Trip to Maria Alm, Austria
At the end of January Greg and I went on a trip to Maria Alm in the Salzburg region of Austria. It was just what I needed – mountains, clean fresh air, altitude, snow and walking – not to forget, of course, plenty of fine Austrian Apfel Strudel with cream and ice-cream.
We flew from Birmingham to Salzburg with Monarch airlines, which is a very convenient Saturday flight that only seems to operate in the Winter. We used a service called Airparks for parking, who have a large secure car park about 20 minutes from the airport. We just missed the bus at 5 am and had not realised that the next one was not until 5.30 am, so we were panicking a bit by the time we finally got to the airport. I would use them again for parking, however I would allow an extra hour to make sure we get to the airport on time.
We flew in over the south of Germany to land in Salzburg, which was beautiful as the descent was over the Alps. We managed a near-perfect landing, despite all the warnings that we might not be able to land and we might have to circle because of bad weather. We were greeted with the rather curious sight of people lined up beside the fence, watching the planes land and taking photographs.
I had managed to find a bus that went to Maria Alm, with only one change at a village called Saalfelden, which was only 10 minutes from Maria Alm. The bus took just over an hour and cost us 12 euros each, which was considerable better than the 137 euros each way we had been quoted for a taxi!
The main bus was running late, however the other bus was waiting for us when we got to Saalfelden. Nice to find a bit of communication between bus drivers and an integrated transport system that all connects together!
We stayed at the Alpenland Sport Hotel, which was really nice. It was tucked away at one end of the village, so it was away from the noise of apres ski parties. We had a large room that looked up towards the mountains, with an ensuite bathroom, mini fridge and balcony. It did not have tea and coffee making facilities, so it was a good job we had taken our trusty kettle and tea bags!
There was a well-stocked supermarket in the village that sold just about everything, so we filled our bag with milk for our tea and a fine selection of biscuits, chocolate and fruit.
We were told there was a 95 euro compulsory breakfast charge, which was 14 euros per person per day. Whilst there was a huge amount of food on offer in the fabulous breakfast buffet, we struggled eating enough to justify that cost. We opted instead for half board which was 215 euros per person. This covered breakfast and it also included a five course dinner. The food was sumptuous and that made it worthwhile. Dinner was a mixture of soup, bread and salad from the buffet, along with a choice of main course and choice of dessert.
We filled out our dinner choices at breakfast time, so everything ran smoothly. The staff were very helpful and friendly and operated a very smooth service to ensure that we were not waiting too long between courses. The staff were very attentive and it was lovely.
Every day we had the fine intentions that we would fill ourselves with a hearty breakfast and that would do us until we got to dinner time. Yes, well, those fine intentions lasted until early afternoon, when we stopped for a coffee and observed the large plates of delicious Austrian Apfel Strudel, ice cream and cream being served to the people on the tables next to us. Our resistance willpower was not very strong! The strudel was delicious and the pastry was incredibly light. Sometimes after I have eaten cakes in the middle of a walk in the UK, I feel very heavy, as the cakes can be quite stodgy. The Austrian cakes did not have effect. In fact I felt quite energised afterwards – that was my excuse anyway!
On one foggy, snowy day we walked up from Maria Alm to a little place called Griesbachwinkel, which should have had spectacular view off the valley. I kept reassuring Greg that we would soon be above the fog and the rain, which did not happen. I was very glad to see the Gasthof (Guest house and café) at the top was open.It is obvious they have served tea to numerous cold British women over time. I asked for a large cup or pot of tea and I got my tea in a half litre beer mug (yes, a full pint pot!) with a tea bag in the hot water and a jug of milk. More strudel was clearly required to help me with this large mug of tea!
The Sport Hotel had a small pool, which we found to be quite cold and a sauna. Unfortunately it did not have a Jacuzzi, which would have nice for aching legs. Robes and towels were provided for use of the facilities.
Maria Alm is situated at one end of the HochKoenig Ski Resort area. There are a variety of ski lifts right across the region from Maria Alm at one end to Muhlbach at the other end. In the Winter there are ski buses which work in sections of sections of this area. These are free to use if you have purchased a ski lift pass. There is an integrated network of ski lifts, so it is relatively easy to get across from one side to another by using a variety of ski lifts. With a day ski lift pass, you have unlimited use of all the lifts.
We are walkers, not skiers, so there were some of the lifts that we could not use because they either have a track for skis or snowboards at the start or you cannot get back on them at the top. These were marked on the tourist map, although they were not very clear and I did manage to get myself tangled up in a ski track at the start of one of the lifts and caused the whole thing to grind to a halt. This was a shame because it was to go to one of the highest viewpoints but it was not for walkers.
We did come back with the resolve to have some skiing lessons, so we could access these places.
There are various prices for ski lift passes depending on what you want to do. On one day, we rode up the mountain in a gondola, then walked around the path to the mountain café and walked back down to the village beside the toboggan run. This was only 10 euros each for a one way trip as walkers.
Another day we bought a day ski lift pass, which was 49.50 euros each + 3 euros returnable deposit for the card. This enabled us to have unlimited use of the all the lifts in the region. We used this to go up and down, so we went across the region to most of the peaks. We could access some of the chairlifts, as well as the gondolas and found that the operators tended to slow the chairlift down for us, so that we could safely get on and off.
On the day we did this in the Hochkonig region we got back to the gondola just as one closed, with literally less than 5 minutes to get onto the other one. Although the operator jokingly told us it was closed, and we were in only of the last 20 cars, he did slow it down so we could get on it. I suppose that was better than trying to find a way to get two lone walkers back down the mountain as the sun was rapidly setting!
On another day we took the bus to Zell am Zee in the next valley. Again we bought the day pass, which allowed us to traverse the mountain, including going up to the Kitzsteinhorn at over 3200 metres. We were able to go as far as the cable car station at 3029m.
It was fabulous up there. It was cold and snowy, with a strong wind, but it was so refreshing. The viewing platform was a large metal grid built directly out over a 200 metre drop. I was not convinced of the safety of this, although no-one else seemed to mind and Greg insisted that I stood on it for ages, looking upwards, whilst he tried to operate the selfie stick.
My phone froze and switched itself off, so we did not end up taking as many pictures as I would have liked. Greg had to operate his camera without his gloves and his fingers got very cold.
It was a fascinating place. It is a huge, bowl-shaped area that was once the bed of the sea. There is a fascinating exhibition of some of the fossils they have found up there.
We had a couple of quite foggy days where there was a lot of low-lying fog and mist in the valley areas. It was quite cold and dank, however it was much better once we got above it. In Zell am Zee, we went to Kaprun and up towards Scmitten. Once we got above 2000m, we were above the fog and were in brilliant sunshine.
We watched the sun set over the mountains and the little chapel, dedicated to the Austrian Empress, Elisabeth, at 2000m at Schmittenhohe.
On the last day we went into the village of Saalfelden. We walked around the little lake, which was partially frozen and then went into the local museum. The hotel had given us a discount card called the HochKoenig card, which could be used at numerous places across the region as well as giving discounted bus travel on some of the buses. The museum documented the history of the region and was really fascinating. There was a scale model showing all the mountains and valleys and gave us a great insight into the viewpoints that we had seen from the various peaks that we visited.
We left early on the Saturday to get the bus back to the airport. The hotel staff kindly made us a picnic lunch, which we ate at the airport.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip.