The big read

Rita de Bruin took an Aus­trian Alps ad­ven­ture trekking along the Ho­he­salve and Wilder Kaiser Na­ture Re­serve

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

“Go on. Go on. Go on. Keep pedalling. Faster! Pedal faster! Go!” Fif­teen of us are on a hik­ing and cy­cling trip to Salzburg and St Jo­hann in the Aus­trian Tirol. A com­bi­na­tion of mas­sive ex­er­tion-in­duced breath­less­ness and the sheer­est, steep­est in­cline I’d ever en­coun­tered on two wheels, has pulled me and the €3,500 rented E-bike on which I was pre­car­i­ously perched, asun­der.

Re­mem­ber­ing the wis­dom of get­ting back on the horse af­ter a fall, I’d done just that. But the tor­tur­ous grav­ity-in­duc­ing as­cent caused me to wob­ble un­steadily. This in turn prompted the Corko­nian taskmas­ter who had been pedalling be­hind me to take a Michael Flat­ley-style leap off his bike, grab hold of the back car­rier on mine and break into an up­hill run de­signed to push me up­hill.

Add to that calami­tous in­dig­nity, the above-de­scribed cy­cling com­mands and you may won­der as I did, what the hell I was do­ing as­cend­ing the Aus­trian Alps on wheels, amidst a pack of sport-thirsty Ama­zo­nian-war­rior- type Pad­dies, when there was no rick­shaw at hand to ferry me to terra firma, or let’s be frank, a deckchair.

Our E-bik­ing trips around Kitzbühel Sch­warzsee took us over muck-em­bed­ded rocks and knots of gnarled tree roots as we nar­rowly dodged tree trunks on com­i­cally steep in­clines in tem­per­a­tures that oc­ca­sion­ally neared the 40s.

The craic in Aus­tria is mighty. One day while pedalling en masse through a vil­lage, one of the gang was in a world of his own.

“Car com­ing,” I yelled, help­fully, I thought. But he was too en­sconced in day­dream to re­alise the warn­ing was di­rected at him. I yelled his name then, an act that woke him up. Be­fud­dled, he be­gan to wob­ble, then ca­reer to­wards two other riders in our Aus­trian ad­ven­ture gang. Then, in a no­ble ef­fort to avoid hit­ting them, he mounted the foot­path, wob­bled some more, then hit a wall.

“You’ve scared him off his bike,” came a de­lighted shout from one of ‘the girls’. It was that sort of trip.

Most of us took a tum­ble at least once. Some skid while de­scend­ing sheer moun­tain paths on foot.

Others, mo­men­tar­ily dis- tracted by chat, un­wit­tingly ped­alled into alpine meadow bor­der­ing fences. All emerged un­scathed. On the evening we ar­rived there was tor­ren­tial rain and fog. My first im­pres­sion of Wes­ten­dorf’s Bich­ling was of a mas­sively moun­tain­ous space with fast-flow­ing rivers and streams; a land of trucks, log cab­ins, and weather-veined, flower­box-fronted chalets, each with a pile of metic­u­lously stacked logs out­side.

Even in the mist, Aus­tria does pretty. It’s ap­par­ent in the mas­ter crafts­man­ship you see ev­ery­where, in the ex­quis­ite artistry in the wood and stone.

Cru­ci­fixes are a land­scape fea­ture, you see them atop most moun­tain peaks, and in al­most ev­ery restau­rant or hut you visit. You’ll see leder­ho­sen and dirndl dresses worn by many restau­rant staff.

The hik­ing is won­der­ful. We trekked along the Ho­he­salve, climb­ing 500 me­tres to a height of 2,800 feet, some­times steeper. Mathaeus Gart­ner was our af­fa­ble guide.

We also ram­bled around the Kitzbühel­er­horn Hah­nankamm, guided by the em­i­nently able Paul Koller who climbed the seven peaks. With us, he ami­ably am­bled along, sun­shield­ing um­brella held para­sol-style above his head; stop­ping pe­ri­od­i­cally to pro­vide climb­ing tips and to point at ex­otic blooms along the way.

An­other day, we walked in the Wilder Kaiser Na­ture Re­serve. It’s a na­ture lover’s par­adise where tawny owls and wood grouse cross sky­paths with crag martins, hawks and golden ea­gles. The day­light fliers cast fleet­ing shade over 900 species of plant, in­clud­ing rare or­chids and alpine roses.

Pea­cock but­ter­flies abound. With feet even more frag­ile and sticky than our walk-weary pairs, they gin­gerly af­fixed them­selves to us. We car­ried those winged pas­sen­gers through moun­tain-shel­tered wood­lands and sparkling streams and were suit­ably cap­ti­vated by the del­i­cate beauty of their sub­se­quent me­an­der­ing flights back into the wild.

