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Hiking in Austria

We’re inviting a few, keen hikers to join us in July 2018 for 16 days in the Tyrolian Alps—where the Swiss and Italian alps continue slicing the sky as they sweep east and north through the western reaches of Austria.

Österreich. It’s as mountainous as you’ve heard and as beautiful as you’ve imagined. More than two-thirds of the nation is higher than 500 m (1,640 ft), with more than 150 glaciated peaks topping 3000 m (9,843 ft), and its tallest—the Grossglockner—soaring to 3,798 m (12,461 ft).

And because mountain walking has always been a way of life for Austrians, their trail network is astounding compared to what we have in North America. In just the Tyrol, more than 24,000 km (14,880 mi) of excellent trails invite you to stride. We seized that opportunity, devoting three-and-a-half months to exploring the Tyrol. We’re now confident which ten trails are the most enthralling. And we’re eager to hike them again, this time with you.

Our group of hikers will be small (nine people max), screened by us for on-trail compatibility. All will be accomplished, athletic, aspiring. If you’re among them, you’ll enjoy an affordable yet luxurious, hiking-focused vacation. Together we’ll approach the hiking the way friends always do, with someone (in this case, us— Kathy and Craig) offering advice based on knowledge of the area. We won’t be guiding per se. Instead, think of us as your scouts.

You’ll benefit from all we learned during our recent, summer-long Austrian odyssey, and all the dayhiking and trekking we’ve done in the French, Swiss and Italian alps. We’ve crafted this adventure for devoted hikers seeking the optimal Alps experience.

Why Austria?

  • Trails affording panoramic views stay at high elevation longer here than elsewhere in the Alps, and much longer here than they do in North American ranges.
  • Alpine slopes here are horizontally vast. High-elevation trails often roll through this verdant, tree-free, see-forever terrain for hours, sometimes an entire day—much farther than is typical in North American mountains.
  • We can often start hiking from trailheads near the alpine zone, or begin hiking after an impressive ski-lift ride into the alpine zone.
  • Sometimes we can end our hike with a knee-saving ski-lift ride down the mountain.
  • Less time and energy devoted to long, forested ascents and descents allows more time and energy for the most compelling passages.
  • An extensive system of welcoming huts—essentially alpine inns with restaurants—allows us to stop for delicious lunches during our dayhikes.

Why not trek hut-to-hut?

We’ve trekked hut-to-hut throughout the Alps. It has merit. But it’s not idyllic. In reality, hut life is intensely communal, acutely loud, and—to varying degrees— unhygienic. It grants zero privacy, and demands unflagging conviviality, so it’s energy-sapping for all but the most enthusiastic kibbutznik. “Too much humanity!” is how one frustrated, long-distance trekker summarized it.

Compared to our approach on this trip, trekking hut-to-hut is more physically taxing, more expensive, much less comfortable, and—for long stretches—scenically less rewarding. Moreover, if you want to see all you can in a couple weeks at moderate cost, trekking hut-to-hut won’t achieve your goal.

In each of five, handsome, Tyrolian villages, we’ll stay in comfortably-furnished rooms and apartments owned and cared for by Austrian families. These gasthofs are small, so we’ll be only a few steps from each other, but we’ll have privacy.

Sometimes we’ll have our own kitchens, other times our hosts will lay on a buffet breakfast. Either way, we’ll begin each morning more substantially nourished than we would at many huts. With our own, comfortable beds, we’ll sleep more solidly and wake more rested than is possible when squeezed among snorers in a hut bunk-room. With our own, hot showers, we’ll appreciate a luxury trekkers yearn for because most huts are shower-less. The rare, hut shower is cramped, awkward, coin operated, with a maximum temperature: brisk.

Why day hike?

  • Our packs will be lighter than is possible for hut-to-hut trekkers, so our hiking will be less taxing, more fun.
  • Rather than limiting our perspective by pushing straight through on a linear route, as hut-bound trekkers must, we can complete loops, fully admiring an entire area in a day.
  • Instead of languishing at a crowded hut all afternoon, or trudging into the evening to reach the next hut (trekking is dictated by the distance between huts), we’ll set out each morning with an exciting-but-sensible plan ensuring we seize the day without exhausting ourselves.

