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Austrian Alps

I'm not sure how to ask my question without sounding like a complete dunce, but I'm just looking for some basic advice. It's been a dream of mine to go to the Alps with my wife. I've been saving for a few years for a trip next summer. I'd always heard "Alps" and thought "Switzerland." Some have suggested I look into Austria to save a bit. In your opinion, are the Alpine vistas in Austria a worthy alternative to those of Switzerland, taking into account any potential savings? What regions/towns should I be looking into? We're most interested in being able to walk in the mountains. I know Austria has fantastic history and culture, so we're not afraid of cities or anything. But our top priority is the mountains. Any recommendations?

Thanks.

Posted by
781 posts

Hi roda,
Look at Rick Steves book on Austria,Innsbruck is a great place to stay,lots of mountain access from there,also look at St Anton,Zurs and Lech,these are beautiful areas of the Alps,we have stayed in Innsbruck and St Anton and would recommend both.
Mike

Posted by
6854 posts

I like to fly into Munich, drive east to Salzburg and then south and west through the Austrian Alps and the region of Tirol.

We'll often go into the southern Bavaria and come back into Munich from the southwest. I have found the Austrian Alps to be absolutely beautiful, and I've found the region is cheaper and easier to travel through than Switzerland.

My favorite drive is the Grossglockner High Mountain Highway going south of Zell-am-See down to Lienz, Austria which is on the Italian border. The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria and second highest in all of Europe--and the south side of the mountain is the most beautiful place I've ever seen.
I also like driving through the Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy and coming back through the Brenner Pass into Austria. Innsbruck is the dominant town in Tirol, and it's a glorious place to be in the Summer. There are dozens and dozens of small towns in Tirol with many great bed and breakfasts that many travelers fancy.
We don't do any serious hiking, but you can make any kind of hike you'd like in the area. I once was on a ski lift at the top of the mountain above Innsbruck, and looked down and saw a couple of local hikers. They'd hiked all the way from the valley to about 10,000 feet. I couldn't believe they'd find that an enjoyable Sunday afternoon--really tough on the lungs.
Good luck to you on your trip.

Posted by
16 posts

Would you say that driving yourself is necessary or is public transport possible to get to some good spots in the mountains? I've lived outside the States and drove there, but I try to avoid it if I can so as 1) to look less like an idiot and 2) not cause chaos.

Posted by
4359 posts

Hi, not a dunce question... : )

If you want the ultimate Alpine experience and are only going once, I would recommend the Swiss Wengen/Lauterbrunnen area - just breath-taking! But, we just returned from a trip to Austria & Germany and loved our time in the mountains around Mittenwald, Germany and Salzburg, Austria. We also stayed at St. Wolfgang on the lake near Salzburg for two days, and neither one of us wanted to leave! Another option to consider where you would feel completely in the mountains is the Dolomites in northern Italy. There's lots of hiking available in the mountains with nice villages and lots of chair lifts. We stayed in Moena and others could comment if you post in "Italy" vs. "Austria".

Posted by
2715 posts

Hi roda321,

Driving is easy in Austria, if that's a concern. Austria and Bavaria and even the Italian Dolomites are quite a bit cheaper than the Swiss Alps. From the U.S. I would fly into and out of Munich for visiting the Bavarian and Austrian Alps. Innsbruck and the area is a good base for many alpine villages and cable car trips. The Italian Dolomites, which are like nothing else you'll see in the alps, are about 1:30 from Innsbruck. The Zillertal (Zell am Ziller, Mayrhofen, etc.) , about an hour from Innsbruck, is simply filled with spectacular alpine scenery. Same goes for the Oetztal (Oetz, Solden, etc.). We also love the Ramsau am Dachstien/Schladming area for high alpine scenery.

Just want to make a correction/clarification: The Grossglockner, while it's the tallest peak in Austria, is not even close to being the second highest peak in Europe.

Paul

Posted by
12040 posts

The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria and second highest in all of Europe-

This is the third time I've seen this error repeated. It is the highest peak in Austria, but nowhere near the second highest in Europe. It's not even the second highest peak in the Alps... it ranks only 59th. That being said, the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße is one of the most breathtaking drives in Europe, and you should check it out, if possible. Considering staying in one of the hotels along the road for the night for the ultimate Alpine sleep-over experience.

Other noteworthy Alpine locations in Austria- Lech am Arlberg, if you want an isolated but somewhat traditional-looking resort high in the mountains. Obertauern if you want a purpose-built Alpine sports resort at an even higher elevation. You won't see the traditional Alps here (other than the cattle that most ski resorts use in the summer to keep the pistes from becoming overgrown), but you will see fantastic views. If you visit in the summer season, most of the hotels are closed, but the few that remain open offer fantastic deals for their quality.

