For those accustomed to overseas travel the last twelve months has been a time of great frustration, but also represented an opportunity to reflect on the places we have missed so much, and what makes them special to us.
It is now twenty years since my first visit to the Oetztal, which served as a dramatic introduction to the Tirol’s glacial landscape – the like I had never previously seen first-hand.
The overriding impression when arriving in Obergurgl for my stay at the then Hotel Deutschmann was of the undiluted peace and stillness one might expect in a resort situated at over 6,000 feet above sea level, but it nevertheless told me that this was no ordinary location to find solitude whilst communing with Tirolean nature.
As the years passed I have returned several times to Obergurgl, and whilst my initial accommodation eventually became the Hotel Sportiv and is due to be completely redeveloped by new owners, the more life changed the more it otherwise stayed the same.
It is of course to be expected that the summertime represents tourism’s off season in the high Oetztal, but that does not mean it is closed for business. Accommodation of all types is available throughout the year, and will this summer season more than ever be particularly pleased to receive guests whose pent up frustration of not being able to visit the Alps for so long will be assuaged by the expected, and hoped for, loosening of travel restrictions.
During times of being isolated in one’s own local area or even within the four walls of where we otherwise call home, the wide open spaces and crystal-clear air of the Oetztal promises the very antidote to confinement necessitated by the global pandemic, and a level of freedom where social distancing is already an associated and established quirk on some trails where the only company many day hikers will encounter are sheep, whilst marmots and birds including the ring ouzel and nutcracker keep a respectful distance.
Travel restrictions may once more prevent a summer vacation in the Oetztal if venturing from the United Kingdom, but for those who are able to visit the valley I recommend from an Obergurgl perspective a day walk from the top station of the Hohe Mut lift to the Langtalereck mountain hut, where solitude and sensational glaciated vistas come as standard. Despite its rugged surroundings and relative remoteness, this walk is easily achievable by those of intermediate ability – who will be rewarded by friendly service and hearty cuisine set amid a unique, other-worldly mountainscape.
If you only have a couple of days to spend in Obergurgl the Top Mountain Star restaurant – as frequently seen in a televised Coors advertisement – situated at over 10,000 feet above sea level is a must see, and arguably as much an astonishing example of civil engineering as the panoramic vista than unfolds from its position on the Austrian-Italian border. Subjectively resembling a celestial body that has astutely fallen to earth to gain what must be one of the most astonishing perspectives on Europe’s alpine landscape, this high-altitude wonder is easily accessed by gondola and then chairlift, affording visitors the opportunity to ‘bag’ the nearby Wurmkogel summit.
It is to these and the Oetztal’s countless highlights that will continue to draw me back to the valley, where new possibilities and experiences at altitude and ‘on the ground floor’ make it impossible to exhaust what is on offer to hikers, mountaineers, bikers, and those who prefer to view the mountains from afar than engage with them in direct interaction.
It is though to the lower reaches of the Oetztal, its front(Vorderes) aspect, where I hope to visit this autumn, an area I have otherwise neglected in my pursuit of summits and intended loneliness. The Oetztal is to many people a byword for vertiginous peaks and reliable snow cover, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of just what makes it such a distinctive and diverse place to vacation. It is for this reason that despite my several previous encounters with the valley, each future visit will feel like a new, exciting adventure.