Austria, of mice an’ men

DSC_0035  During the winter Sylvia and I had planned  next summers mini-adventure, this would be to head for the Lakes of Austria, via eastern France and southern Germany to the splendour of Lake Wolfgangsee and others. After a couple of weeks to enjoy the Lakes and their surroundings the idea was to position ourselves at Bruck with its campsite near the northern end of the awesome Grossglockner High Alpine Road. Then when we had a favourable weather forecast we would spend a day tackling the drive. We had driven over this wonderful pass several years earlier from the south but due to a lack of courage or just the desire to reach lower ground we didn’t linger too much. This time we planned to enjoy all the side road diversions and displays the road had on offer.

P1000342Then at the southern end of the High Alpine Road we intended to spend time exploring The Hohe Tauern National Park from the mountain campsite at Heiligenblut. After which, with all said plans safely photographed and ticked off, we would spend a couple of weeks meandering where the will would take us.

Way back in 1785 Robert Burns wrote his famous poem “To a Mouse” in which he declared “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men go often askew”, how very true his words are to this day.

Late May saw us leave our home in Norfolk and head for the swift crossing on Eurotunnel to France and an uneventful few days travelling along lower Germany to enter Austria just above Salzburg. Here we bought a Vignette (road-tax sticker), so no worries of driving onto a motorway accidently. Then down to Abersee and Camping Wolfgangblick. What a great choice we made to stay here. The site is positioned on a small peninsular about midway between Strobl and St.Gilgen two villages at either end of Lake Wolfgangsee.

P1000207Our pitch was probably the best on site, a few yards from the lake, clear view across the lake to mountains and the delightful village of St.Wolfgang. The nearby small ferry to the opposite bank took only a few minutes to cross .

P1020002A paddle steamer and larger ferries zig-zagged the lake’s length. So with cycle/walking trails through the woods and dedicated tracks along and out from the lakeside into the hills the days slipped by. As the temperature was now in the mid 30’s trips out in the morning and chilling out back at basecamp soon became the order of most days.


A quite memorable outing started with the little ferry then on the nearby reputed oldest (opened 1893) rack and pinion train in Austria up to the 1783 mts. summit and delights of Mt. Schafberg.

The 35 minute ride on steam trains both ways was slow and dramatic with shear drops at times.

DSC_0007Once up the top we admired the 360 degree views and strolled on the many grassy paths which were splashed with the colours of the many small flowers, whites, yellows and the deep blue of Gentians.

DSC_0024DSC_0012Whilst I was busy taking photos Sylvia jokes she saved my life by shouting when I almost stood on an Adder snake.  It felt a little surreal, like being on a film set, looking out and down to the many lakes and snow covered mountains whichever way we looked. If the mood takes you, you can stay or dine at the mountain hotel, which appears to be perched precariously on the mountains edge.

P1000230We took the train down but I would imagine the trail we could see through the trees and fields would be quite spectacular.

Another day, after our usual ferry crossing, we spent a pleasant morning wandering the little back streets of St.Wolfgang. Many of the terraced buildings had painted scenes on their outside walls, and were awash with the bright red of Geraniums.

P1010943 In the small main street two well turned out horse drawn carriages await the tourist. One horse was having his hoofs painted black by his traditional dressed owner. In addition to the small (expensive) supermarket other shops tended to be more specialised clothing, gift, Patisseries and my favourite, a chocolatier with the tastiest of caramelised walnuts. For the inner man there is a good selection of restaurants, some lakeside, some down the tiny backways. Most trips this side of the lake tended to end with an ice-cone while enjoying the gardens of the waterside promenade. Having St. Wolfgang village sandwiched between the lake and mountainside a typical Austrian solution to the traffic problem was to excavate a U shaped tunnel and form a short bypass in the mountain.


P1010993DSC_0028With the continuous perfect weather we enjoyed a couple days of easy bike rides to the delightful villages at either end of the lake.  After the heat of the day the little jetty and beach became alive with people taking photos of the glorious sunset over the lake.

One balmy evening sitting outside with a chilled glass of white taking in the lakes beauty, drifting across the water from lit up St. Wolfgang came, first softly, then clearer, the sound of music. It transpired there was an open-air concert of various music trends taking place, it all climaxed with a brilliant fire work display. We really had struck lucky.

All too soon our extended stay (we were given 7nights for price of 6) came to an end and still with a forecast of uninterrupted sunshine we drove over the mountains on the scenic route to overnight at St.Johann. Then we moved to position ourselves nearer our High Alpine Pass at the five star campsite at Bruck. What a place, our pitch had electric, fresh water, waste water drain, even our own tree for shade. The facilities building was like a Roman villa, shower rooms instead of cubicles, marble stairs and huge mirrors, even a small pond with carp swimming outside the entrance. The grounds were kept immaculate, an adjoining swimming lake and organised hiking and cycling activities were available. The restaurant had a lovely outside area with fountains and soft music, can recommend the mixed grill.

