It is all about water in the resort area of Salzkammergut, from the 76 lakes to the cleanest water in Europe, this is a land rich with breathtaking views across lakes, rivers and of course the mountains that separate these lakes, standing as they always have like proud pine clad giants of old. Summer had begun and this Austrian ‘Lake District’ of Salzburgerland was beckoning from afar, and so I answered the call. We were to be based in the Triathlon Hotel Mohrenwirt on Lake Fuschlsee, just 30 minutes from Salzburg airport. Owned by Jakob Schmidlechner a keen triathlete and cyclist he has created a hotel that can cater for these athletes and holiday makers alike; a great centre out of which we could explore the beauty of the surrounding region. Once settled in, it was time to experience the dining at the Mohrenwirt. With most of the ingredients sourced locally from local fish, venison and beef to most of the vegetables too, we were in for quite the dining experience.The menu featured many traditional Austrian dishes from the hearty Wiener Schnitzel to the famous carb-fest that is ‘Kaiserschmarrn’. I opted for the the classic buffet starters that Austrians do so well, ‘eat all you want’ style buffet followed by delicious and filling blood sausage cooked with bacon, potatoes and herbs, washed down with Austrian wines. Of course the meal would not be complete without a giant shared ‘Kaiserschmarrn’. To complete the evening and let our digestive systems go to work, it was time for a wander through Fuschlsee to listen to the Fuschlsee Community Band; a gathering of 40-50 members of all ages who play three times a week and keep the Alpine band alive with old classics, to modern hits and even the odd Disney melody. All in all a great start to our adventures in Salzkammergut.
The next day, after a hearty athlete’s breakfast it was time to experience something completely new and one that had been in my bucket list for a while… ‘Canyoning’! We made our way to the Hotel Obermayr where we met our instructor and guide Maximillian Obermayr of Canyoning Salzkammergut. We donned wetsuits, helmets and climbing harnesses and looking like a bunch of superhero rejects we jumped aboard the Canyoning-Mobile and headed off to the Strubklamm canyon. This particular canyon is 2.7 kms long, up to 100 metres deep and would take us about 2:30 hours. On this particular morning it was raining, and had been all night, so we about to experience the canyon at its best. We approached the canyon and made our way down rocky slopes until we reached the bottom and the starting point for our adventure. The scenery was spectacular, all the trees and bushes were vibrant and bursting with life, it felt more like we had entered some remote rainforest, and all the multitude of waterfalls that might be dry in the summer had now all sprung to life making this quite a lush spectacle. I was first up and it was time to take the first leap into the water waiting below. It was the first of many jumps and probably the easiest, but at the time it felt pretty alien, jumping into unknown waters where one could not see the bottom. Max, knew this canyon very well and guided us along, swimming on occasions, floating on our backs, sliding down short chutes and making many leaps into the unknown. Each jump seemed to get bigger and bigger and took more and more nerves to make; which resulted in a natural high as the adrenaline pumped around the body. The biggest leap in the canyon and quite a spectacle was about 8 metres / 26 feet and created a buzz amongst the group. Once we had explored our way along the canyon it was time to head back to the hotel for some fine cuisine in the shape of Venison and vegetables, the perfect caveman food to fill the appetite.
After lunch it was time to visit the Schloss Fischerei to discover one of the local suppliers of fish from Pike, Perch, Trout, Char to Red Eye from the lake Fuschlsee. The location is perfectly idyllic, with magical turquoise waters created by the abundance of phosphorus feeding the algae and the Schloss Fuschl hotel in the distance. The fish are caught and smoked on the premises and supply the local hotels to the supermarkets, straight from lake to plate. We tried the Salmon-Trout, with it subtle smoked flavours it was quite exquisite. One can also fish in the lake with a license purchased at the Fischerei or local shops and tourism office. It was then back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Our driver delivered us to the door of the Gasthof Weberhausl a traditional family inn, we started the night with a round of 8 pin bowling and wine, a great way to unwind before dinner and bring out the competitive streak in everybody… of course it goes without saying that my quietly competitive streak showed its true colours, resulting in winning a bottle of the local schnapps. Dinner was a truly rustic affair, with fine Austrian wines flowing and plenty of charming local dishes.