 

Why with Kathy & Craig?

In our guidebooks, we sift out all the inferior options, ushering you onto the most scenically-rewarding trails. When planning this trip for you, our intent was the same. You could call this the Don’t Waste Your Time in Austria hiking-focused vacation. Our discernment has always distinguished us from other guidebook authors. It’s your assurance that our Austria trip will fulfill your expectations.

Typically, when you join other hikers on such a venture, you know little about the group leader. Yet that person’s outlook and personality influence every aspect of the trip. Join us in Austria, and your group leaders will be a couple you know through their writing. We’ve been your virtual hiking companions many times before.

A one-time only opportunity: July 2018

Unlike nearly all hiking tours, with their inherent restrictions, handholding, and invisibly inflated prices (tour companies profit by charging you far more than they pay—for everything), the trip with us will be financially transparent. You’ll see the actual costs, and that’s all you’ll pay. This makes our Tyrolian Alps hiking holiday as affordable as possible.

Your one additional investment will be CAD $1700 per person for our counsel and organization. Throughout the journey, you’ll benefit from our knowledge— painstakingly acquired through years of hiking throughout western Europe. After hiking in Austria, we realized most ambitious hikers would agree it’s a life-list experience—if they could benefit from our on-the-ground, trial-and-error research, which included… Scrutinizing options for where to stay and where to eat. Pouring over maps. Scouring guidebooks. Driving and re-driving the roads. And tirelessly pounding the trails.

We’ve filtered all that intelligence through our hiking-centric worldview. We’ve planned a boot-tested, certified-spectacular itinerary. And we’re offering it once only: July 2018.

For more than 25 years we’ve been writing and publishing, motivated by a desire to share with others the joy, wonder, and exhilaration we’ve found in wild places. Our motivation now is to share it with you in person.

Intrigued? Peruse the accompanying details. Then send your questions to us: nomads@hikingcamping.com. If we’re not in the backcountry, we’ll respond quickly.

 

— Kathy & Craig

The Opinionated Hikers

On patrol for you

Go here for photos


Dates, Costs & details

Start: Saturday, July 21, 2018

End: Monday, August 6, 2018

Estimated Per-Person Costs(CAD)

airfare$1450 from Calgary
hotels$1050 for 16 nights
meals$450
rental car$450 plus $150 gas (based on two people sharing for three weeks, which allows travel before/after our Austria trip)
ski lifts $100 per person
scout fee$1700 per person (8 or 9 hikers)
$1900 per person (7 hikers)
$2200 per person (6 hikers)
subtotal$5350 per person (8 or 9 hikers)
additional medical insurance, car insurance, trip insurance plus accommodation and meals before/after our Austria trip

Actual Costs

Your airfare will depend on the airline you choose and when you purchase. The accuracy of our estimates for meals and rental car will depend on ever-fluctuating exchange rates. Our scout fee will not change.

Payment

You’ll pay for your accommodation through us, but you’ll pay only what we’re charged. All other costs—airfare, rental car, meals, etc.—you’ll pay directly. That’s what makes this trip uniquely affordable: There’s no markup on any of your expenses.

Deposit

Tell us you’re interested. We’ll send questions about your hiking experience and fitness level. If you and we agree you can comfortably handle the hiking in Austria, send us $1700 per person via e-mail transfer to secure space. The sooner you commit, the sooner we can establish a full group of eight or nine hikers, giving everyone ample time to confidently reserve flights. The deposit deadline is Friday, March 23, 2018 (120 days before your trip). Your deposit is refundable only if your group falls short of six hikers on April 20. If at that time your group has at least six hikers but fewer than eight, a second, non-refundable deposit is due immediately to cover the increased scout fee: $500/person for a group of six, $200/person for a group of seven.

