There isn’t enough time left in my life, nor available funds, to venture everywhere in the world where I would ideally like to visit. That isn’t to say I presume that death is imminent, nor that I exist on the very brink of destitution, but it isn’t unrealistic when reaching a certain age to accept that the world isn’t necessarily one’s oyster, although that shouldn’t detract from those places already visited, nor realistic ambitions to travel while still fit, able, and solvent.
When I talk about the world, if I had to choose a limited number of jaunts to foreign climes for the remainder of my existence the Alps would always rank at the top of the list. Yes, I have visited Slovenia and Austria over thirty times which betrays how these countries dovetail with the person I am, rather than simply exhibiting a narrow lack of ambition or imagination.
In a theoretical whittling down of previously visited locations – I hesitate to call them resorts as they are also places where locals call home – that will be my ‘go to’ preferences, they all represent the Alps in different ways, but invariably share stunning, accessible natural scenery, a devotion to the environment on which they rely, as well as cleanliness and order.
Saalbach Hinterglemm, Salzburgerland, Austria.
Pros: The Glemmtal is a hiking and biking paradise, as well as a snow sure location for winter sports. Summer and winter guests alike benefit from access to a wealth of cableways, opening up terrain which ranges from the gentle to fairly challenging that uniquely in the Alps to me at least is characterized by extreme undulation. Hotels are generally open all year round, or at least during the summer and winter months, unlike some alpine towns and villages where accommodation can be limited by a ‘winter only’ attitude that tacitly states the warmer months are their off season. A short bus ride to Zell am See affords visitors access to Austria’s rail network, and there is a profusion of serviced mountain huts particularly at lower reaches. The complimentary Joker guest card entitles holders to free use of all gondolas and bus services within the valley.
Cons: It can at times feel like the Glemm Valley has given itself over to mountain bikers. Despite there being designated paths for hikers and bikers, the latter often think nothing of straying into territory of the former. If the other way round, even as an innocent mistake, I have witnessed bikers pouring forth a torrent of unwarranted verbal abuse. There have also been reports of hikers being seriously injured after colliding with speeding cyclists. Certain areas of the valley and wider region are now characterised by ugly gouges on the landscape created for and caused by mountain biking, but for better or worse Saalbach Hinterglemm which eponymously consists of the two settlements and Glemm valleys villages including Lengau and Schoenleiten, has certainly become a byword for worldwide mountain biking enthusiasts.
Wildschoenau, Tirol, Austria.
Pros: Translated as wild and beautiful, this high Tirolean valley still holds on to its self-styled description despite some large tourist developments which have in recent years changed the face of one of its main settlements, Oberau. Two gondola lifts, the Markbachjoch in Niederau and Auffach’s Schatzberg open up the higher ground and its network of footpaths that are never far away from a welcoming mountain hut. Despite the encroaching outside world there is still a sense of being away from it all, and it isn’t unrealistic to not see anyone during a day’s hiking at least on certain routes. As such hearing and viewing the elusive and peace-seeking Cuckoo is usually possible, particularly where the Wildschoenau borders the Alpbachtal. Despite not having its own place within Austria’s rail network, a short bus journey to Woergl, the regional capital allows travellers full access to the OBB. Alternatively, a walk through the Kundler Klamm(gorge) to Kundl affords an alternative access point to the railway, where travellers can catch the train to Woergl before the bus journey back to Niederau, Auffach, or Oberau. One of the best hotels I have ever stayed in, not through its star rating or sophistication, the Tirolerhof of Oberau offers friendly service, spotlessly clean rooms and public areas, and food worthy of a higher category than its three-star designation. The complimentary Wildschoenau guest card entitles holders to the use of bus services and gondolas free of charge.
Cons: As ever this is subjective but is stated from a viewpoint of having seen the area ‘before and after’ the developments which have been completed in Oberau, and those soon to be. For those who are visiting for the first time it is unlikely that a children’s theme park and massively expanded Kellerwirt Hotel will offend the eye, but for those used to the uninterrupted green field views and relative peace prior to these schemes gaining assent, it comes as a shock. The walking is wonderful in the Wildschoenau but for those seeking tougher challenges, a week will be more than enough time in which to be sated. For a fourteen-night vacation a mixture of easy and intermediate walking with greater challenges beyond the Joelspitze, alongside down days venturing to the aforementioned Kundler Klamm, Woergl, and Innsbruck will adequately fill a fortnight’s getaway.
Bohinj, Julian Alps, Slovenia.
