The road less traveled in Austria

23 Feb
People traveling to Europe are often dismayed to find huge crowds everywhere they go. Firenze, Venezia, and Roma, not to mention Paris, Zermatt, Vienna, and Salzburg, are popular for a reason: they are beautiful and there is a lot to see and do. Everyone has heard of them. Everyone wants to go there. We do too. We’ve been to all of these places and many more but we also try to go places that are truly off the proverbial beaten path. Torino, the Val Gardena, Abruzzo, Porto Santo Stefano, and Procida are places unaccustomed to seeing very many North Americans and we’ve enjoyed these visits as an escape from the usual suspects such as the Cinque Terre and Sorrento, though we enjoy the latter as well.
Beautiful country. The only downside is that our hiking is at lower elevations.

Beautiful country. The only downside is that our hiking is at lower elevations.

Continuing to find places new-to-us, this week we are in the Pillerseetal (Pillersee Valley)  of Austria. Specifically, we are between two tiny towns: St. Ulrich am Pillersee and St. Jakob in Haus, staying at the charming and low-key Landhotel Strasserwirt  for some winterwandern or winter hiking on groomed paths. Yeah, it’s a thing in Europe. We’ve done winterwandern in Switzerland and Ortisei as well.
Loving the sun! Had a bit too much of the gray skies and rain in Vienna and Salzburg.

Loving the sun! Had a bit too much of the gray skies and rain in Vienna and Salzburg.

This is a destination patronized mostly by Austrians and Germans, with a smattering of other Europeans. Luckily English is widely spoken in Austria, although my college German comes flooding back at most unexpected moments. (I’m hoping it doesn’t push the Italian out.) The menus can be a little challenging to figure out, but that’s part of the fun. As long as I avoid anything with the word leber (liver) or blut (blood) I should be OK. The wines are excellent, too. We drank a lot of Grüner Veltliner in Vienna and Salzburg. Here we have turned to the Zweigelt, a generally lighter red with notes of berry and cherry, appropriate with the mountain cuisine of the hotel. As always when we leave Italy, we miss the ubiquitous bars with €1.00 espresso shots. There are no damn bars in these tiny towns so we are coffee deprived. 
Our home for 4 nights, Landhotel Strasserwirt.

Our home for 4 nights, Landhotel Strasserwirt.

We have certainly found a quiet, no-stress, restful retreat from the city. The scenery is excellent and the prices are low. All-in-all we prefer the hiking in all seasons that the Berner Oberland of Switzerland offers. There the amazing system of lifts and trains and rifugi offering coffee and lunch along the trail are an unbeatable combo, but the prices in Austria make for a more affordable trip. Here is a place a family of four can pass a week enjoying the horses and lessons, two-meals-a-day, and mountain activities nearby for €1700.00. Can you do that in the U.S? I don’t know, but I suspect you’d have to have a car to do it, and here you can do it car-free if you like thanks to the network of trains and buses.
Here we are high above the valley on a hiking trail. with Nordic trails criss-crossing below us. See the tiny people?

Here we are high above the valley on a hiking trail. with Nordic trails crisscrossing below us. See the tiny people?

In the Pillerseetal there is a convergence of downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, and hiking, something for nearly everyone. The Dutch are apparently having their winter break so we see school-age kids and their parents heading to the slopes, but there are no huge crowds.
As I write this we’ve spent 2 ½ days taking hikes of various lengths in decent weather. Some would say it is too warm, and the Austrians would love to see more snow. It has begun to rain this evening and we hope to experience snowfall ourselves before we depart the day after tomorrow. It’s been a very long time since these Minnesota and North Dakota natives have seen significant accumulation.

14 Responses to “The road less traveled in Austria”

  1. ckleonard February 26, 2017 at 06:14 #

    Hi! A very good post. I think I missed it the first time or my senior mind didn’t save it!


  2. Jason March 4, 2016 at 17:32 #

    It seems that you have found one of the jewels of the Alps. The Pillerseetal is my most favorite place on earth away from my home in south Louisiana. My first trip to Fieberbrunn was in 1998 and I have been back 6 times since 2009. I have some good friends that I met over the years that live in the Fieberbrunn area. I mostly vacation there in August but had the good fortune to visit in April in 2015 when the mountain peaks still had a bit of snow on them.

    I am really glad that you enjoyed your stay in this beautiful valley.


    • gooddayrome March 4, 2016 at 18:08 #

      Jason, Thank you for writing…and reading! Isn’t it wonderful to find a place like that that you love and return to over and over? The Val Gardena in Italy is that place for us, but we are always trying on new ones, too.


  3. Marcia February 24, 2016 at 06:14 #

    Wow! Winter hiking on groomed trails. I think this is a spectacular activity! And those skies. Wow. This looks heavenly.

    We are on our way to Buenos Aires as I type. Then on a two week cruise around the horn, back up to Santiago and then flying to Easter Island.


    • gooddayrome February 24, 2016 at 06:25 #

      Sounds like a great trip. No doubt you will find some late summer weather there!

      Tell me, what is winter hiking like, if one can do it at all, at Tahoe?

      Buon viaggio!


  4. Josh Baker February 24, 2016 at 01:54 #

    I always prefer the lesser known destinations. Not a fan of crowds. It sounds like you’ve had a great time! Nice pics. Those mountains are amazing.


    • gooddayrome February 24, 2016 at 06:23 #

      I know when I read your blog, you are seldom anywhere with crowds of people on the trail. Just you and Jacki Chan. Thanks for leaving a comment and keep on hiking!


  5. theitinerary1 February 23, 2016 at 19:06 #

    Nice! Austria is such a beautiful country.



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