Airfare

If coming directly from North America, fly to either Innsbruck (INN) or Munich (MUC). Driving time to where we convene in Austria is 2 hours from Innsbruck, 3.5 hours from Munich, 6 hours from Vienna (VIE). We recommend you fly to Munich, because rental cars are much less expensive in Germany than in Austria. Round-trip flights, as of early 2017: Calgary to Munich $1430, Vancouver to Munich $1600, Calgary to Vienna $1350.

Accommodation

We’ve reserved accommodation for nine people, for 16 nights, for the above dates. Prices for a double room or apartment range from 80 euros to 105 euros per night, so the average per-night cost is 90 euros. For six nights we’ll have apartments with kitchens. For ten nights we’ll have double rooms. Having your own kitchen allows you to take a break from restaurants, save a little money, and prepare your own meal comprising more vegetables than restaurants typically serve.

The accommodation cost (per couple, for 16 nights) will total about $2,100. That amount is due Friday, December 15, 2017, because most hotels require payment by then to secure the reservation. We will forward payment to the hotels. In Austria, if there are minor, additional costs, we’ll settle up there. All accommodations for our Austria trip were reserved in spring 2017, because reasonably-priced options in Tyrol are booked full about a year in advance. So our accommodation-cost estimate—because it’s based on the spring 2017 exchange rate— will likely change by summer 2018.

Meals

The costs below are estimates only. Actual costs will depend on current restaurant prices, as well as on what and how much you order. For the nights we have apartments, we’ll arrange time for everyone to shop at a nearby store for breakfast and dinner groceries.

Breakfasts will be buffet style, provided by our hosts, for the ten days we stay in rooms. The other six mornings, we’ll prepare breakfast ourselves in our apartment kitchens.

Lunches at huts or cafes will cost about $12 per person, although many days we’ll prepare our own lunches from ingredients we buy at nearby stores. For seven days, $12 a day totals $84 per person. Strudel, by the way, is reasonably priced in Austria at $3 or $4 per slice, including vanilla cream sauce. If you indulge in a strudel a day (as we do), that will add $64 to your total lunch cost for the trip.

Dinners will cost about $35 per person for three courses. So, for ten nights, you can expect to pay about $350 per person, plus drinks and the standard 5% tip. For six nights, you’ll have the option of cooking dinner in your apartment kitchen, so we’ve not added this “same-as-back-home” cost to our trip-expense estimate.

Rental Car

If you’re comfortable and confident driving in major cities, you should have no trouble negotiating Munich or Innsbruck and following highway signs to our accommodations in Austrian villages. Before renting a car, go to www.autoeurope.com, a consolidator allowing you to compare the prices of several rental-car companies. A distinct advantage of AutoEurope is that they always provide a less expensive, all-inclusive rate (collision damage waiver, vehicle theft, and third-party liability) than car-rental companies. We’ve rented through AutoEurope numerous times in various countries. Never were we able to find a better option on our own. We’ve also appreciated that AutoEurope agents consistently provide excellent phone service.

Through AutoEurope, a compact car (provided by Hertz at the Munich airport) costs $910 for a three-week rental as of spring 2017. That rate includes all insurance: collision damage waiver, vehicle theft, and third-party liability. The same arrangement in Innsbruck will costs nearly $400 more. Renting a car in Austria also requires an international driver’s license. This is easy to acquire, but can be arranged only in your home country. You can rent a car in Germany with your provincial or state driver’s license.

Insurance

We require you to buy emergency hospital and medical insurance to cover you while you’re in Austria. Should an insurance company ask if you’ll be climbing or mountaineering while in Austria, you can honestly say “no.” We also recommend you buy trip-interruption/cancellation insurance. For a small fee, it covers an emergency return to your home country. Your need to return could be due to a foreign affairs office traveler-safety advisory, for example. Or it could be due to a family emergency—if you are the primary caregiver. A reliable travel-insurance company is Alliance (800-995-1662). Ask them for details.