Pros: The first foreign location I visited as a solo traveller, Bohinj is not a resort nor a single place; instead, a collection of villages and small towns from its administrative centre Bohinjska Bistrica to the lakeside Ukanc, translated as ‘the end’. Whilst the view of Lake Bohinj from the stone bridge at Ribcev Laz, its de facto tourism centre by dint of proximity, has now been seen countless times on Instagram and the like, even for those who’ve visited previously it never fails to astonish. Framed by primeval forests and towering limestone peaks, this is what an alpine lake juxtaposed with rugged mountainous terrain should be all about. Local viewpoint Pecs and further on to Rudnica afford hikers even more captivating glimpses of the lake, the latter roughly 1,400 feet above the lakeside. A particular favourite walk of mine is from the top station of Bohinj’s Vogel cableway to the ridge traverse taking in such summits as Rodica, Sija, and Vogel itself. Not without difficulty and prone to lightning strikes, this trek isn’t for those wearing inappropriate footwear or who lack mountain fitness and preparation, but if visibility is favourable a glimpse of a shimmering Adriatic Sea in the distance but looking within touching distance is definitely a walker’s reward. For those arriving independently rather than with a package company but not using four wheels, the railway station at Bohinjska Bistrica is a welcome asset if albeit travelling between Bohinj and Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana is a longwinded process, as it is if using the admittedly reliable bus service. After spending several years in the doldrums due to many of its primary hotels being left to wither on the vine by negligent and absentee landlords, the future looks positive for the Bellevue, Zlatorog, and the eponymous Hotel Bohinj, formerly the Kompas. The latter has now been completely overhauled and is open for business and represents just one of the properties bought by cryptocurrency millionaire Damjan Merlak. The Zlatorog, perhaps the most famous Bohinj hotel by dint if its association with the late Marshal Tito, is the next property to be brought back into meaningful operation, albeit from the ground up following demolition – a process both necessary but also sad. It is though unclear what the fate of one of the Merlak’s other acquisitions, the iconic Ski Hotel Vogel adjacent to the Vogel top station at Rjava Skala, will eventually be.
Cons: There is still a lack of hotel rooms in the area, especially for those like me who are seeking an architecturally authentic edifice that also offers evening meals. The Hotel Bohinj is very modern but does include aspects within the build of what one would expect in Slovenia’s alpine regions but is perhaps too sleek and young for those of a certain age. That certainly isn’t a criticism, but I look forward to the redevelopment of both the Zlatorog and Bellevue, the latter not under Merlak’s ownership, to offer a wider range of accommodation for those with diverse tastes and expectations. It is quite easy to exhaust the lower routes in Bohinj, with access to higher reaches restricted to longer access walks and just one cableway, Vogel, and its at altitude chairlift. I do not under any circumstances wish to see the area littered with gondolas and the like but basing oneself in Bohinj does restrict the amount of high-level walking unless it is part of a muti day hut to hut hike, rather than simply returning to your hotel every afternoon or evening. Whilst not a fault of Bohinj or the likes of Kranjska Gora, Bled, or Portoroz, Slovenia is not easy to access by air especially directly from the UK. It is hoped that enduring rumours of Ryanair introducing routes into Ljubljana will come to fruition for the summer of 2023.
Kitzbuehel, Tirol, Austria.
Pros: I did not have the easiest of relationships with ‘Kitz’ during my first visit pre-novel coronavirus, to the point of declaring I wouldn’t return. As discussed elsewhere in this blog, my experience of staying at the Schloss Lebenberg perhaps clouded my judgment of Kitzbühel as a whole, and the hotel’s location abstract from where the action takes place, whilst bucolic, left a feeling of detachment from the town’s stunning centre. With more than a hint of affluence in the air Kitzbuehel does not though lower itself to snobbishness or elitism, even if prices in some of the shops and hotels might suggest otherwise. Inside the old walls of the town the architecture, order, cleanliness and yes friendliness is captivating, and giving it another chance this year, instead staying at the centrally located Hotel Tiefenbrunner not only for a short period of time restored some of my faith in humanity, but positively embedded Kitzbuehel within my mind and heart so much so that I will be returning next year. Although the hiking choice above Kitzbuehel isn’t vast, there are still walks aplenty for those of all abilities. The fearsome Hahnenkamm ski runs plays host to its eponymous gondola whose carriages bear the name of previous race winners, and which is a critical conveyance for reaching the area’s higher points including the Pengelstein and Schwarzkogel peaks. A comprehensive bus network and an exceptionally useful railway station enables visitors to sample the full walking potential within the wider Kitzbueheler Alps, for example in Ellmau, Kirchberg, Hopfgarten, Soell, and Brixen im Thale.
Cons: Kitzbuehel can be expensive but is the type of town where if you have to ask the price you obviously cannot afford it. Nevertheless, there are accommodational and dining options for most pockets without feeling like a ‘them and us’ divide between guests. Granted, there are though locations where only the super-rich can/will venture. Sundays can be difficult in Kitzbuehel, where similar to most places in Austria the shops except for petrol garages are closed. Bus services on the Sabbath are also more limited, although the Hahnenkamm, Kitzbueheler Horn, Fleckalm, and Bichlalm lifts are fully operational but inevitably become more crowded.
The next instalment will feature the Oetztal, Galtuer, St. Anton am Arlberg, and Maribor.
*All photographs are the copyright of C. Bowman. Any reproduction must be undertaken with full acknowledgement of and permission from the right’s holder.