3 – 4 August: Into the Zillertal Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Saint Ulrich am Pillersee & Kaltenbach, Zillertal Valley, Tirol, Austria

Saturday: Our final day in the Kitzbühel region was very wet. We had been invited over to Maayke and her husband Simon’s house for lunch so we could get some cat-time and some ideas for places to visit during our next couple of weeks. We donned our waterproofs and hiked the 4.5km over to their house.

Raining cats and dogs on our walk over….

We arrived rather damp, but soon warmed up with a fabulous feast for lunch and shared a bottle of delicious wine while stroking their gorgeous Persian cats and getting some tips for further exploration in the Tirol area.

Adorable cats gave us our feline fix
Maayke, Mrs A, Simon and Mr A…the cats refused to pose

Sunday: It was time to pack up Truffy our motorhome and drive deeper into the mountainous Tirol region. We had been given a few suggestions about where to head and finally settled on the Zillertal Valley. It lies around 40km east of Innsbruck, and is well known for its network of cycling trails. But first we had to get there, and decided to take a bit of a detour on the way to see the Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in waterfalls in Europe – the fifth highest in the world. Their backdrop is the snow covered mountains of the Hohe Tauern National Park, containing their highest peaks.

We parked up and paid our fee, then we paid another fee to see the waterfalls. I must admit that’s a first for us, paying to see a natural landscape. Anyway it was quite spectacular, if you could look past the rows of cafes and streams of other visitors!

The force of the water is massive, sending a spray over everyone. Look to the right to see the scale – yes, those are people!
Getting a refreshing shower stood here
Mrs A trying not to slip into the raging torrent below
The view from the cafe where we stopped for refreshments

We moved on and followed a route that would take us over a high pass to the Zillertal Valley. Well that was quite an adventure, with the first part of the route being via a single track road with occasional passing places, sheer drops and largely no fencing! Of course we met two motorhomes coming the other way on the narrowest section. All breathe in! I’m so glad that we went for a left hand drive vehicle, as most of our challenging driving will be in Europe where I can see a little better what’s coming round the tight bends.

Sheer relief to be up safe and sound
How’s that for another fine view?

The view from the top of the pass was just breathtaking. We decided it would make a top lunch spot and settled down for a calming cuppa and a sandwich. Heart rate settled, it was time to tackle the route down, which thankfully was mostly on two lane roads. I just had to avert my eyes from the precipitous drop to my right. Catherine was as cool as a cucumber of course enjoying the views.

Another blind bend…this is a wide bit of road with white lines!
A bird’s-eye view over the valley as we come down the switchback roads

The bottom of the wide valley floor was reached and our campsite located. Nowhere near as nice as our previous one, crammed in next to a main road, but it will suffice as a base.

Off we headed next on the bikes down the valley, along with half of Austria it seems also cycling! It’s great to see so many different ages enjoying a ride on a glorious Sunday afternoon. Families towing trailers with nodding off children, mountain bikers wearing big grins and mud streaks, and of course the odd roadie with a serious game face on.

Not tired of the mountainous views yet
Mr A looking tiny

The valley is populated with a string of small villages nestled on the bright green slopes, the cycle path cutting through fields of corn, with jagged mountains piercing the sky in the distance. Not a bad ride at all!

Flowers line the banks of the Ziller River we cycle alongside for much of the ride

As all the shops are closed on Sundays, like most countries in Europe (frustrating) and supplies were low, we had an early dinner, and once again had to pay cash as no cards were accepted.

A glass of wine turned into dinner too
Is this the Austrian banks not supporting small business?

This was sixth time in as many days this has happened, and every time I have asked the merchant “Why no cards?”. The answers have ranged from “All our customers want to pay with cash” (when I was left wondering “Am I not a customer then, as I don’t?”) to “It’s too difficult as we are a small business” (I fight the urge to smile, remembering so many market stalls in other countries where I see traders using their phones or tablets to transact).

Austria appears to be a country that is very conservative in its culture, with its traditional food, dress and customs. Their approach to tourism it seems therefore is to offer what they always have, hearty food of meat and dairy dishes, chosen from a menu with no other language other than Austrian.

The incredible natural beauty of the country, and its seemingly endless options for outdoor activities, will keep bringing more and more tourists, with diverse expectations about what they want to eat and how they want to pay. Last year Chinese visitors to Austria were up by 25% for instance, and they. like me, will expect the convenience of paying by card, phone or watch, shopping when they want to, and seeing a variety of food options on a menu. They all seem to be sticking to the big cities though as we have only met a handful of non-Europeans since arriving here.

It will be interesting to watch how and if the Austrians adapt, hopefully without losing the traditional culture that is part of its charm and attraction. The government is certainly innovative in how it has invested in cycling though, even providing e-bike charging points along some of the paths!

The sun setting over the valley

We rode back to Truffy as the sun set, completing our 25km ride safe in the knowledge we were unlikely to meet a car on our path.

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