The truth is that Austria wasn’t on the list of countries we had any urge to visit. It wasn’t that we had any reasons for not wanting to visit, it was just that it had never really registered strongly on our radar as one of Europe’s ‘sexy’ destinations. We didn’t really have any preconceptions about it at all.
When our friends at Inntravel asked if we’d be interesting checking some walking routes and gathering marketing material, we were more than happy for the opportunity to visit somewhere we’d never been before. But with a trip to Italy taking place a short time beforehand, our Austrian jaunt stayed at the back of our minds almost until the moment we stepped on the plane to travel there.
Maybe it’s a good way to visit a country, as we were totally wooed by a land that took us by surprise in many ways.
The Scenery 1 – Rural
This was probably less of a surprise as the rural pasture-lands which surrounded two of the hotels we stayed at was exactly how I’d imagined Austria would be like. Valleys sprinkled with a smattering of wooden houses with sloping roofs, and cows with sing-song bells lazing on emerald pastures. Imagining and viewing first hand are two very different things. Add streams, rivers, moody mountains and a local population that actually wears dirndls and lederhosen and you’ve got a rural landscape that is far more picturesque than chocolate box pretty.
We expected hale and hearty fare and it was. Generous helpings are de rigueur and it takes stamina to get through some three course meals. At the Gosauer-Hof Hotel we’d sit back at the end of dinner, completely stuffed after being ‘Anni’d’ (the chef and part owner).
But the food was surprisingly diverse with a range of wonderful soups and game galore (I’m a game fan so the likes of venison and hare was right up my leafy rural street). I’d travelled expecting to sate an appetite for sausages. But in the end I hardly ate any.
Then, of course, there’s the obligatory kaffee und kuchen. A sticky paradise for people with a penchant for sweet things.
The Scenery 2 – Wild and Wonderful
One of the big surprises was the shift from immaculate pastures to wonderfully untamed terrain. Often the transformation was helped by a near vertical cable car ride (on one there were the loudest screams we’ve ever heard inside a cable car, as it juddered violently past a pylon). Many times the transformation could take place within a couple of kilometres of walking, the contrast giving the raw beauty even more of an impact.
Wine and Stuff
Austrian wine was better than I expected and very reasonably priced, so we ended up downing quite a bit of the local stuff. What really impressed the most was that although they produced their own wine, they were happy to stock wine from other countries in the supermarkets. It’s not something you see in the likes of France, Spain or Italy. The supermarket in tiny Gosau had a better selection of decent international wines than the biggest hypermarket where we live on Tenerife. Having enough confidence in your own products to happily stock those of other countries says a lot about a place to me.
The Scenery 3 – The Lakes
Having just visited a few of the perfect Italian Lakes we weren’t prepared for how much the Austrian ones would WOW us… in a different way. Gosausee was a truly natural beauty spot where three of our hiking routes started from. It was exhilarating to spend a few moments each day gazing over jade water which was like polished glass early morning; one of those very special places.
Possibly the greatest surprise of all was how incredibly friendly and laid back the Austrian people were. When walking trails seemed to disappear at someone’s picture postcard house, the owner would be out in a shot to help us, pointing to faint paths that looked as though they led into their gardens. Everywhere but everywhere we were met with smiles.
Anni and Brigitte at Gosauer-Hof epitomised this friendly, generous nature, making us feel about as welcome and comfortable in a hotel as anyone has made us feel throughout our years of travelling. That alone makes a destination feel very comfortable.
Austria, I’m sorry for not thinking you were a sexy country to visit. Forgive me, I was completely wrong.
Jack is co-editor, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+