The following day it was time to explore the area around the lake Wolfgangsee. We started in the pretty town of St. Gilgen with its winding streets and traditional shops. A visit to Mozarthaus was on the cards, the house built by Amadeus’ grandfather and lived in by his mother and sister. It turns out that his sister Maria Anna, known as Nannerl with whom he toured and performed with in with Europe courts and castles was quite a talented musician; some believe more so than her brother. Sadly, our histories were mostly ruled by men of antiquated beliefs and so any music that Nannerl wrote, and instruments that she played were disposed of and lost; I wonder if they had lived today, would Amadeus have been the less talented, drunken brother of a superstar known as Nannerl? We shall never know sadly. After this little journey through history, it was now time to journey along the Wolfgansee by boat with Wolfgangseeschifffahrt. This really is a fantastic way to experience the 10.3 km long lake, with the boat stopping in at 7 locations along the lake whilst sipping on coffee or something a little stronger. The Lake is renowned for its clean water, in fact Wolfgangsee is used as a benchmark by the EU for drinking water across Europe. Our destination on this occasion was to be Strobl, where our driver met us and took us up to the wildlife park of Kleefeld situated up above Strobl. One can see typical Alpine wildlife such as red deer, ibex, hogs and mountain goats. The hotel on the wildlife park has a fine dining room with spectacular views where one can feast on local venison and sumptuous steaks. Ask to try their Zirben Schnapps made from the pine cones of the Arolla pine, it is delicious and allegedly has healing properties; that was a good enough an excuse for me to have more than one.
After lunch we made our way back to Wolfgangsee to the largest of the surrounding towns of St. Wolfgang sitting on the northern side of the lake. Apparently in the 10th Century the axe wielding Saint Wolfgang of Regensburg in Bavaria stood up on one of the cliffs overlooking Wolfgangsee and threw his axe several kilometres down the lake; where it landed was the spot that he enlisted the help of Satan to build the church and hey presto the town of St. Wolfgang was born. It certainly is a picturesque town sitting right on the banks of the lake. We took some E-bikes out for a spin, leaving St. Wolfgang behind and crossed the lake on a tiny ferry so that we could cycle around the lower third of the lake. Eventually after a charming ride around the lake, we found our way back to St. Wolfgang were we took in some of the sites by foot, following the meandering streets we settled in the White Horse hotel for coffee and of the course traditional Apfelstrudel with lashings of whipped cream. Soon it was time to catch our boat back along Wolfgangsee to St. Gilgen, watching the peaceful landscape of the Salzkammergut region go by as the sun started its slow descent at this time of year. At St. Gilgen we walked back through the restful town to the restaurant Wirt am Gries. We sat outside, where it felt like a mediterranean outdoor restaurant. This certainly had homely charm and it seemed to be full of locals; always a good sign. With heartfelt cuisine we feasted on some fabulous dishes from carpaccio of beef served with delicious pickled wild garlic buds, something I have not experienced before, nettle dumplings, and very locally sourced Char. The perfect restaurant to eat and drink through into the evening with friends.
The area of Salzkammergut certainly has a lot to offer to all who visit. For the keen triathletes it certainly has the terrain for cycling and running and the open water swimming in Fuschlsee is probably some of the best and cleanest I have experienced. If tough going triathlons are not your thing, there are plenty of other pursuits, from hiking, mountain biking and watersports such as wakeboarding, paddleboarding and of course my favourite canyoning. On the other end of the spectrum from families to the elderly it offers relaxing vistas that will set the heart and mind at rest and let the worries of the world fade away. One can feel the pace of life here is different, whilst the rhythm might be slower than the big cities it is no less passionate and no less alive; in fact I would go as far as to say that Salzkammergut is quite possibly a little slice of heaven on planet earth.
For more Information on the area around Fuschlsee www.fuschlseeregion.com
For more information on the local area see: www.salzkammergut.at
For more information on the region see: www.salzburgerland.com/en/