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Achensee & its Mountains walk

Achensee & its Mountains walk    

By Beccy Leadill

It was my very first trip to Austria, and my week walking in the mountains around Pertisau was an entirely new experience. The whole thing was a joy, from the very beginning! Our flight and the rail journey from Munich went without a hitch, and it was thrilling to see views of the mountains unfolding as we approached our destination. And the Hotel Wiesenhof was magnificent – as well as its breathtaking location, it has been recently renovated and redecorated and everything was of the highest quality. It’s a real family concern, with everyone from granny to grandson in the Entner family involved in looking after the hotel, and they were so welcoming, always chatting to us throughout the week about the events of our day. There are wonderful views in every direction – from the front, over the clear blue waters of the lake, and from the back (where our room was) towards the mountains and high meadows. It was fantastic to be able to pick out from our room the routes that we had explored during the day.

It was May when we went, and the weather was a little unpredictable, but that was no problem as we simply chose a walk to suit the weather each day. It was fine on the first morning and we were full of energy and raring to go, so we started with one of the longer walks, up to the Barenbad Alm – one of the lower peaks we could see from our room. Even so, it looked extremely steep to me as we set off towards it – crikey, I thought, are we really going to walk all the way up there? I looked rather longingly at the ski lift close by, which I thought would make the ascent a whole lot easier. However, walking up was so incredibly satisfying, I soon became hooked! Our path started through woodland, and when we first came to a place with a viewpoint, it was wonderful to see how the view had opened up. But then it just got better and better as we kept on climbing, with every view more lovely than the last, so I kept on taking more and more photos!

Once we reached the top, we could see right over the Achensee valley and the lake – it was really inspiring, and we spent a long time gazing before continuing our walk down through another valley, to loop back to Pertisau. The top of the Alm was a perfect Alpine meadow dotted with flowers, although it was still early in the season for many to be in bloom. Nevertheless, at different times on our walks during the week, we saw drifts of lily of the valley, Solomon’s seal, yellow hawkweed and mountain cornflowers, while the leaves of spotted orchids were everywhere – a promise for later in the season. We also glimpsed white lady’s tresses orchids and much higher, where the snow was melting, the delicate little soldanella, or snow-bells, were flowering.

On arrival back at the hotel, we enjoyed relaxing on the terrace with a drink and one of the delicious local pastries, surveying the views and watching the world go by. Later, and most evenings of the week, I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the hotel’s swimming pool. Then of course dinner was a real highlight every day, after all that fresh air and exercise! The starters were set out buffet-style, a wonderful array which looked colourful and appetising, with a different speciality each night such as smoked salmon and cream cheese swirl, and fresh home-made soup and bread. We could choose each day from a regional Tyrolean dish or an international dish, and I'm still savouring memories of pork fillet in a pastry case, delicious venison, or freshly caught fish – all with succulent locally grown vegetables.

On our second day we chose to do the walk right around Lake Achensee itself – which meant there would be the option of shelter and lunch at the far end of the lake in the town of Achenkirch. We followed a rocky path along the west side of the lake, with gentle ups and downs and lovely views over the water – it was particularly satisfying to look back and see Pertisau looking so picturesque in its lakeside position amongst the high mountains, once we had gone some distance. You also get views along all the various different valleys around the lake as you walk. We had lunch in a little café in Achenkirch, and then made haste to continue the walk back down the east side of the lake as rain was threatening – we ended up getting drenched, but it was still enjoyable! It’s possible to take a boat back from Achenkirch to Pertisau, but we wanted to complete the whole circuit. The Achensee boats are great, a lovely way to see the views from a fresh perspective, and running with impressive clockwork regularity – like the other local transport.

A free bus pass between the local villages is a handy inclusion in the holiday, and the next day we used this to travel to Maurach, a little village at the south end of the lake, which curves round southwards in an L-shape. From here we made the three-hour walk up to Notburgaweg, a route which gave us lots of great views over another brilliant example of Alpine travel – the quaint steam railway from Seespitz, which is the oldest rack railway in the world. About half way up our ascent, we could see most of the train’s route, and enjoyed sitting and watching it steam along on its journey to Jenbach. We had lunch when we reached the high point of Astenau Alm, near a mountain chalet, and visited the pretty little chapel of St Notburga, perilously perched high above the valley. St Notburga is the patron saint of servants and peasants, and said to be born in this area of the Tyrol. From there we walked on a mountain track to another viewpoint, enjoying the dazzling contrast of colours in the landscape – the white of the snow high up, the fresh green of the meadows, and the deep blue of the lake down below us – before continuing the circuit back to Maurach, and taking the shuttle bus back to Pertisau.

We spent some time exploring the gardens and relaxing at the hotel the next day, before taking a gentler walk, up to Feilalm, quite a short route through forest and meadow. From the top we could see over the village and the hotel golf course. We particularly appreciated the mountain restaurant at the top of this walk, where the proprietors were really friendly people, welcoming us inside in our wet clothes (it had rained again, but was bright for the rest of the week) and serving us delicious hot chocolate. We didn’t have a meal there as we’d had snacks to keep us going on our walk, but everyone around us seemed to be tucking into very hearty lunches!

I think the next day was the real highlight for me – the hardest and longest walk, but that just made it all the more satisfying. We had deliberately left it till later in the week to be sure we were fit enough, and we had brilliant sunny weather to go with it. We set off up into the high mountains behind the town, aiming for the Pasillsattel Alm, and getting some of the most fantastic views (although we’d already had so many!). We followed a path upwards that zig-zagged backwards and forwards so much it made me laugh, but of course it’s the only sensible way to get up a steep mountainside.

It took us to the highest point we’d been to, so we were walking in melting snow by the time we reached the top, in a broad meadow dotted with little chalets that were closed up – maybe huts for the herders, when the cows are brought up to graze later in the season. I loved the path that contoured around the mountain after we’d made the main ascent, a broad grassy path shaped here and there with tree roots, that offered constantly changing views as we made our way along to a viewpoint back over the Achensee valley and its shining lake. Once we’d made our way down to Achenkirch again, we took the boat back up to Pertisau – a relaxing end to our walk, enjoying the impressive mountain vistas and spotting some of the different places we’d explored. After such an energetic day, I enjoyed the hotel’s relaxation room – part of the hotel’s excellent spa facilities, a light and airy room where one whole wall is a window opening on the wonderful views.

Our last walk was up to the beautiful Dalfaz waterfalls, a memorable spot to the south of Pertisau which we walked to from a starting point in the village of Buchau. A waterfall is always mesmerising, and we stopped to watch the water for a while before having a picnic at the Dalfaz Alm café nearby, which was also memorable – an unruly bunch of jackdaws seemed determined to pinch our food! We walked on from there, around the mountain, to the cable car station – the only form of local transport we hadn’t yet tried, so we thoroughly enjoyed the experience as we glided back down over the valley. Before setting off though, we spent time watching the hang-gliders take off, as they had a launching point quite near the cable car – fascinating, but quite alarming as they made their preparation for take-off into empty blue space! But they looked wonderful, circling in the thermal currents over the valley like great brightly coloured birds, blue and yellow and orange. And once we had got back to the hotel and were relaxing with a drink, we were able to watch them land as well, as they were using a field close to the Wiesenhof – I really loved watching how they came into land, unfolding themselves and stretching out their legs at the last moment.

It was another unforgettable day. Certainly for me the high points of the holiday were the days that took us to the highest points in the mountains, and when we could see furthest. Contrary to what I may have thought at the start of the week, the most strenuous walk is by far the most rewarding!