I found myself gasping for breath in a sweeping region full of glaciers and indefinite chain of peaks, which towered above intense green valleys and pastures, rich in wildflowers on the slopes. A hare in his brown summer fur crossed my path just a few meters in front without being aware of my presence. He sniffed for a short while in the air only to hop further and to disappear around the next bush as if he’d never been there.
You probably know that we are almost always searching for wild places on our travels – even in Europe. The largest nature reserve of the Alps, Hohe Tauern, lies in Austria. Stands to reason that we had to visit this primeval area, which covers parts of the three provinces of Carinthia, Salzburg, and Tyrol. Being a famous and stunningly diverse landscape with plenty sports possibilities in winter; the summer doesn’t take a backseat with various challenging and exciting exertions.
As Hohe Tauern National Park is over 1’856 km2, we had to pick and choose where to stay. I found that there was the Bauernherbst Festival in the valley of Pinzgau on the last weekend in August.
Ideal to combine Austrian tradition accompanied with accordion music, delicious sausages and ample flowing Weissbier (white beer) with extended hikes in the breathtaking alpine landscape.
I chose one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been with the Uttendorf – Weißsee region. First of all we opted for a most authentic Nature Experience in the Wiegenwald, a guided hike with a ranger from Enzingerboden up a steep slope to a pristine forest dotted with swampy areas, which has been left untouched for more than four hundred years.
Martha Hutter, our ranger, led our small group along the remote paths explaining both, the poisonous and benign effects of plants on the human body, the ecological development of nature and its protection since the establishment of the National Park Hohe Tauern in 1981.
Martha had been a host in an alpine mountaineers hut on over two thousand meters in the summer months for fourteen years, a ski instructor for twenty-eight years in the winter months and a ranger for six years up to the present day. Her small wiry body conquered the steep mountain path easily all the while telling interesting insights about nature and wildlife.
As the hiking group was taking a breather listening to our ranger’s explanations, we were most amused as a crow started to attack us by dropping well-targeted pine cones. We’d obviously intruded its territory!
The National Park Hohe Tauern offers an abundant amount of hikes within its boundaries from average to experienced mountaineering level and various durations - an indefinite source of information for nature lovers.
If the weather was bad, the Information Centre of Hohe Tauern National Park in Mittersill offers a wide range of entertainment in a most exciting way such as a 360° video documentation for example.
Intellectually satisfied but tired and hungry we were happy to retire to our retreat at the Weißsee at an altitude of 2’315 meters.
The Hotel Rudolfshütte lies in a most beautiful setting between eternal snow covered mountain peaks at the rim of a glacier lake whose color beats the turquoise of any tropical island.
After a demanding hike, nothing is more relaxing and enjoyable than to hang out in the SPA of the hotel, to bake my tired bones in the sauna, sweat the last drip out of my body in the steam bath and to hover on the gentle warm waters of the indoor swimming pool in succession!
Comfortably having a rest on one of the armchairs and letting the thoughts drift while enjoying the views of the impressive mountain peaks and glacier tongues which lead along rough terrain into the chilly waters of the Weißsee.
After an invigorating snooze, I indulged on a Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad and cranberry jam which is probably the most Austrian as I could get.
The size of the portion was as breathtaking as the panoramic views, which made it difficult not to stare outside, instead of the plate or to my counterpart all the time.
At the entrance of the valley, we visited Uttendorf’s Bauernherbst opening festival on Fridays evening. The inhabitants of the village had retreated from their most loved bathing lake and dressed in their best authentic Austrian clothes for their musical event accompanied by several stands with food, drinks, and local specialties.
A lovely introduction to their traditional Lederhosen – culture and you won’t believe it but we didn’t see any other tourists present – just locals!
Only on Saturday as the Bauernherbst festival in the neighboring village Niedernsill continued in a much bigger style, there were locals mixed with many tourists from all over the place, even the Middle East!
A colorful and joyful fest celebrating farmer’s products from the obvious beer to several different versions of local honey and more.
Most amusing was a woman, leaning from her tractor into the car window of every arriving visitor and offering – or to be more precise – demanding him or her to accept a shot of Schnapps!
There is so much to choose from visiting the Pinzgau region.
At the end of the valley, we hiked up on top of the probably most exciting Waterfall ravine I’ve ever seen: The Krimmler Wasserfälle.
This is certainly a more touristy attraction but nevertheless worth a visit as they are claimed to be Europe’s tallest waterfalls. Not so fit people can take a special taxi, which brings them to some of the exciting viewpoints.
As for the lovers of great views, there is one drive in the Hohe Tauern National Park, which shouldn’t be missed:
The scenic drive of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
We went there as early as possible when the tollgate opened: at 5am, as to be able to photograph the sunrise from the Edelweiss Spitze at an altitude of 2’571 meters. An unforgettable experience, which will stick in my mind even without the help of my photographs.
Having heard so much from the ski races in Kitzbühel – Austria, we had to go there. It’s a short drive from the Pinzgau valley over a beautiful pass and worthwhile, as the setting of the town in front of majestic rock formations is magic.The old town itself surprises with beautifully painted houses and cobbled streets as well.
On the way home, we visited an animal park to see lynx, lots of deer, goats, donkeys, fowl and a few exotic animals.
For me, the hikes with rangers in the Hohe Tauern National Park are the way to get close to nature and I will certainly do more of these in future. I would have loved to participate in the vulture trail to see the reintroduced bearded vulture of the Alps and some of these high mountain path wanderings from one mountain hut to the next over several days.
I will definitely return in the wintertime to join a snowshoe hike to some remote mountain range.
Who knows, maybe I meet the same hare again in his wintry white coat as on my first explorations in the Austrian Alpine region of Hohe Tauern National Park.
This post was supported by Tourismusverband Uttendorf / Weißsee and Berghotel Rudolfshütte. The expressed opinions are our own.