Salzburg

Just a short drive from the Salzkammergut region, is the festival city of Salzburg, which appears to be surrounded by far too many castles to count. After a scenic 50km, we arrived at the Leopold Schloss hotel where we were meeting a friend of Matthias’ for lunch. It was good to catch up with Ian after a few years of not seeing each other and the lunch was very yummy too. We parted with a dinner date planned for the next evening so could catch up with his wife Inge too.

Our campsite by Leopold Schloss Hotel

We walked from the castle hotel towards the old town with just one obstacle in our way. Hohensalzburg is a castle perched on a hill high above the old town and with fantastic views across the entire valley. The walk up to the castle is a bit steep, but well worth it for the views. We opted to see the entire castle including audio guide and the two museums. Tickets also include a funicular railway ride down to the old town. The castle began as a small fort but was slowly expanded by subsequent prince archbishops to it’s current palatial size. We wandered through the bastion and courtyards before we reached the museum. The two museums are seen in tandem if you buy a full ticket or you can opt for the budget ticket and leave out the state rooms. The first museum is mainly about the castle and military conquests of the regiment who were based here. The state rooms were probably the most impressive part of the castle containing some beautifully painted and gilded wooden panels. Whatever you choose to do, the castle’s story over time is interesting especially in relation to the lives of the people of Salzburg. The audio guide tour is a little short and takes you through only a handful of rooms but it’s worth it to get the views from the tower and also visit the Salzburger Stier (Salzburg bull). The bull is actually a muscial instrument of sorts which was used to wake up the citizens and also tell them it was time for bed. Later it was used to play world reknowned composer’s music such as Mozart, who was actually born in Salzburg.


A view of Hohensalzburg from the Mirabelle Schloss

A small part of Hohensalzburg castle

The Salzburger Stier


Castle-d out for the day, we took the funicular down into the beautiful old town and wandered the streets with their souvenir shops, Mozart chocolates and beautiful architecture. Salzburg is definitely a relaxing city to walk about as all of the old town is traffic free; just watch out for the horse carriages. Across the river is the Mirabelle Schloss with it’s fantastic gardens. Here we came across a summer concert from Youth Brass 2000, who strangely enough come from the Midlands. Despite the hoards of tourists we still enjoyed finding our way through the alleys of the old town. Later we returned round the castle hill and along a canal to Trevor. Our free parking spot for the day was great and we even had a lakeside view for dinner before we moved to a slightly more secluded spot, although we hadn’t reckoned on the amount of traffic that moved through the Salzburg suburbs each morning and evening.

Austrian coloured flowers in the Mirabelle gardens

Early the next morning we drove to Hellbrunn Schloss south of Salzburg. Hellbrunn was a fun palace of the Archbishops of Salzburg and is surrounded by a large park and forest. Today the park is open to the public and is a great place to spend a sunny day. The castle itself is relatively small but what most people come here to see is the famous trick fountains. We bought our tickets and eagerly went on the next available tour. The tours are guided since all of the fountains are still controlled by hand. The tour begins at the feasting table complete with a central wine cooling basin. Our guide encouraged people to take a seat at the table and then told us a little about the archbishop who had the fountains constructed. She explained in both English and German that there were a few surprises in store for us and a few rules for those sitting at the table:

  • Two hands on the table
  • Stay seated
  • Keep smiling

And then, she switched on the first set of fountains. Needless to say, all but one person sitting at the table were now drenched, not onlu by the central hole in each seat, but also from a line of fountains behind the chairs. And for all those who were safe and dry, our guide back-tracked to turn the fountain back on.

The beginning of our tour

Aside from the table there were multiple grottos with booby trapped doorways or fountains in the ceiling. The most fun grotto had a central golden crown representing power which rose and fell with the water jet representing time. Even better were the jets of water in the floor and doorways on the way out. Our guide waited till we were all outside and ‘safe’ before switching on the outdoor fountains, where deer trophies showered everyone with water from their noses and antlers. Probably the most impressive part was the theatre with over 80 moving figures powered by water and of course with surprise water jets at the end. So much fun!

Ted staying dry but still enjoying the fountains

Deer fountains just when you think you are safe

The fantastic showpiece


After the fountains we visited the castle which is a little more like a museum then a true castle. A few of the rooms have original decoration with frescoes painted by an Italian artist but the rest contains a few important objects which the audio guide describes. They even have a unicorn in one of the rooms. We had a couple more hours to walk around the gardens and Salzburg town before we met for dinner. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side and to avoid the heavy downpours we had to shelter in a cafe for most of the afternoon; at least one advantage of forgetting our rain jackets. By dinner time the rain had stopped and we met up with Ian and Inge. Somehow we stumbled upon a great Polish restuarant and satisfied out pierogi cravings. It was a lovely evening spent with friends.


