Written by Clare Mann
As a child I had spent many happy summers in the Alps. My parents lived in Geneva, but our favourite place was Austria staying in a tiny Gasthof in a remote hamlet in the Tyrol . I remember rolling down hillsides of cowslips, making wreaths of wild orchids, walking in high mountain pastures with a sandwich in a rucksack and distant cow bells clanging. We swam in ice-cold mountain lakes.
Alexander my youngest son, who equates mountains with snow, was dubious about a summer Alpine holiday, despite my rose tinted reminisces. But with older siblings away he consented to come but only if it included mountain biking and a child friendly hotel in a proper village with “things to do”. So we compromised with Hinterglemm, a mile up the valley from Saalbach boarding on the Tyrol. It appealed because not only is it one of Austria’s premier ski resorts (Michael Schmacher learnt to ski here) so of interest to my ski mad son, but also meant that the cable cars whisked summer visitors, and particularly those with shorter legs (plus mountain bikes) up into the mountains.
From Salzburg we drove through beautiful scenery, exclaiming at gushing rivers and water falls tumbling down the mountainside. We passed Hohenwerfen castle perched on a rocky outcrop, where “Where Eagles Dare” was filmed, then along the shore of picture postcard Zell em See and up the valley where cuckoo clock chalets ablaze with summer flowers dotted the slopes. In the summer months the Pinzgau region not only becomes a centre for hikers, mountain bikers and riding, but is also known as “The Valley of Fun and Games.” It is a winning combination for families with children of mixed ages.
We kept ourselves very busy, hiking one morning and mountain biking the next. For younger children there’s a magical trail to follow, “The mystery of Mount Kodok” an imaginative trail of clues that meanders through alpine meadows. Even Alexander aged 13 was caught up in the adventure and solving the clues. There are 180km of well laid out mountain bike trails including challenging bike parks. The new X-line Freeride Trail, which opened summer 2008, and starts at the top station of Schattberg, winds down 6.3km to Saalbach, through some exhilarating terrain. Alas we couldn’t do it because our stay coincided with the Adidas Slopestyle freeride bike contest. The world’s best bikers converge with some serious kit and hardware. But there were plenty of other wonderful trails to keep us occupied. I never quite got the hang of the gears but Alexander was in his element.
At the end of the valley is “Teufelswasser”, a water park. Children with shoes and socks off played in the cleverly diverted stream with crystal clear pools and wooden water wheels. Yellow plastic ducks raced each other down a gurgling stream. Next to it in an enclosed area is Schnitza’s Wood Park, an enchanting enclosed area with wooden toys and wooden puzzles. Donkeys and goats with tinkling bells and huge curly horns had found there way in from their mountainside grazing and wandered amongst the children. Alexander spent an hour absorbed in carving a walking stick. Schitza the wood carver, who built the park, was on hand to engrave children’s names into the handles of their sticks.
Just below Schnitza’s is Austria’s biggest rope course. I felt like a cross between a flying trapeze artist and an elephant as I tiptoed and wobbled around the course, 40 metres from the ground. Alexander sped ahead and could have lapped me twice over. The flying fox zip wire took us over the river at high speed and was not for the feint hearted.
There are some wonderful rustic mountain restaurants, waitresses in pretty dirndls, and with hearty appetites we tucked into the local specialties. Hilarious names on the menu made us chuckle, I never did find out what Gugelhupf was. Weiner schnitzel and kaiserschmarren (thick sliced pancakes) drenched in icing sugar with apple puree were Alexander’s favourites.
Exhausted from our mountain activities (there’s also golf, tennis and Captain Hooks outdoor pool with slides and whirlpools in Saalbach) it was very pleasant to get back to our comfortable hotel, with every child friendly convenience at our finger tips and plenty of other children about to make friends with. Which left me conviently, (and deliberately planned) free to enjoy the spa and pool. It wasn’t quite how I remembered the simple pleasures of my childhood Alpine holidays but it certainly got the thumbs up from the next generation.
Clare Mann went to Austria for Inghams- click through for more information about their holiday packages.
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