A walk on the wild side in the Austrian Alps

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

"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.

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

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

Others, momentarily distracted 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, flower-box- 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, sun-shielding 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 sky-paths 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.

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.

‘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 green-hued 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, guitar-led 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.

The sunrise close to the peak Maukspitze at the Wilder Kaiser.

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 (01-2401784) run charter flights from Cork or Dublin to Salzburg from December to March. They also run ski package holidays in winter.

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

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