferrying steel and supplies up to the top of a nearby mountain. We aren’t sure but think they may be building a chairlift as there was a lot of steel beams and wire being taken up. We stopped at Innergschlöß (hotel and restaurant) on the way down for a well earned beer, before continuing on for the last hour of what turned out to be a 8 hour hike over 25kms with about an hour for photo stops and lunch. I think we may sleep well tonight!
After our big day yesterday, we decided on a quiet day today. We drove through the Felbertauerntunnel at a cost of €11 and ended up in Friedburg on a lovely Stellplatz that overlooks the valley. We had a small walk into the forest area but spent most of the day relaxing. We met an Australian couple from NSW, Michael and Deb who we had dinner with at the restaurant here. They travel for 6 months each year storing their Motorhome in Dover and have been doing that for the past two years. We talked for a number of hours about where we have been and where we would like to go, swapping tidbits of information about what to do and what not to do. We had coffee back at their Motorhome before heading home at 10.30pm. A most enjoyable evening.
16th September – 22nd September
We only had a short drive today to Krimml, where our hike to the top of the Krimmler Wasserfälle starts. With an impressive fall of 380 metres over three levels, these waterfalls are the largest in Europe and the fifth highest waterfall in the world. We climbed up to a height of 1460 metres on what was a steep ascent although Lonely Planet said it was a gentle uphill path, so not sure where that path was, we must have missed it! There were 11 viewpoints along the way, however you don’t see the whole waterfall at any one time. Once at the top we continued on for another kilometre or so following a burbling brook before returning along the same route back to the bottom of the waterfall. It took us about 2 1/2 hours in total and on the way back to Tilly we had a peek in the souvenir shops. After lunch we headed to our next stop where along the way were lookout points on the roadside that gave an almost full view of the waterfall. We are parked at the Hochkrimml-Zillertal arena which is a huge ski resort at 1600 metres with several ski lifts and we have a view to the snow covered peaks in the distance.
It rained quite heavily for most of the night however we woke to fresh snow on the mountains, the first for this coming winter. We had a lovely drive, albeit under cloud to our overnight spot in Schwaz through some beautiful ski towns with quite a number of the ski lifts in operation for the hikers brave enough to venture up. We had to stop for a minute or so along the way to let the farmers and their cows walk to their paddocks. We have since found out that at this time of the year, the farmers celebrate the coming home of the cows, in preparation for winter which are adorned with elaborate floral headdresses and bells, quite a sight. It was still raining when we had parked, but we decided to head into town anyway. The shops in the old town were closed but it was still a nice place to walk around with its pastel washed houses and winding streets. We visited the Pfarrkirche (parish church) with its step-gabled roof that is adorned with 1400 copper tiles. The gothic-baroque church with its web-vaulted interior supposedly houses the largest symphonic organ in Tyrol and was just beautiful, as was the golden altar. We also had a walk around the main shopping centre before coming home. Hopefully the weather will improve tomorrow.
No rain today and as we are only 25kms from Innsbruck we decided to spend the day there. We drove along the river for most of the journey through a few small towns and past the Swarovski factory and Crystal World which houses amongst other things, the biggest shop you have ever seen. We had visited this place back in 2009 and were a little disappointed that we didn’t see how the crystals are made. Continuing on, we parked about 3kms outside of Innsbruck and had a nice walk along the Inn river into the old town. So many ornate buildings it was hard to know which way to look! On one of the balconies a brass band was playing Austrian music to the crowds below. Unfortunately cloud covered the alps that are so close to town but we still had an enjoyable day, reminiscing about the places we visited and the things we did previously. The clouds did lift a little so we managed a glimpse or two of the alps before returning to Tilly for the drive back to Schwaz where we will stay for another night.
Kufstein was our destination today and our journey was in the rain, again with low clouds covering the peaks of the mountains although the lower parts were clear. We did a bit of shopping before parking at the Stellplatz which has a great view to the castle. After lunch with our umbrellas up we walked the short distance into town and headed for the tourist office. Armed with a walking map our first stop was the Römerhofgasse, a reconstructed historic alleyway with its overhanging arches, lanterns and frescoes facades. It is renowned for its wine bars of which there were many, as well as a number of shops selling Lederhosen and traditional dresses. From there we just wandered the streets, most of the buildings were quite modern with little of the original town left.
A journey of 95kms through more of the beautiful countryside and we arrived at Bad Gastein. The original plan was to stop in Kitsbühel but parking was difficult so we continued on. We stopped at a lookout point for lunch which had fantastic views back along the valley dwarfed by mountains. Once we had arrived in Bad Gastein we parked at the cable car station and walked into town. The town is perched up high above the valley and is said to be spiritually between Brighton and St Moritz although some of the 19th century buildings are suffering badly from rising damp and many look permanently closed. Having said at it was still a nice town to walk around with the star attraction being the 341m waterfall at the edge of the town which rages over rugged cliff faces and through thick forest to tumble into three turquoise pools. After a visit to the tourist office for a hiking map, we made our way home to plan tomorrow’s hike.