Still mindful of the weather pattern for our planned day of high mountain driving, both our and the campsites forecast were showing settled conditions for the week ahead. With this in mind we had provisionally booked for four nights. Our reason for picking our day not too early in June for our ascent of this Pass was sometimes in the past the snowploughs hadn’t left till after mid- June.

P1000318 P1000322The little village of Bruck is only a few minutes stroll away. Walk one way and there is a supermarket, bakers, even a large candle outlet. Walk the other way to the old part of Bruck and time has stood still. A few shops, bar, restaurant, Tourist Office, beautiful church all made for a pleasant village to walk through, then over the old bridge and back to the site.

Next day, as was becoming the norm, was hot. As Zell-am-See was only six kilometres away and partly alongside its famous lake we cycled there. Quite a busy place with several tourist aimed shops, a bit too sea-side like for us, nice walnut ice-creams though. Chilling out back at basecamp we were entertained by a family of Goldfinches feeding in the grass near us.


Another cycle ride the following day, again on cycle trails, took us in the other direction to the village of Kaprun. A steep push up the final hill to the church was rewarded by spectacular views, worth the effort.Feeling we were due for a walk again we set off reasonably early next day and followed the contour line on the local hill, out and back round the village. That evening, after checking the weather forecast, we notified reception we would be leaving the next morning.

The sun rose with us and offered the prospect of a great day for what we hoped to be the climax of the adventure, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. This, Austria’s highest road pass at 2,504 mts. is 48 kms. long with 36 bends ( on some hairpins you almost see your own exhaust pipe), is a toll road( €34.5 ). With restaurants, museums, side road to glacier, Wildlife Park, walking trails and safe parking at viewpoints to view the winding road below or the Grossglockner Mountain itself, the road offers a full days spectacular enjoyment.

We paid our toll and started the drive alongside sun drenched flower meadows, steadily climbing and dropping down the gears.

DSC_0044By the time first gear was selected the bends had started to double back on themselves and   this was when Robbie’s declaration of “Mice an’ Men” would decide to come into play. The skies quickly darkened and the rain started as the cloud became lower, within minutes visibility was only a few yards and we were being buffeted by the now strong wind. Although we have experienced how quick conditions can change in the mountains before, this was something else. Cars, motorbikes and camper-vans were all seeking the safety of the parking areas as the storm increased. It soon became clear the wisest thing would be to get off the mountain.



So using the sat-nav to assist by showing when the bends were approaching in the fog like cloud, P1000340we ventured to the summits small tunnel then descended with several more motorhomes to the safety (but still atrocious conditions) of Heiligenblut’s campsite.

The weather forecast was now showing a wet and unsettled period so any return to photograph and enjoy the Grossglockner High Road were unfortunately for the future.

On the plus side we were on a lovely mountain campsite in the Hohe Tauern National Park, we had wet gear and local maps in the rucksacks, so bring it on.


P1000345The campsite sits beneath the village with lovely views of the church. One evening with wisps of drifting white cloud looking like cotton wool on a Christmas tree and the lights from street and chalets it was quite magical.

A short walk alongside the river and a flower meadow takes you up to the pretty little village. Small maybe but still with a bank, restaurants, supermarket etc.


P1000362Donning wet gear one damp morning we enjoyed an interesting walk through the woods and followed the now fast and full raging river, then the trail zig-zagged steeply to a majestic waterfall. We returned on the opposite bank with great views of the rivers’ rapids.

Hoping to move round to warmer climes we broke camp and drove to Achenkirch (overnighting at Matria campsite en-route). Interesting drive on mountain roads, several tunnels, including a Toll one. As the road was so narrow, on one section with three sharp blind bends there were traffic lights to create a one way system.

Great lakeside campsite, all facilities of a high standard, supermarket nearby. Interesting museum set in old dwelling next to site. A word of advice to anyone walking the seemingly easy lakeside trail along to Gaisalm (a restaurant/hut). It’s not easy, it starts of o/k but is soon steeply up and down with drops down to the turquoise water below.

P1000391We were lucky the day we walked it, as we approached Gaisalm’s landing stage the ferry sailed into view, so on we jumped for the return. After a few more days of local walking, some wet, some warm and dry it was time to head for an old favourite of ours, Reutte. This would be our last campsite in AP1000440ustria. From here we enjoyed a couple of days of easy walking.

Strolling down from Sintwag hill we picked sweet wild strawberries and played Pooh-sticks over a little stream, Sylvia won, just to round of our Austrian mini adventure. Then over the border into Germany and homeward bound.

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