It was summertime, I had been so well behaved that I had been invited back to the Gotthard Hotel in Lech. I had experienced the fabulous resort of Lech and the Gotthard Hotel in Winter, but now it was time to experience how this cosy alpine hotel and the beautiful surroundings measured up during the summer months. I travelled from Innsbruck, just a 1:30 hour taxi ride through the stunning scenery of Austria, past St. Anton and over the mountain pass, through a ghostly quiet Zürs until we reached Lech. To arrive in Lech, outside the Gotthard once again, was like coming back to a very well loved home, I can see why guests return time and time again to be welcomed in by Clemens, Nicole and their wonderful staff. No sooner had I reached my room, I made ready to head out to the local square Rüfiplatz; where a classic Alpine experience awaited. I had arrived just in time to catch the last hour of the 10th Lech Musician’s Day, with musicians from Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the South Tyrol playing traditional Alpine music; I was in Alpine heaven, with music plus scenery like this, there was no other place I would have rather been. Eventually, it was time to head back to the Gotthard to hit the spa and freshen up for dinner.
My first full day was to be spent hiking in the mountains above Lech. I met with mountain guide Christopher Fritz who regularly leads the Gotthard’s guests. We made our way up the Rüfikopfbahn cable car to 2,350m. The same weather systems that makes Lech one of the most snow-sure resorts in the Alps had decided to deliver lots of clouds and mist, turning the mountains into some mysterious landscape out of Lord of the Rings. The Austrian Alps look beautiful even when shrouded in cloud. We walked through the cloud and made our way down north facing slopes into a valley, where we discovered snow left over from winter avalanches. Then slowly we began to ascend up and up until we reached the start of the climb up to Rauerkopf at 2530 metres. Christopher attached a leash to me, not to dissimilar to a child’s leash to stop me falling off the cliff; I am sure Cheeky would love one of these to stop me continually wandering off in search of adventure. After a fair amount of scrambling we reached the top. With one peak under our belts we made our way back down and then went off-piste to make our way up to the top of Krabachspitze, just 2 metres higher at 2522 metres.
After two peaks, I could feel my stomach making noises, like that of some kind of mountain troll, so it was time to climb back down and wander across to the Stuttgarter-Hütte at 2310 metres. It was good to sit and make friends with the local mountain dog, a friendly chap ever in search of food from obliging hikers. Christopher’s wife Sandra joined us and we enjoyed a classic homemade Austrian mountain Wurst with fried potato and Sauerkraut, followed by the local cake washed down with coffee all whilst putting the world to rights. Just as we were finishing up, the mountains decided that they would not follow the forecast of rain, but instead bathe us all in sun just in time for our walk down to Zürs. The walk back was most enjoyable; good conversation accompanied with a vast expanse of landscape spread out before us, we wound our way down past flowers, streams and little huts until we reached typical mountain farms and eventually the road down to Zürs. After a long day hiking, it was time to head back to the Gotthard and sadly say goodbye to Christopher and Sandra and head to the sauna, steam room and infrared room to sooth my weary muscles. It was good to be back, eating the wonderful food of the Gotthard; from their spectacular soups to their ‘oh so tender’ Wiener Schnitze and delectable desserts, I was going to be in my happy culinary place.
The next day, the heavens opened up, the mountains were shrouded in thick cloud and rain, but that would not stop me from enjoying the scenery. I met with the Gotthard’s other Guide Bjoern Proel, a well travelled German who has settled in Lech for the time being, we made our way to the bus which ferried us up past Zug, where no cars are allowed into an area known as ‘Little Canada’. The scenery was breathtaking and could have well been in the northern Americas! Eventually, reaching the end of the road we stepped off the bus into the rain to venture further on foot. We were making our way to one of Austria’s most beautiful places as selected by national TV station ORF in “9 places, 9 treasures”, the mountain lake Formarinsee. The area really was spectacular, we followed the trail around the lake stopping every couple of minutes to capture its beauty on my camera; this is an area I will have to revisit to spend more time simply taking in the views. We stopped for a hot drink at the large Freiburger Hütte, then continued along the amazing trail that clung to the hill side but delivered outstanding views of Formarinsee.
That evening I ventured out with Nicole, Clemens and his sister Veronika to eat at the very traditional 400 year old farm house Gasthaus Bodenalpe. The building itself is a classic piece of Alpine architecture, walking through the front door is like winding back the clock to possibly a better time. This is Austrian cuisine in over drive with lots of local dishes made with local produce, from Weiner Schnitzel, Tiroler Gröstl to Käsknöpfle and the delicious but very filling Dessert Kaiserschmarrn. They have a good selection of wines particularly from the various Austrian regions. If you have read any of my previous reviews of Austria, you will know that I am a convert when it comes to Austrian wine; a skill that those Austrians have kept to themselves until now. This is the perfect place to experience some traditional Austrian hospitality and cuisine with good friends whilst time slips by.
