There are two things that have made me fall in love with Austria over the years – the jaw-dropping scenery and the friendly people.
One thing leads to the other, of course – how can you not have a happy disposition when you wake up everyday in a land of towering mountains, rolling hills and tranquil streams to the sounds of birds singing and cow bells ringing?
Austria is known for being a holiday destination split by the seasons – it’s perfect for older walkers and hikers in the warmer months, and tailor-made for younger skiers and boarders during the snowy season.
But is this summer/winter divide about to be turned on its head?
My wife Rachel and I, along with our daughters Isla, 10, and Evelyn, six, have never been the type of family to sit on a beach or by the pool.
We like to cram as much adventure as we can into our holidays, and during this summer’s trip to Schladming, we found the ideal setting.
And thanks to the Sommercard, standing in line at the ticket office and opening your wallet or purse time and again is now thing of the past. Every guest in the town gets one of these cards for free during their stay from May to October, allowing them to access a whole host of services and activities.
Our hotel for the week was the Hotel Zum Stadttor in the heart of the town. Owned by couple Michaela and Karl Kurtz, it was warm and friendly, while the mountain view from the balcony of our family room was nothing short of breathtaking. Another bonus with the Stadttor is that it is one of Thomson Lakes & Mountains’ all-inclusive properties, meaning we could fill up with a delicious continental breakfast, take a packed lunch onto the mountain, and tuck into a four-course dinner with drinks in the evening.
Upon arrival at the Stadttor, Michaela presented us with our Sommercards, and we used them immediately – embarking on our first expedition up the Planai gondola from where Isla and
Evelyn explored the Hopsiland play area. During lunch, we had what would be our first of many bowls of gullashsuppe, while Rachel and I sampled our first Schladmingers (the town’s tasty local beer) of the holiday.
The next day the rains arrived, but unperturbed, we donned our cagoules and walked down to the Adventure Pool for a splash around, before a fun, if a little wet, game of mini golf next to the River Enns.
If you’re not much of a map-reader, Schladming tourist office will happily point you in the direction of a variety of guided walks.
We caught a bus into the Untertal Valley to the Wilde Wasser area – home of beautiful alpine meadows, thick forests and dramatic rock falls.
The two-hour ascent from Riesachfall Gasthaus up the Höll canyon via muddy paths and over suspension bridges was fairly testing, but we were rewarded by an amazing sight at the top – the stunningly serene lower Sonntagskarseen Lake.
The next day, we jumped on the same bus, disembarking at Gasthof Weise Wand where the kids were booked into a beginners’ climbing session. Over a couple of hours they faced their fears and had great fun with the instructor Gerhard, scaling craggy rock faces and a 30-foot tree, before zooming down the flying fox zipline into a crash mat.
From there, we walked through the buttercup-covered meadows and along the river to Waldhäuslalm. Before we travelled to Austria, some of our friends had asked if we were going there to ski. I laughed, pointing out it was summer time.
However, I was left eating my words when we took the cable car up to the famous Dachstein Glacier above the town of Ramsau.
Here, even at the height of summer, scores of skiers and snowboarders take to the 3000m-high slopes to practice their freestyle skills.
We could seemingly see forever from the Skywalk and suspension bridge, while Evelyn, who is mad about Disney’s Frozen movie, got the chance to see what a real ice palace looked like.
After lunch on the mountain, we headed east to Stoderzinken, where Isla and I got our passports to ride Europe’s longest zipline at 2.5km long with a drop of 700m.
Rachel and Evelyn waited at the base with their cameras, but it wasn’t until they noticed the wire shake that they realised we were on our way down, such was the scale of the ride. Before heading back to the UK, there was time for one more activity – mountain go-karting.
Once we had reached the top station of the Hochwurzen gondola, the four of us zoomed down the 7km-long gravel course at breakneck speeds.
It was an adrenaline-fuelled end to what had been a thrilling week.
- Thomson Lakes & Mountains (https://www.thomsonlakes.co.uk) offers a week’s all-inclusive at the Hotel Zum Stadttor in Schladming from about £699 per person (based on a family of three sharing a room) including flights and transfers.
- Direct flights available from all major UK airports.