There are two types of locations in the Austrian and Slovenian Alps where I naturally gravitate towards – those that offer vistas where vertiginous peaks dominate as standard, and areas where rolling countryside gives way to higher ground. Where characteristics overlap in what otherwise are very different landscapes, a feeling of not having been overdeveloped and a subsequent air of tranquility that allows space for nature to breath would rank highly in for example the Paznaun region near Galtuer, and the Wildschoenau – the self-styled wild and beautiful valley within the Tirol’s Kitzbueheler Alps.
Finding peace and space in this day and age is difficult enough as it is, but the accessible Wildschoenau remains surprisingly quiet. Notwithstanding the recent construction of a generically billed freizeitpark in Oberau, the relative seclusion of the valley, despite it being in close proximity to the Inn Valley, Woergl, and many other resorts within the Kitzbueheler Alps region, sees it almost overlooked in plain sight by the multitudes. Anyone with designs of overdeveloping the Wildschoenau would though have its very name to contend with, something no amount of man-made constructions could possible dovetail with. With only two all year round cableways, in Niederau and Auffach, the mountainscape does not suffer from the pockmarking that other areas of the Tirol are blighted with.
My most recent visit to Austria included staying at the Hotel Tirolerhof in Oberau, a 3-star establishment expertly run by the accommodating Erharter family. For many years I wished to return to the valley but had not been able to find a hotel other than one I had previously stayed in, but didn’t wish to return to. There are not many package holiday options in the Wildschoenau, so when a last minute vacancy cropped up at the Tirolerhof, I dived straight in. It proved to be a very good decision.
Unless undertaking multi-day treks that include neighbouring valleys it is quite difficult to exceed 2,000 metres above sea level, but it should be remembered that altitude does not equate to difficulty of terrain. Some hikes in for example the Oetztal where I have reached the best part of 3,000 metres have not been especially difficult, with only the difference in oxygen levels representing a potential inconvenience. Some of the most challenging walking I have embarked upon has been at much lower levels, in for instance the Glemmtal and Wildschoenau, but with a caveat that their lower altitudes mean any challenges last far less than they might at higher realms.
The Wildschoenau has walking for all standards, and is a good place to tune up before tackling the tougher stuff in the second week of visiting. A favourite route is to the Feldalphorn, where last time out I encountered a badly timed thunderstorm and the calls of Cuckoos echoing all around. That the area around the Feldalphorn is relatively close to the neighbouring Alpbachtal, a place where I have heard more Cuckoos than anywhere else in Europe, gives intrepid walkers further options once they’ve exhausted the more challenging routes solely within the Wildschoenau.
I would estimate that there are 3 weeks worth of walks for someone spending an extended vacation in the valley, with ample scope for days off in the likes of Woergl and Innsbruck. The Kundler Klamm(gorge) is also accessible on foot and by road train, from where an extended round trip into the eponymous town of Kundl based in the Inn Valley is an option before catching a train to Woergl, before a 20-30 minute bus journey back to Niederau, Oberau, and Auffach that brings travellers full circle.
The following is a representative selection of my personal photographs taken in and above the Wildschoenau, prior to the start of construction of the Drachental Freizeitpark situated adjacent to the Hotel Tirolerhof. This though in itself is not a reason to avoid the valley, Oberau, or the hotel, but nevertheless is, to me at least, a depressing addition to a wild and beautiful area that isn’t otherwise characterized by man-made ‘attractions’.
Wildschoenau Tourismus: http://www.wildschoenau.com/en
Hotel Tirolerhof Oberau: http://www.hoteltirolerhof.at/site_eng/
Inghams Lakes & Mountains: http://www.inghams.co.uk/destinations/austria/the-wildschonau-valley
TUI Lakes & Mountains: http://www.tui.co.uk/destinations/europe/austria/niederau/holidays-niederau.html