The following day, I set out once again with guide Bjoern, we took the Bergbahn Oberlech to get ourselves up to Oberlech. From there we took a short hike up through meadows which eventually led us to some of the strangest terrain that I have experienced in the Alps. The ‘Gipslöcher’ which translates as Gypsum holes are 220 million year old landscape features that were created in the Triassic age. Originally near the equator at seas level, these were originally lagoons. Over time and various geological process, the tectonic plates moved and this otherworldly place was pushed up along with the Alps as we know it. In Winter you can ski past in wonderment, but in Summer one can hike through and contemplate our short and passing existence on this planet. Once finished travelling through time, we made our way to the very modern and uber designed Der Wolf for a hot chocolate, with vast landscape windows, this is the place to sit and take in the magestic mountainous landscape. Eventually we made our way back down to Lech using the various mountain lifts.
Once back at the Gotthard, it was time for a filling lunch at Café Gotthard and then onto one of the Gotthard’s collection of E-bikes. This was my first time on an E-bike and I was not sure what to expect; Bjoern led the way out onto the road and before I knew it we were off! I felt like a superhero on a bike, just a couple of easy cycles of the peddles and I was flying up the hills at an unbelievable rate. This was amazing, it was as if my thighs were super charged, because the bike gave very little away in its appearance or sound that it had any sort of engine. This is the way to travel around Lech; we ventured up the river to see the Fisherie and the Golf course and then made our way back to the other side of Lech to admire the view across the pretty Alpine village. One can cover so much distance in a short space of time, these bikes come highly recommended, so make sure you take a tour of the area on one of the E-bikes.
Before it was time for dinner, Nicole took me to visit Veronika and her new business in Lech. Veronika is an expert herbalist with a vast knowledge of the local plants of the region. One can explore the mountains with Veronika, collecting herbs and knowledge along the way, eventually bringing them back to the kitchen where one can process the herbs and create a gourmet meal along with Thorsten Probost, one of Austria’s top chefs. This looks like a very intriguing way to spend a day in Lech, another good reason to return to Lech soon. It was then back to the Gotthard to eat in their à la carte restaurant the ‘Lecher Stube’. The menu was extensive with lots of regional specialities as well as many classical Austrian dishes, cheese spaetzle it was to be for main course, a form of noodles in melted cheese. Even with my bottomless stomach, and despite how delicious it was I could not get through a whole plate! After dinner it was then off to the Gotthard bar where Sophie looked after us, serving their famous home made Hay Gin with tonic.
It really was quite spectacular to return to Austria in summer. There are an endless amounts of pursuits and activities that one can throw oneself into. Exploring the mountains and lakes on foot, bike, cable car or whatever mode of transport one chooses will never get boring, it is an explorer’s paradise. There are plenty of water sports like swimming in the forest pool, canyoning, canoeing, kayaking, rafting or fishing and there are endless other activities from climbing, paragliding to simply relaxing and barbecuing at many of the specified spots around the area. If you are going to get involved with any of the pursuits in Lech then it is probably worth investing in the ‘My Lech Card’ which gives you access to the local blue buses, the mountain lift system, the forest swimming pool, themed hikes and the Children’s adventure program. Lech is also becoming famous for the highest golf course in Austria; the outstanding setting is located along the Zugertal valley at 1500 metres. Standing at the first Tee and looking out over the beautiful Alpine valley towards the first hole is a spectacular way to start and gives a good idea of what the rest of the course will be like. Once finished on the course it is certainly worth heading to the Clubhouse for a spot of food and some fantastic views.
There are two faces to Lech, were winter maybe the full on winter sports centre where people go for the winter sports and practice their Apres ski, Summer has an altogether different rhythm. The pace of life is slower, calmer and altogether more chilled. Nicole so eloquently put it ‘summer time in Lech is when one rediscovers one’s soul’. The more that I visit Lech the more my love for the place grows and flourishes; experiencing it in summer was like discovering a whole other side of its character, a more diverse, carefree and breezy temperament which made the area even more alluring. I am beginning to think that this is a place that I could settle down in; with dreams of skiing through the winter and the various pursuits through summer; and with such picturesque mountains I could quite happily paint the scenery all year long.
Visit www.lech-zuers.at for more details about activities available in the Lech region in either Summer or Winter.
Visit www.austria.info/uk for further information concerning Austria.