It's not easy choosing your first Inntravel walking holiday when the brochure tempts you with so many enticing and varied trails. In the space of an afternoon my husband Dougie and I had considered Italy, Spain and France before finally opting for the Lakes & Mountains tour in Austria. We were planning to travel in October, at the end of the season, and we hoped the autumn colours would make this a holiday to remember. For an extra dose of culture, we added on a couple of city breaks in Salzburg and Vienna.
Armed with my smartphone, I captured the beauty of Austria from our first gentle walks along the river at Bad Goisern, to the top of the towering Dachstein mountains and beyond to the glorious Gosau lakes. My Instagram followers were treated to stunning scenery, awesome architecture and plenty of cake.
Let me escort you through the landscape of Austria's Lake District, and allow you to experience the charm of Salzburg and the buzz of Vienna.
What we loved about the itinerary for this trip were the number of walking options available to suit different interests and fitness levels. On our first day we tackled part of the Soleweg Trail, the ancient salt pipeline that runs from Hallstatt to Ebensee. Equipped with our map, Inntravel's walking notes and excellent local signage, we meandered through woods and meadows along the River Traun. The area was spotlessly clean and window-boxes on the houses were brimming with bright red geraniums.
You can't visit Austria and not indulge in the ritual of Kaffee und Kuchen. We discovered the Maislinger Bakery in the tiny village of Au, a short stroll from St Agatha, where our first hotel was located. Hikers and cyclists, as well as locals, congregated here in the afternoons and although our first day of walking had been fairly leisurely, we felt we had earned our reward. I'm sure the thought of these divine creations gave me the extra push to complete our daily hikes.
Whilst I was admiring flowers and decorated porches, my husband was fascinated by garages where winter tyres were hanging on the walls, waiting for the snow to come. Both of us, however, were very impressed with the neatness and precision of the log stores. We saw them everywhere, each dwelling having a smart collection of chopped wood. Our favourite example from the whole holiday was found on our walk to Hallstatt. Dougie was so impressed he insisted I take a photo of him beside it.
We left our luggage at the first hotel and marched on, with only a light rucksack and our walking poles. This really is such a great way to travel. As the mist from the lake lifted, I turned around and snapped this view of the eastern side of Hallstättersee. I saw this horizontal band of cloud and imagined Hogwarts Express had just sped off over the hills, leaving a line of smoke in its wake.
The picturesque town of Hallstatt has become a major tourist attraction and it's not hard to see why. Staying for two nights in the town allows you to feel like a resident, enjoying the peace once the daytrippers have disappeared. It also gives you the opportunity to hot-foot it up the road early in the morning when you have a feeling the iconic shot of Hallstatt might just be waiting for you.
The Dachstein mountain range has a wealth of attractions including an ice cave, limestone cave, nature walks and all manner of novel viewing points. Why not hunt shark at over 2,000 metres?
We found this huge metal fish on our snowy walk and Dougie had the pleasure of climbing up its rear end to take a photo through its jagged teeth.
Having accepted the Krippenstein 5finger challenge, by venturing out over the edge of the mountain on five metal walkways, we were in serious need of a lie-down. The wooden relaxation couches at the top of the summit gave us the chance to rest our legs, soak up the sunshine and gaze at the most dazzling scenery of the Dachstein mountains.
The following day our luggage was transported to the next hotel but this time we clambered into the taxi too, to be deposited at the start of a walk around the Vorderer Gosausee. It was the most perfect day for a hike, with temperatures steadily rising to the low 20s. There was hardly a breath of wind so the scenery was beautifully reflected in the lake.
Other Inntravel guests recommended we take an additional 8.5km detour that day to the Hinterer Gosausee. This was a strenous walk but worth every aching muscle as we admired the incredible autumn colours around the upper lake. We’d chalked up 20km by the time we eventually reached the Hotel Gosauerhof, to be welcomed with open arms by the Laserer sisters and two glasses of ice-cold beer.
We appreciated having three nights at our final stop, Gosau. Three chances to feast on delicious regional specialities at the hotel and two full days to explore. A cable car ascent one day gave us access to the beautiful Zwiesalalm mountain area followed by a long, leisurely descent back to the valley. A second day was more relaxed, appreciating the pretty meadows and streams surrounding the town of Gosau. Tiny churches and the sound of tinkling cow-bells gave us the sense of being in the middle of an advert for chocolate or cheese.
Time to put the walking poles away and head to Salzburg for two days. This is such a compact, beautiful city with a charming Old Town. Our walking notes were just as handy in the city as they had been in the countryside. We made a bee-line for Getreidegasse, the famous street where Mozart was born and known for its decorative guild signs above the shops.
Salzburg preserves its traditional buildings but also embraces modern art. There are a number of striking sculptures across the city such as this nine-metre high piece, Sphaera, by Stephan Balkenhol, taking pride of place in Kapitelplatz next to the cathedral. In a similar vein, Salzburg's music connections cover a wide spectrum: fans of The Sound of Music will be delighted to see all the sights from the movie, whilst classical music lovers will be in Mozart heaven.
For our second add-on, we caught the train to Vienna and were whipped up in a Viennese whirl. This opulent, lively city was a huge contrast from our quiet days on the mountains but we soon adapted to the change of pace and marvelled at the magnificent museums, palaces and galleries.
It's impossible to see everything in Vienna in only two days so we opted for an early dinner and did a little exploring in the evenings when it was quieter. On our first night we took the metro to Prater Park for a ride on the huge Ferris wheel. We took advantage of late night opening hours on the second night to check out the extraordinary beauty of the Prunksaal, the State Hall of the Austrian National Library.
I couldn't possibly share just one slice of Austrian cake with you! We continued our daily indulgence by seeking out the best in Vienna. Café Central has been a popular rendezvous in the capital since 1876: exquisite confectionery in a grand setting. Sightseeing is far more enjoyable when there's a caffeine-and-chocolate pick-me-up at regular intervals.
The Lakes & Mountains walking holiday in Austria was a huge success. We loved the variety of walks available to us, in green pastures and on snow-capped mountains. Adding a dash of city life at the end of the week was a great decision. You could say it was the icing on the cake.