Our arrival at Hohe Tauern National Park signalled the ‘pinnacle’ of our European travels so far (for us!). We absolutely milked every second from this beautiful place on planet Earth, and hit the pillow with an almighty thud at night! It would definitely not top the list of most travellers headed up through Austria, but it caught our eye on the map and we duly afforded it some research. What ensued was an enthusiastic professed passion from Joel to extend the itinerary in this region. As Joel is not the most vocal of travel planners (if you could call him a travel planner) I knew it must be important and booked 4 days in the area staying in a little chalet in the village of Kaprun.
Kaprun was beautiful, a small winter ski village with a towering mountain which had enough snow on the glacier to ski year round! What was truly the icing on the cake, was the free access to the Zell am See/Kaprun spa complex, which was unlike anything we had ever seen before. We actually spent most of the first visit with our mouths agape, wrapped in our lavish robes, soaking in the salt infused outdoor heated pool staring up at the mountains. After long days hiking in the alps, this was a sacred haven, and probably the first time in our lives that we have ever felt rich and expensive!This part of the world was where we really found our feet. Both literally and mentally. We hiked by day, relaxed by night, and felt like we were living each day to 100% of its capacity. We also learnt that whilst we love cities, the wilderness and physical activity and accomplishment are the most satisfying and enjoyable holidays for us. As you can see by the photos, we hiked into some of the most gorgeous and breathtaking terrain imaginable. I must have pinched myself a thousand times. We were bestowed with stunning weather, despite a gloomy forecast, and I am pretty sure I couldn’t have been any happier if I tried. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces full stop. Now that we are back in London, if our mind wanders down memory lane to any part of our trip, it will inevitably wander here…and then down to the Soca River in Slovenia!
We had a hiking map, but the plethora of trails in Hohe Tauern National Park was so overwhelming it was like taking a stab in the dark (the park covers 4 regions of Austria!). Once Joel stopped mourning that he wasn’t taking the guided week or month long hike camping through the mountains, we were completely stoked with our choice of wild stabs. One day we drove through St Jakobs to a far reaching corner of the park and hiked through the mountain valleys alongside the river and over hills to the Oberhaus settlement. This was a collection of buildings that is the oldest mountain pasture settlement in the area. The buildings were made completely out of stone. The sun was shining, the mountains were capped with snow, there were wild horses and gushing waterfalls, and the most picturesque mountain stream. When we arrived the jolly local settlement were having a grand old time on the deck of one of the huts, with cheese plates and beers all round. And of course dried meat hanging from the entrance hall. Did I mention they were complete in Austrian garb? Hats and all? I didn’t think Austrians really wore this stuff, but apparently I was wrong. I loved it! We downed some drinks in the sun (not too many as we had the long walk back!) and I distinctly remember sitting there thinking that life couldn’t get much better than this! My soul absolutely sings out in nature, I’m pretty sure it could scribe a song that would put Joel’s writing to shame! Actually being so cramped in is the thing that I find hardest in London.
Another day we drove the famed “Alpine Path” up close to the highest peak in Austria, the Grossglockner. The Alpine Path is like a dream for every wannabe race car driver, and Joel was no exception. It is an incredible feat of engineering, hairpin turns through the mountains until you are looking up at the mighty Grossglockner. The scenery was incredibly overwhelming and I was thankful Joel was at the wheel because not only was he loving his fantasy of being Schumacher, but I fear I would have taken the car off the edge due to goggling at the towering mountains around us! It was a sight to be remembered. At the top, of course we went hiking, aiming for a hut on the top of a mountain which looked like a dolls house from the base. It was summer but we were trekking through the snow. Well, Joel was sliding. Boys… We had lunch on the glacier gazing up at Austria’s highest peak, watching tiny people that looked like ants, trekking through the snow to the summit. The sun was beating down and we lay there to the amusement of passing hikers, sunning ourselves and cooling our drinks in the snow!
What has to be called the most daft moment on our trip was videoing ourselves at the base of Europe’s highest waterfall – Krimmell Falls. Little did we expect that it was an invitation to become soaked to the bone by the mist. I’m talking wet to our underpants! Lucky there was an uphill hike of a few km’s straight up to dry us out. The force of nature can be incredibly confronting at times! Our poor camera lens did not forgive us. Oops! Once at the top (both pleased with myself and angry that I was completely knackered when there were families pushing prams all the way up!) we hiked along a bubbling river in a valley to another Austrian Mountain Hut. I am obsessed with these things. There is no English spoken, only German, and just pints upon pints of beer and strudels to die for. If you want to be submerged in Austrian culture, hike to a mountain hut, you won’t regret it. I won’t blabber on about the scenery again, I think you get my point!
By the end of our time in this paradise we had made a solemn vow with it that we would return. The Tyrol region is one of the most stunning parts of the world I have ever seen. The rolling green hills, mountain peaks, colourful flowers, warm people, cute mountain huts and gorgeous homes up the sides of every hill completely stole our senses (and a bit of our hearts). We loved the gathered stock piles of wood for winter, the barns, the grazing stock, green fields and bluest of blue lakes. ‘Sigh’, Austria you took us by surprise, we will come again… if only so that Joel can sing some more of “the hills are alive!”.