My final alpine retrospective turns to Saalbach Hinterglemm, where skiing doesn’t get in the way of partying through the winter months, whilst mountain bikers and hikers seek an uneasy coexistence during the summertime.
As is common with many of my initial visits to resorts in the mountains, the first impressions I gained of Saalbach and Hinterglemm, its neighbouring town in the Glemmtal, were from when staying somewhere completely different – in this case Zell am See. In less than half an hour an excellent bus service connects both areas, and in many ways offers a welcome diversion from an at times busy and touristy Zell.
Situated in Salzburgerland but only just over the border from the Tirol, there are few discernible topographic differences from leaving the classically more mountainous Tirol into the Glemm valley within its neighbouring province, but not all of the Tirol is characterized by jagged, seemingly impenetrable peaks in the same way that Salzburgerland isn’t simply a byword for rolling but undramatic countryside.
It is now a decade since my first visit to Saalbach and its surroundings, which obviously left such a significant impression for me to subsequently spend several weeks in the valley. If though the area had then been given over to mountain bikers in the same way it has today, I very much doubt my desire to return would have been so strong.
Saalbach and much of the valley have in the intervening years been heavily marketed as the place to go for mountain biking, with a network of dedicated trails and challenges carved into the landscape. I have encountered one of the lifts seemingly favouring those with off-road bikes, whose adherents on one occasion even attempted to jostle me of the way when queuing to get aboard the Kohlmais gondola. I also witnessed verbal abuse meted out to a hiker who innocently strayed onto a dedicated cycle route, but walkers are expected to tolerate bikers who use ‘pedestrian only’ trails. From the nascent best of intentions, it is arguable whether the valley’s authorities have lost control of the mountain biking aspect of their warmer months offering.
There are though some interesting, varied, and at times extremely demanding hiking trails. It is possible to breach altitudes above 2,000 metres and whilst some will scoff at this relatively low level, it again should be remembered that height does not equate to difficulty underfoot. Some of the undulating terrain between peaks that does not offer easier ridge traverse-type hiking is undoubtedly challenging and at times exposed, requiring some experience and a decent head for heights. I have found great satisfaction from many hikes in the Glemmtal, with many more yet to complete.
I have though found it impossible not to become weary of the sight of bikers, especially at resort level and where the damage done to official and impromptu trails is there for all to see. In the main it is not the fault of the bikers, but they in my opinion have been given too free a rein over the valley which gives an impression, false or otherwise, that hikers are second-class citizens. The amount of walking trails, their upkeep, and network of mountain huts might suggest otherwise, but that nagging feeling nevertheless persists.
My stays in Saalbach have been at Hotel Saalbacherhof, as synonymous by its yellow-facade as the Lebzelter in Zell am See. With an ideal central position close to two lifts, this completely rebuilt accommodation offers rooms ranging from standard(comfort) to the height of luxury. I have though at times felt that there is too much hotel to look after for it to all run completely smoothly, with subsequently there being a sense that a single traveller can feel overlooked in a property of this size. For some younger hoteliers the offer of a personal touch is anathema, instead preferring to remain unobtrusively in the back ground where asking if one’s stay is going well is substituted by the guest approaching the staff and management. This gives an impression of disinterest and whilst that might not be the case, I prefer a hotelier and those on the reception desk to show genuine interest in me, my day, and in case of any emergency take note of my intended walking route.
The following is a representation of my personal photographs taken during several vacations in and visits to Saalbach Hinterglemm:
Saalbach Hinterglemm Tourismus: http://www.saalbach.com/en
Hotel Saalbacher hof: http://www.saalbacherhof.at/en/hotel.html
Inghams Lakes & Mountains: http://www.inghams.co.uk/destinations/austria/saalbach-hinterglemm
TUI Lakes & Mountains: http://www.tui.co.uk/destinations/europe/austria/saalbach/holidays-saalbach.html