The next morning the rain continued and although we had planned to drive slowly back to Germany, neither of us wanted to spend rainy days hanging about in Trevor. So we packed up and drove all the way back to Matthias’ home town of Renningen to surprise the his parents. 

Salzkammergut

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.

Zoë and a suspicious Swiss brown

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.

Coldest swimming spot yet in lake Altaus

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 :).

Best sunset yet

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.

Ted the liontamer

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 . 

Ted ready for the big ride

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.

Attersee was chilly but came with a pretty view

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.

Finally it’s time to cool down

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.

A few days in Urlaubdorf

We crossed out of Slovenia and into Austria via the Loiblpass, a fairly low mountain pass which Trevor managed easily. The first place to stop was Klagenfurt, a lovely germanic town with very importantly a tourist information office. To be honest we had very little idea what we were going to do as we travelled through Austria or exactly which way we would go except for North and perhaps towards Salzburg. The tourist info confirmed our suspicions that Austria is basically a country full of mountains. This is great for walking, but makes it pretty hard to decide which range of mountains to spend some time in. Thankfully looking up campsites solved this dilema for us and we ended up in Mühlen.

Scary fairytales in the woods

Mühlen, known as the Urlaubdorf (holiday village) is a small village on the edge of the Zirbitz-grebenzen mountains. We pulled up at the campsite which was unfortunately full to the brim. Luckily the owner made space for us on a pitch/car park just outside the campsite. That sorted we spent the afternoon deciding where to walk the next day and swimming in the lake. We had been lured into eating in the restaurant on site that night since they were cooking roast pork with dumplings and cabbage for just €9 per person. We sat down to dinnner just as the thunderstorm descended and had to make a quick move inside to stay dry. Our meal was fantastic and definitely set us up for our walk the next morning. We planned to rise early to beat the heat and hopefully get up to the hut on the Zirbitz mountain and potentially even the summit.

King Ted on the panorama throne

The next morning we woke up to children playing only to discover that our alarm had not gone off and it was already 9am instead of the 6:30am we had planned to rise. As it turns out Matthias had somehow managed to set the alarm for weekends only. That said it was an miserable cloudy morning with the rain just stopping. We changed our plans a little and went on a circular walk of the local villages. The highlight of this was the motion sensors and childrens’ fairytales in the woods. The least enjoyable bit was a guard dog coming at us barking, snarling and jumping but thankfully we survived that and the heat. With a fairly short walk behind us we spent the afternoon relaxing and booking our trains for the transmongolian railway.

Collecting cats at the hut (the evil one isn’t keen on photos)

Next morning we woke at 6:30am (yes the alarm worked!) and set off up to the Zirbitz. The way up was a little boring as we were on tarmac for a couple of km but it improved when we wandered into the woods. We reached the hut at the half way point around 10am and it was already getting hot. The hut was beautiful and surrounded by holidays homes with great views of the valley. We had a well deserved coffee before deciding our goal for the day was going to be a panorama view point rather than the Zirbitz summit. Surprisingly we planned to be back at the hut some time after 11:30am when they started serving Germknödel (large dumplings filled with plum jam and served with custard). We had a lovely walk up to the viewpoint where we admired the view before returning to our treat at the hut.

What a beautiful view!

On the way back from the hut to the campsite the sun beat down on us and we pretty much melted, especially on the last stretch along the tarmac. Back at camp, we were relieved and very glad we hadn’t gone up to the summit. The lake was calling us and we quickly cooled off. Our long walk had worked up and appetite that Zoë in particular couldn’t ignore, so we went for pizza :-). Taking advantage of the fact we were still parked on the campsite, we had showers before driving on for the night. We planned to wild camp for a couple of nights and easily found a car park in the town of Neustadt. One thing we weren’t prepared for was the warning sirens to sound just as we were tucked up in bed. We had heard some strange things before like speakers all round town in Slovakia but loud sirens sounding was scary. We later learnt that the sirens were nationwide in Austria and are used as a warning system. Despite the rain and huge thunderstorm we stayed dry and warm in Trevor.

The incredible forces of nature…

The next morning we set off to get over some more of the alps. Unfortunately the storm from the night before had definitely made its mark. The first thing we saw was a field covered in silt and with wood and wooden planks heaped along the bottom of it. We could see just how high the water had risen but didn’t know quite why there was so much wood. Further up stream we passed a very empty timber yard and some areas where the road had been flooded. The fire service were everywhere surveying damage and helping people. They had also been forced to close our road so we turned around and took a diversion. With the radio on we soon heard that the area of Oberwölzbach had been declared a disaster zone and more than 200 people had been forced to evacuate their homes with still more marooned on an island by the flood. We felt we had had a lucky escape at the bottom of our valley.