Our hike today took us up along the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Promenade walking trail. Not a difficult trail with a gentle climb until we reached the Kaiserhofstrasse where a squirrel came right up to us looking for food. This section of the trail, known as the balcony trail gave us deep views into the forest-cloaked, mountain-rimmed, villa-studded Gastein Valley, hugging the mountainside until descending into the town of Bad Hofgastein 10 kms away. Along the trail we passed a farm that was raising deer with two stags that had huge antlers and we went through 4 steel tunnels that were built to protect hikers from rock falls and ice. In between two of the tunnels was a nice waterfall. Once in Bad Hofgastein, we stopped in the square for lunch before we had a walk around the very large market that filled most of the streets of the town. We walked back along the river on a flat trail, past more houses with floral displays on their balconies and in their gardens. We had a great view of the snow covered mountain behind Bad Gastein, past cows and horses enjoying the sunshine and eventually up along the waterfall path. This section was the steepest of the day giving us a different view of the waterfall from the one we had yesterday. A round journey of just over 20kms and 5 1/2 hours later, we sat down to a nice cold beer and admired the view of the surrounding peaks on what was a clear sunny day.
Our change of plan in staying a bit longer in Austria has seen us come back to Altenmarkt after spending a fantastic 9 days in the alps doing a couple of great hikes. We are staying in the same Stellplatz as last time and had a lovely conversation with a Scottish man about our proposed trip to Slovenia and Croatia. Sadly we will be unable to get to see Split and Dubrovnik having discovered that the ferries over to Italy stop at the end of October from Dubrovnik. The only solution would be to drive through Albania, Montenegro and a very short distance through Bosnia to Dürres but our insurance doesn’t cover those countries. But fear not, that now may give us the opportunity of a trip into Greece, time permitting, so it’s not all bad. The weather here is a bit warmer than what we have experienced over the past few days so we had another walk into town in the glorious sunshine.
23rd September – 29th September
Our first stop on another sunny day was Mauterndorf, mainly for a walk to stretch our legs. It’s narrow streets are dotted with coloured houses and fountains, while the surrounding high moors and exposed bluffs are set up for hiking and skiing. The medieval 13th century Burg Mauterndorf sits high on a rocky outcrop and was built by the prince-archbishops of Salzburg on the site of a Roman fort. From here we continued on through the alps where a 15% ascent had us reaching heights of 1750 metres through a very large ski area in the town of Katschberg. It would be a hive of activity in the wintertime with skiers flocking from miles around. Then came the drive down with a 15% descent, not as long a drive as the Großglockner road but it still had Tilly’s brakes getting quite hot. We arrived in Gmünd where we will stay tonight. We had another walk around this very attractive village with a walled centre and a 13th-century hilltop castle, Alte Burg which is now a restaurant overlooking the town.
As we mentioned when driving through Norway, there isn’t bad scenery anywhere and we have found it to be the same in Austria. Mountains, lakes, villages, farm animals, ski lifts, it’s all here and this was obvious again on our drive to Millstatt. Situated on a very large lake, the Millstätter See is 12km long but just 1.5km wide, and is second in size in Carinthia after the Wörthersee. It was gouged out during the ice age about 30,000 years ago. A popular spot during summer, it is quieter now that autumn is upon us but there are lots of hiking trails in the area. Our hike today took us down along a river through a beautiful gorge and then up to the Herzog waterfall. Along the way were signs warning of the temperature of the water and advising people to only be in the water for no more than 1 minute due to its coldness. At the base of the waterfall, a woman donned her bathers and in she jumped, pure madness. Suffice to say she wasn’t in there for long! The whole journey took about 3 hours and it was a relatively easy and enjoyable hike.
We left the alpine region and the huge mountains behind. Our scenery today was still mountainous and considerably smaller than we have experienced over the past three weeks but the villages and towns were just as pretty. We had to stop along the way to allow the cows to cross the road (happens anywhere, right?), stopping at Friesach for the night. Friesach is Carinthia’s oldest town. The hills on either side of town are dotted with ruined fortifications, and the centre is surrounded by a 820 metre moat with town walls. The moat is still filled with water (it’s the only town in Austria that still has one). We climbed up to two of the castle ruins which gave us a great view over the town and then walked back down into the centre. We visited the Gothic Stadtpfarrkirche (the town’s parish church), with its Romanesque elements dating from 927, a lovely church that has been beautifully restored and had a quick walk around the square before returning home for a cuppa. After sitting for awhile, we weren’t overly happy with our wildcamp spot so we drove another 22kms to Lagensee where we are parked across the road from the lake, much nicer.