Schladming, Austria – Travel Review
By Richard Jones
There are two things that have made me fall in love with Austria over the years – the jaw-dropping scenery and the friendly people.
One thing leads to the other, of course – how can you not have a happy disposition when you wake up everyday in a land of towering mountains, rolling hills and tranquil streams to the sounds of birds singing and cow bells ringing?
Austria is known for being a holiday destination split by the seasons – it’s perfect for older walkers and hikers in the warmer months, and tailor-made for younger skiers and boarders during the snowy season. But is this summer/winter divide about to be turned on its head?
My wife Rachel and I, along with our daughters Isla, 10, and Evelyn, six, have never been the type of family to sit on a beach or by the pool. We like to cram as much adventure as we can into our holidays, and during this summer’s trip to Schladming in Austria, we find the ideal setting.
“View from the balcony of our room is breathtaking”
Although it will perhaps always be primarily a winter resort, the Styrian town, nestling in the Enns Valley about an hour from Salzburg, is becoming increasingly popular with summer holidaymakers, in particular thrill-seeking younger travellers and families.
And thanks to the Sommercard, standing in line at the ticket office and opening your wallet or purse time and again is now a thing of the past. Every guest in the town gets one of these cards for free during their stay from May to October, allowing them to access a whole host of services and activities.
Our hotel for the week was the Hotel Zum Stadttor in the heart of the town. Owned by couple Michaela and Karl Kurtz, it is warm and friendly, while the mountain view from the balcony of our family room is nothing short of breathtaking.
Another bonus with the Stadttor is that it is one of Thomson Lakes & Mountains’ all-inclusive properties, meaning we can fill up with a delicious continental breakfast, take a packed lunch onto the mountain, and tuck into a four-course dinner with drinks in the evening.
“Beautiful alpine meadows, thick forests and dramatic rock falls”
Upon arrival at the Stadttor, Michaela presents us with our Sommercards, and we use them immediately – embarking on our first expedition up the Planai gondola from where Isla and Evelyn explore the Hopsiland play area.
During lunch, we have what would be our first of many bowls of gullashsuppe, while Rachel and I sample our first Schladmingers (the town’s tasty local beer) of the holiday.
The next day the rains arrive, but unperturbed, we don our cagoules and walk down to the Adventure Pool for a splash around, before a fun, if a little wet, game of mini golf next to the River Enns. If you’re not much of a map-reader, Schladming tourist office will happily point you in the direction of a variety of guided walks.
We catch a bus into the Untertal Valley to the Wilde Wasser area – home of beautiful alpine meadows, thick forests and dramatic rock falls. The two-hour ascent from Riesachfall Gasthaus up the Höll canyon via muddy paths and over suspension bridges is fairly testing, but we are rewarded by an amazing sight at the top – the stunningly serene lower Sonntagskarseen Lake.
“Free activities, including cooking, arts and crafts”
The next day, we jump on the same bus, disembarking at Gasthof Weise Wand where the kids are booked into a beginners’ climbing session. Over a couple of hours they face their fears and have great fun with the instructor Gerhard, scaling craggy rock faces and a 30-foot tree, before zooming down the flying fox zipline into a crash mat.
From there, we walk through the buttercup-covered meadows and along the river to Waldhäuslalm. On Tuesdays during the summer, little ones can take part in a whole host of free activities, including cooking, arts and crafts and petting the farm animals.
More showers are forecast the following day, but we have planned ahead and book a family rafting excursion. Our guide, a likeable Italian named Andrea, leads the four of us, paddles in hands, down a stretch of the Enns through some gentle white water rapids.
Isla is a keen swimmer back home, but she doesn’t appreciate being thrown overboard by her dad – not even the wetsuit can keep out the chill of the glacial water!
Speaking of the cold, before we travelled to Austria, some of our friends had asked if we were going there to ski. I laughed, pointing out it was summer time. However, I am left eating my words when we take the cable car up to the famous Dachstein Glacier above the town of Ramsau. Here, even at the height of summer, scores of skiers and snowboarders take to the 3000m-high slopes to practice their freestyle skills.
We could seemingly see forever from the Skywalk and suspension bridge, while Evelyn, who is mad about Disney’s Frozen movie, gets the chance to see what a real ice palace looks like.
After lunch on the mountain, we head east to Stoderzinken, where Isla and I get our passports to ride Europe’s longest zipline at 2.5km long with a drop of 700m. Rachel and Evelyn wait at the base with their cameras, but it isn’t until they notice the wire shake that they realise we are on our way down, such is the scale of the ride.
Before heading back to the UK, there is time for one more activity – mountain go-karting. Once we reach the top station of the Hochwurzen gondola, the four of us zoom down the 7km-long gravel course at breakneck speeds. It is an adrenaline-fuelled end to what has been a thrilling week.
“More than tranquil Alpine walks”
Slowly but surely, more and more young people are flocking to Austria, and understandably want more from their summer vacations than tranquil Alpine walks, edelweiss and The Sound of Music.
By all means, you can still get those Austrian staples in Schladming, and you’re missing out if you don’t get into the Von Trapp spirit at some point.
However, for thrill-seeking families like us, the Sommercard means that the Austrian hills are alive with the sound of adventure.
Thomson Lakes & Mountains (thomsonlakes.co.uk) offers a week’s all-inclusive at the Hotel Zum Stadttor in Schladming from £699 per person (based on a family of three sharing a room) including flights and transfers departing on August 2, 2017. Direct flights available from all major UK airports.
The Sommercard is free for all customers, giving free use of cable cars, public buses, public pools, activities and much more.