Bear in mind, if fewer than six people commit to the group you’ve chosen, we’ll have to cancel the trip. No insurance policy covers that. So if you purchase your airfare before we confirm your group has at least six hikers, you must be confident you’d want to continue with your own vacation in Austria for the same dates. We will not refund your airfare.


What to Expect

Transport If coming directly from North America, the most affordable and convenient flight destination will be Munich, Germany. Rental cars are less expensive there than in Austria. From Munich, you’ll drive 3.5 hours to where our group will convene in Austria at our first accommodation. Later we’ll all drive in caravan about 90 minutes to the other four villages where we’ll be staying. Some days we’ll begin hiking at or near our lodging. Other days we’ll drive in caravan a short distance to a trailhead. “Drive less, hike more” was our goal when planning the trip, but to stay in optimal locations, hike the most compelling trails, and witness the most impressive scenery, some driving is necessary.

Trails Austria does not offer the wilderness experience synonymous with North American hiking. That’s because people have been living and working in the Alps for centuries, and because far more Europeans hike than do Canadians and Americans. While hiking in Austria, only occasionally will you gaze in all directions and see no evidence of humanity. But there are refreshing advantages to this “non-wilderness” hiking:

  • Exponentially more trails, most of which are well maintained, many of which entail exhilarating passages and/or loft you to higher elevations and stay there longer, granting you more sustained, dazzling scenery.
  • Ski lifts affording a quick, effortless vault into the alpine zone or a cartilage-preserving ride down-valley.
  • Frequent glimpses of old-world mountain life, and the opportunity to participate in the time-honored tradition of stopping for meals at venerable, alpine huts.
  • The fulfillment that comes from immersing yourself in a hiking culture, where it feels you’re with your tribe.

Yes, you’ll see many hikers on Austrian trails. We’ll meet Germans, French, Italians, Scandinavians, Romanians and, of course, Austrians. These momentary encounters are cheerful, and the sensational mountain scenery keeps everyone blissed-out, unconcerned about passing others on the trail. But solitude is sustenance to serious hikers. So you’ll be glad to know our group will sometimes be alone. Overall, the trails in Austria will grant us serenity comparable to what you’d experience dayhiking the more popular trails in the Canadian Rockies.

As for the “exhilarating passages” mentioned above, the excitement occasionally derives from more than just the scenery. Some trails traverse sharply-inclined slopes for long distances. Though the trail is level or only gently inclined, the slope might drop away so steeply a misstep could result in a tumbling fall. Other trails have short, rocky sections that are exposed. Here you can expect a hand cable to provide assistance and security. The vast majority of our hiking in Austria will be on straightforward trails that are easy to stride, posing no more risk than the typical North American mountain trail. But due to these occasional challenges—which experienced, fit hikers would generally consider “mild” and “comfortably manageable”—it’s important that you join our group only if you have good balance and never suffer from vertigo or acrophobia. You should be a confident hiker who’s done a little hands-on scrambling.

Exertion We’ll be together for sixteen days. Ten of those days we intend to do a significant hike: approximately six to eight hours on the trail, gaining 700 m (2297 ft) to 1100 m (3609 ft) of elevation over the course of perhaps 13 km (8.1 mi) to 24 km (14.9 mi). So you’ll need a high level of fitness to fully participate in this trip. Inclement weather, however, might require us to scale back or abort our plans on a few days. Moreover, everything we’ve scheduled for our group is optional. If you want a rest day while the others go hiking, that’s fine. Or we might be able to suggest a shorter version of the hike the others in our group are doing.

Independence Our goal is to muster nine people whose enthusiasm for hiking and whose on-trail compatibility enable them to gel into a cohesive, congenial group. That’s obviously a goal we cannot assure you we’ll achieve, however, which is why this trip allows lots of independence. Everything we’ve scheduled for our group is optional. For example, we might suggest the group go to a particular restaurant for dinner. You’ll be as welcome to dine elsewhere on your own as you are to join the group that evening. Having your own rental car also grants you a large measure of independence. During our group trip, a car assures you of flexibility that most tours—“Everyone into the van! We’re leaving now!—cannot offer. You can opt for a sightseeing day instead of the hike we’ve planned for the group. You can move along at your own, comfortable pace when we shift accommodations. And, before or after our time together, a rental car is the most convenient way to travel on your own.

