Of course we didn’t a let a blocked road stop us from getting to our target and thankfully the diversion was only around 25 kilometer. On our map the Sölkpass is not recommended for caravans and we soon found out why. The tarmac is quite narrow in places and goes up some steep sections. This was the first time Trevor reached his limits. At first it was only the inside of tight hairpin bends where we had to change down into first gear but soon the road became too steep even on the straight sections. It was good that there was nobody behind us as we slowly made our way to the top at 20km/h. The surrounding mountains of the Schladminger Tauern were very impressive and tempted us to go hiking but with Zoë’s slightly injured knee we couldn’t do it without risking more serious problems. The view was best along the road up or down, the actual pass failed to impress and so our stop there was rather short. It had however a map of walks in the area and we spotted a rather flat and short walk from St. Nikolai to a waterfall.
The village of St. Nikolai is small and quite nice, but has got only one small shop and a couple of restaurants. It is set beautifully at the bottom of two valleys which makes it a great basecamp for hiking the mountains around it. After parking our rolling hotel we walked up along the smaller of the two rivers which meet there into a lovely u-valley. This shape it typical for any valley created and shaped by a glacier and is common throughout the alps. An educational path about water has been set up along the river and the signs told us about local flora and fauna. Thanks to the vast amounts of rain we could not see any of the wildlife supposedly to be found in the water but it was still interesting.
Roughly 1 hour of casual hiking later we reached the waterfall at the end of the valley. Here was also the end of the broad and easy paths and the beginning of more serious hiking. We were impressed watching the water come down about 300m over countless cascades of different sizes. At this point the rainfall was advantageous even though it meant there were lots of small streams flooding the paths and trails. In the meadows was also a big herd of cows and 20 draught horses grazing around a hut which seemed to be used for forestry and hunting but only offered drinks, no cake or food so we had to make up for it by an impromtu lunch in Trevor upon our return.
The two and a half hour walk turned out to be as much as Zoes’ knee could cope with and so we had so sadly wave goodbye to the mountains but agreed that we would come back to this lovely area in the future.
Our drive out of the valley was uneventful but we met a few groups of workers clearing away the remnants of fallen trees and mudslides.
Our next stop was in the quaint town of Bad Aussee in the Salzkammergut region. It was pretty and had a colourful park but since we arrived on a Sunday afternoon only a couple of cafés were open. Sunday however, meant free parking everywhere. After an obligatory coffee and cake stop we ventured along the river and through the park. It was also surrounded by some big and rocky mountains and offered lakes and caves in the region. We were determined to wildcamp again in order to make the most of the scenery and to bring our budget back on track. The first area/lake we tried turned out to be privately owned. A sign at the carpark asked visitors to contact the owner for permission before arrvial (no, there was no sign along the 5km of road leading there). We found another sign informing us about a legal row between the council and the owner, who blocks the rightful access to the lake on foot and charges at least €25 entrance fee/fine and loose dogs which have attacked people in the past.
Our next attempt was the Altausee. Since the village had a campsite (without a great view and not cheap) and lots of tourist accomodation, overnight parking/camping was not allowed. At least parking was free and so we decided to stay for dinner and go for a dip in the lake. There is a free public swimming spot with beach volleyball field and a playground next to the boat pier. The shore starts off very shallow and muddy with lots of reed but a pier provided an easy way around this. Since it was a mountain lake we expected it to be chilly but it turned out to be even worse; especially when you swim behind somebody who stirrs up the deeper water which was really cold. It was a free wash but we soon found ourselves trying to float as high as possible in the water in order to stay in the warmer water. According to some of the locals we managed to find the coldest lake in the area…
In the end we stayed back in Bad Aussee on a carpark next to the river. It wasn’t great or particularly pretty but free. Surprisingly none of the carparks had any signs about overnight parking/camping and what isn’t explicitly forbidden is allowed :).
The next stop the following day was Bad Ischl; a spa town and gateway to mountains and lakes of the region thanks to its convenient location. It is very pretty and there is even a royal villa of the Austrian emperors as well as parks and a massive spa and wellness resort. We didn’t need any spa treatments and decided to leave out the royal villa and go to the castle in Salzburg instead. On our way around the town center we found some nice crafty shops and a fancy pastry and cake shop. It wasn’t cheap and also very crowded thanks to the rainy weather so we opted for takeaway and spent the rest of the afternoon in Trevor planning the next few days. Bad Ischl also offers free camping between 7pm and 7am every night next to the villa. Fresh water and electricity have to be paid for but toilets are available for free at the swimming pool next door.
After an early awakening we drove to Strobl at the famous lake Wolfgang. Strobl is a small but quiet village without any special facilities. Since we love cycling and we had not sat on any type of bike for three months we decided that the beautiful landscape was best explored at a slow pace and on two wheels. We hired two rather heavy trekking bikes for the day and, after picking up a free map from the tourist office, set off along the road and lake shore. To make the most of the days rental and see as much of the area as possible we opted for the four lake tour around the Wolfgang-, Fushl-, Mond- and Attersee .
The sign posting was fairly good most of the time and the paths pretty good but they kept disappearing and ending on roads without any warning. All lakes were deep turquois coloured and with very clear water. We were surprised by the number of campsites around lake Wolfgang; there must have been about 12 of them. Most of them had their own beach and lake access but they were fully booked, which is quite understandable considering the natural beauty. We carried a packed lunch with the plan of a lakeside picnic which turned out to be rather difficult to do. All of the 10km of shore along the Mondsee was either inaccessible or fenced in and private. Some plots blocked 50 meters of shore but were only 5m wide. In our opinion this is totally wrong: privatizing all of the lake access if you can’t privatize the lake. Disappointed we had no choice but to try our luck at the Attersee. At first things continued in the same way as on the other lake but eventually we found a road layby with benches and a great view waiting for us.
Strengthened and refuelled we set off again. After another 8km we left the lake and turned our wheels homewards. The valley leading back to Bad Ischl was a long but thankfully only shallow climb through dense forest and along a river. A curvy and bendy descent and some flat kilometers later we arrived at our last nights campsite with sore bottoms thanks to the wide saddles and very upright riding position. Even though it felt like we were almost there we still had 15km to go which turned out to a lot hillier than the route profile showed. It didn’t help that we had no more shade or protection from the beating sun. By the time we arrived in Strobl again we were totally knackered from the heat, uncomfortable bikes and the hard exercise. After a recovery break we treated us to a big ice coffee in the local bakery before jumping into the lake. Or so we hoped… It turned out that the only section of shore free and open to the public was so shallow that even though we walked in about 100m the water still didn’t reach our waists. It was very refreshing though and we managed to get rid of all the sweat to cool down again.
After getting up early we favoured a relaxing day and this time we took the car to circumnavigate the Attersee and go swimming. Thanks to its very clear water with drinking water quality it is a hotspot for divers and we saw plenty of people unloading scuba gear by the side of the road. We would have done that too but Zoë wouldn’t have any of it until Matthias’ ear was fine and fully recovered from the last diving. Soon we encountered the same problem as the day before: a lot of the lakeside was private and most of the open spaces had tight parking restrictions or no parking at all. We still managed to find two places with free parking and swimming: one next to the road in the morning and a big field with playground, café and more in Unterach where we spent the afternoon. After an ice cream and dinner we headed back to our free car park again for the last time before leaving the area the next day.