Posted by
5775 posts

Getting to PillerseeTal and getting around without a car:
http://www.kitzbueheler-alpen.com/en/pillerseetal/service/location-getting-here.html

PillerseeTal and its towns of Fieberbrunn, Hochfilzen, St. Jakob in
Haus, St. Ulrich am Pillersee and Waidring are easy to access by bus,
train, car and plane. ... and within PillerseeTal you can travel free
of charge on the Regiobus from one town to another!

An advantage of not being tied to a car is one way hiking or skiing. We bussed up to Hochfitzen then skied to St Ulrich one day. On another skied from St Ulrich to Waldring for lunch then bussed back to Fieberbrunn. You can do the same on walking paths summer and winter.

http://www.kitzbueheler-alpen.com/en/pillerseetal/winter/winter-hiking-snow-shoe-hiking.html

On around 100 km of prepared winter hiking trails non-skiers and
occasional hikers are very well catered for. Countless routes take you
to the loveliest nooks in PillerseeTal through woodlands and across
fields, past farms, hamlets and streams. At the end of many of the
routes a warm snug in a cosy alpine inn, or snack station awaits.
Enjoy a romantic time in Fieberbrunn, Hochfilzen, St. Jakob in Haus,
St. Ulrich am Pillersee and Waidring, as thick snowflakes make for an
enchanting landscape in the Kitzbüheler Alpen.

Posted by
3661 posts

In mid-June 2011, we picked up a car in Stuttgart and spent the next 2 weeks driving around and in the Alps.

We did stay at the highest hotel on Grossglockner. It was raining when we got there. There was about 10" of snow the next morning. We were not able to leave until about noon when the shop operator came up in her 2WD car and said things would be okay if we went slowly. Even the mega 4WD owners waited until then. The guys on motorcycles waited till a little later.

That incident made us decide not to drive Stelvio Pass in Italy, but we had lots of fun taking back roads and a few lower passes the rest of the time.

We drove through Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France and returned the car just over the border from Basel in Lorrach. For different amounts of time depending on what we were doing there, we stayed in Fussen, Berchtesgaden, Grossglockner, Merano, Varenna (Lake Como), Zermatt, Annecy and Basel (the last night before we flew home).

If you look up those places, it will be obvious that all are not exactly Alpine. Our trip was more about driving and gawking than hiking or walking.

We both liked the Dolomites the most and enjoyed staying in Annecy and at Lake Como the best. You will find your own favorites.

One of my favorite parts of that trip was flying OVER the Alps from Florence to Stuttgart. We were in a turbo prop plane. It was clear and we could look straight down at the peaks. We weren't all that high above them.

Wherever you decide to go and whatever you decide to do, you will have a great time there.

Posted by
4637 posts

I also was surprised by the statement that Grossglockner is the second highest mountain of all Europe and I agree with Paul and Tom that it is not so. Austria Alps are beautiful, no doubt about it. But to compete with Switzerland Alps it's hard because in average they are about thousand meters lower in Austria.

Posted by
4852 posts

I love the area around Garmisch-Parkirchen. We stayed there for a week last summer and barely scratched the surface. It is great way to visit the Alps.

I will say that I also love the area around Murren, Switzerland. If I were only going to the Alps once, I would save a little more money and go to Switzerland and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The Alps are lovely and easy to access via public transportation due to trains and mountain lifts.

Posted by
781 posts

I would definitely get a car,the areas that you want to visit are not well serviced by public transportation.I drove the Glossnocker Pass last week sun on the north side and snow on the south side,it is the highest Alpine road in Europe,not the highest mountain.
Mike

Posted by
2715 posts

Please, please check your facts before making statements, especially ones like the second highest peak, highest road or pass, as they are easy to check.

The Grossglockner is not the second highest peak in Europe. Not even close.

The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse is not the highest road in Europe. It is not even the highest road in Austria.

I'm not downplaying how scenic it is, but these statements are misleading and simply not true.

Paul

Posted by
781 posts

This answer is for Paul,the Glosckner Pass is the highest pass in Austris,it is not a dead end road,I just did it last week.
Mike

Posted by
2715 posts

Ok. The Oetztal Glacier Road, which we drove, is higher BUT it is a dead end road. Not a pass, not a loop road. Splitting hairs, as you said "road". You also said it's the highest in Europe, which is absolutely incorrect, regardless of pass, dead end, loop, etc. Off the top of my head the Stelvio Pass is higher.

Posted by
781 posts

Paul,
You are absolutely correct,checked it out on the internet here,net not the best where I am.
Mike

Posted by
2715 posts

All good Mike. I've seen the post stating that the Grossglockner is the 2nd highest peak in Europe much too often. Needs to be corrected.

Posted by
837 posts

Tirol and Sud Tirol are great. Maybe not as high or impressive as Switzerland highest and most famous, but really great. Try something like the Achensee and Rofan, St Anton am Arlberg area in west Austria and the Hochpustertal (Sexton) in Italy along the border. The Seiser Alm in Italy. The whole Zillertal valley. Kärnten region in Austria - lakes and mountains...