Scenery The Austrian Alps are less spiky than the Swiss, French or Italian alps. The Austrian Alps also aren’t as high. The Grossglockner—Austria’s tallest peak—is more than 1000 m (3280 ft) lower than Mt. Blanc. But Austria’s lack of iconic monoliths is easy to ignore given how teeming the nation is with mountains and how expansively carpeted those mountains are with meadows. For much of our trail time in Austria, the immensity and floral diversity of these alpine meadowlands will keep our group entranced and inspired.

The folkloric perfection of Austrian mountain villages is another aspect of the scenery we’ll constantly admire on our journey together. Austrians have long understood the importance of tourism to their nation, plus they tend to be fastidious. So you’ll have no use for many of the negative adjectives in your vocabulary. “Dilapidated.” “Shoddy.” “Neglected.” Leave such words at home. What you will need in Austria are ever new ways of expressing your amazement at how all those flower boxes can be overflowing with all those gorgeous blossoms on the wooden balconies of all those charming chalets.

Hospitality While in Austria, we were once greeted at a restaurant by an eleven-year-old maitre d’ who was as poised as if he’d been in the business a decade. We’d already found Austria’s hospitality industry to be consistently proficient, and exceptionally gracious. But meeting that little gentleman prompted us to begin asking questions. We learned that Austrians appreciate how competitive tourism is worldwide. They’re aware tourism contributes to every Austrian’s livelihood. Many Austrians grew up in homes that were also family-run hotels. And a large percentage of Austrians attend tourism school. As a result, they know how to make you feel genuinely welcome, how to make your stay easy and comfortable, and how to speak English. Perhaps most important, they understand a good night’s rest is critical before a big day in the mountains, and a cozy comforter atop a luxurious mattress are essential for a good night’s rest.

Cuisine Austrians are mountain people who serve hearty meals and eat with gusto. You certainly won’t leave the table hungry here. And like us, you might later yearn for Austrian fare you’ll find nowhere else. For example:

  • Tyroler Gröstl—a hunger-stopper for climbers down from the summit. Roasted potatoes, sautéed onions, chunks of speck (bacon), with a fried egg on top. Typically served in the iron skillet it was cooked in. We first tried it for lunch, at a hut. We later ordered it for dinner in restaurants. Guten Appetit!
  • Kaiserschmarrn—a dessert that makes a healthy mid-hike snack at a hut. Thick slices of egg-filled crêpes, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a side dish of stewed plums, berry jam, or applesauce. When we ordered it for breakfast in restaurants, Austrians were taken aback. But when we pointed out it’s primarily eggs and milk, they had to agree: it’s a fine way to start the day.
  • Strudel—In German it literally means “whirlpool.” It refers to the technique and effect of rolling a generous fruit filling inside paper-thin unleavened dough. The result is world famous, of course, but never quite as delicious as it is in Austria. Apple strudel is most common, but you’ll also find cherry strudel, and berry strudel. The strudel served at huts is so good, we rarely resisted ordering it as a mid-hike snack. Topped with either whipped cream or vanilla sauce, strudel is typically served warm.

At Austrian restaurants—where we’ll each order off the menu—options include goulash, minestrone soup, pork schnitzel, various pasta dishes, and a variety of salads. We’ve scouted several restaurants we can recommend. A traditional restaurant near one of our accommodations, for example, serves an excellent salmon pasta. On previous trips, our guests enjoyed the camaraderie of dining out together. In Austria, however, we’ll spend a few nights in apartments with kitchens, so we’ll sometimes have the option of making our own breakfast and/or cooking our own dinner. These occasional breaks from the group will be refreshing.

Contact Keen to join us? Have questions? Send us a note: nomads@hikingcamping.com