Other hik­ing high­lights for our group in­cluded the 2,195 me­tre Hin­tere Goinger Halt Wilder Kaiser sun­rise moun­tain walk chal­lenge, and a trek over the mag­nif­i­cent Kitzbüheler Horn led by vet­eran guide Fritz Mi­nard.

‘Eas­ier’ climbs are avail­able for less ex­pe­ri­enced moun­tain walk­ers. Yours truly opted for one of those and it prac­ti­cally floored me.

At times so high was the tem­per­a­ture (late 30s) and so seem­ingly re­lent­less the steep in­cli­na­tion, that rather than fall to the ground and rest, I panted shame­lessly like a dog in the sun, a dis­tress sign so great that it elicited zero slag­ging from my usu­ally mer­ci­less when it comes to teas­ing fel­low-walk­ers.

The show of po­lite re­straint was short-lived. It dis­solved when we turned a sharp bend on the some­what ridicu­lously nar­row an­i­mal-made mud tracks on which we some­times trekked.

It was here that one able and sure-footed mem­ber of the group, on turn­ing a sharp cor­ner, spied a stray tod­dler on the trail, and in at­tempt­ing to side-step the tiny be­ing, lost his foot­ing, top­pled over the edge, and fell like a stone a short way down the moun­tain. Within min­utes he was back on the path grin­ning, with the hand­fuls of grass and wild­flow­ers with which he hauled him­self up, still clutched be­tween his fin­gers.

Lo­cated 3km north of Kitzbühel the Sch­warzsee lake’s a de­light to visit. Its min­eral rich emer­ald green­hued wa­ter is some of the warm­est in the Alps. There,

sun wor­ship­pers sprawled on wooden loungers. I found shade un­der a leaf-canopied tree and stretched out flat with a book.

Night-life cen­tres around din­ing, tav­erns, and wine bars and there’s mu­sic and danc­ing in the streets.

Most of our evenings ended with mel­low, gui­tarled singsongs.

We spent our last day sight­see­ing and shop­ping in the nar­row sun-dap­pled Salzburg streets. I didn’t ex­pect it, but the sound of mu­sic was ev­ery­where: from the mel­low clank of cow and church bells to the clink­ing of glasses and the tin­kling of laugh­ter. That we never as much as glimpsed a cur­tain-clad child, was both the high and lowlight of the trip.

TIPS

In sum­mer ac­com­mo­da­tion costs 25–30% less than in win­ter

Guest cards en­ti­tle those stay­ing at tourist board ap­proved ac­com­mo­da­tion to free train and bus rides

What’s new for hik­ers: The six-part KAT hik­ing trail

Do visit: Stiegel brew­ery and Er­ber Schnapps dis­tillery

Where we stayed: Ho­tel Post, Wes­ten­dorf, The Bruck­en­wirt and The Ho­tel Park in St Jo­hann in Tirol

Where we ate: Stanglalm, Harschbichlhutte, Fis­chbachalm, Kupfer­stub’n, Filzalm

Panorama At night: Sky Lounge at The Cubo Sport and Art Ho­tel

Get­ting there: We flew Dublin to Salzburg on a Crys­tal Hol­i­days (01-5368988) char­ter flight. they run from Dublin to Salzburg in June-Au­gust and De­cem­ber-March.

Also, Cork-Salzburg char­ter flights De­cem­ber - March. They run sum­mer pack­age hol­i­days fly­ing Dublin-Kitzbühel, and ski pack­age hol­i­days in win­ter. Topflight (012401784) run char­ter flights from Cork or Dublin to Salzburg from De­cem­ber to March. They also run ski pack­age hol­i­days in win­ter.

Fly Ryanair from DublinMu­nich or Aer Lin­gus Dublin or Cork to Mu­nich. Then take a 1 hour 28 minute or 1 hour 42 minute train jour­ney to Salzburg.

www.train­line.eu/train­times/munchen­hbf-tos­alzburg-hbf www.ryanair.com www.aer­lin­gus.com www.crys­tal­hol­i­days.ie www.crys­tal­sum­mer.ie www.topflight.ie

Top: hik­ers in the Kitzbuhel Alps en­joy the beau­ti­ful land­scape near the Rot­wan­dalm in the mid­dle of the Kitzbühel alps with a beau­ti­ful view over the moun­tains of the Brix­en­tal; above, the sun­rise close to the peak Mauk­spitze at the Wilder Kaiser.

Kitzbuhel Alps Jakob­skreuz Buchen­stein­wand: The Jakob­skreuz (cru­ci­fix of St James) is 30m high, in­side you can walk up to the panorama-rooms and panorama-plat­forms.

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