Salzburg is a town earmarked for its ‘storybook’ qualities, with spindling turrets that cluster above narrow streets; a setting for the Brother’s Grimm. Grandiose baroque structures sit regally alongside the Salzach, and the sweet roses of Mirabell Gardens provide a fitting backdrop for a pensive moment.
Overlooking it all, the formidable Hohensalzburg castle tops Festungsburg hill. This enormous medieval fortress looms over the city - a silhouette twinned with the habitations of Disney’s Maleficent. Salzburg echoes the dulcet remnants of childhood fairy tales, the sound of singing Maria in the hills and 18th-century waltz. But don’t be lulled by quaint atmosphere - the home of Mozart is moments from ultimate hell-raising abandon.
In close reach of the city centre’s civilised streets lie countless adventure and active sport opportunities. The combination of expansive wilderness on the Dachstein mountain meadows during warmer months and proximity to extreme winter sports in Shaldming and beyond make Salzburg an immense adventure sports base in all seasons.
Even the most jaded traveller will surrender to the stunning scenery on approach into Salzburg Mozart airport in winter. A cocoon of mountains encircles the city so when the powder starts to fall, you fly into a snow globe. On a good run, the driving time from the airport to the city centre is 15 minutes.
Train links to and from Salzburg are good, but hiring a car is easily the best way to get about in Austria. But if you didn’t bring your driving license public transport that caters to adventure seekers is not bad. For the slopes, the Salzburg Snow Shuttle, running from late December to March, is excellent. Costing only 14 euros, there are picks-ups from all over the city heading for seven different popular ski resorts, one each day of the week.
The summer months are the hottest and wettest, with highs around 24°C and some rain two out of every three days. Winter and spring are considerably drier, with about half the precipitation of the summer. Count on temperatures around 0°C in the winter, and 10 - 15°C in the spring and autumn. October is the driest month.
The Schladming area boasts is a popular ski destination due to its panoramas and varying slope gradients. If you want to combine winter sports with plunging into hot springs, head for Gastiernertal. Zell am See makes for a nice overnight trip from Salzburg.
The Kisteinhorn glacier is covered in snow 10 months of the year and the ice never melts. Ski or snowboard on the glacier and hike to the Ice Arena where après ski comes in the form of slides, snow beaches and an ice bar. The exhibition "Gipfelwelt 3000" at the summit depicts the phenomena of modern infrastructure and the brute force of nature on the alpine peaks.
During the summer the Alps near Salzburg are covered with wildflower carpets and lakes with water so clear it could have leaked from the Evian bottles of countless enthusiastic hikers. Come winter and Narnia descends on Austria. Winter sports fanatics will be in their element with the variety of skiing and snowboarding locations, natural ice rinks and toboggan runs.
Bang in the middle of Salzburg is the City Wall Kapuzinerberg, a mini-mountain suited to climbers of all levels. There are also several spots within easy reach for alpine style multi-rig climbing, sports climbing and bouldering.
Some of the most popular places to ski and snowboard nearby are the Obertauern and the area around Zauchensee Lake. Skiwelte Amade is a cooperative that connects slopes in the area, offering good deals.
The ice caves of Werfen are an hour from Salzburg. To get to the entrance of these psychedelic cathedrals take the Eisriesenwelt shuttle to Austria’s steepest cable car. When you step out on a clear day you’ll be able to see out over the Hogen Tauern alps and the Salzach valley. Hike further up the mountain to the mouth of the ice caves you’ll be faced with a labyrinthine trail of 42km breath-taking palatial freezers. Known as the ‘Empire of Diamonds,’ the ice caves are open May to October.
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In winter, ice sheets are amply thick - the Nature Ice Skating School Weissensee has 25 natural ice loops to skate around or 400m runs for speed skaters. The best places to ice skate outdoors independently are Bodensee, the lakes of the Salzburger Seenland, the Salzkammergut, Neusiedlersee and in Carinthia. Many smaller towns or villages also have lakes or ponds where it is safe to skate.
Salzburg has plenty to offer in the immediate areas in the way of adventure sports, but a longer trip to Tyrol or the Lavanttal Alps offer incredible mountaineering, hiking and skiing experiences.
Solktaler nature park is like being in an advert for Lurpak. Cattle graze over calm buttercup valleys in the shadow of mighty mountain peaks. Hike up to Gumpenkar and on to Blockfeldspitz for a good incline. Breitlahnalm in the Kleinsölk valley is beautiful, take a walk around Lake Schwarz, to see with your own eyes the place Archduke John of Austria lost his shit for:
“It’s incredibly beautiful and I could not drink in enough of the view. The peacefulness of the great outdoors has the utmost charm and I confess that I would like to spend fourteen days of every summer here alone.”
Zell am See-Kaprun is well-known for its diverse cycling paths and makes for a nice overnight trip from Salzburg. Choose from short, flat ambient paths to mountain ascents so steep they’re enough to make the gnarliest of professional mountain bikers throw up with dread. Bring it on.
For road cycling in the region there’s the Ironman 70.3 world championship race track, 90km long with an altitude difference of 950km. The Großglockner High Alpine Road is nearby but brace yourself for an altitude difference of no less than 2000km. If you’re looking for a long-distance cycle ride try the 325km long Tauern cycle path which can be done in around a week.
Other impressive Austrian summer adventures include hiking to the summit of the Stoderzinken mountain, Canyoning in East Tyrol with Adventure Austria, water sports on Lake Zell: boating, sailing, stand up paddling, kayaking, diving, fishing and water skiing.
Austria is covered in little alpine huts that look straight from the scenes of a children’s book, all with varying degrees of luxury. From hostel beds where you’ll cosy up next to strangers like a bunch of particularly open-minded sardines to luxury eco hotels with spa villages to ease your weary bones, accommodation in Austria is made for the adventure traveller. Try the Huetten Guide for rustic and the Wanderhotels directory for something more luxurious. The Natur Und Wellness hotel with its mountaintop spa village and ski lift is particularly incredible and the Schönwetterhütte is rustic yet extremely homely.
In Salzburg itself try the Hotel & Villa Auersperg for stylish eco rooms and an incredible free Ayurvedic breakfast or for something more budget friendly try the Yoho International Youth Hostel. For camping in some of the Alps' most spectacular locations try Eurocampings to find sites near where you’re headed.
Little mountain huts with geranium window boxes pepper the mountainsides and many serve coffee and pastries for hikers. Depending on which area you’re going to you can find out their locations first. Most popular regions have dedicated websites that list the hut locations and level of service.
In the city, eat at the Stadtalm for amazing views of the city and castle after a mini-hike up the Monchsberg. St Peter’s Abbey is Europe’s oldest restaurant, having served traditional food for a whopping 1200 years.
Rudolfskai is the place for bars and pubs, with City Alm and Apo bar great evening watering holes. In the mountains, St Anton is the go to place for hedonistic Apres Ski, and don’t forget Snowbombing, the annual music festival at Mayrhofen.
Austria is abundant in flora and fauna with all that crispy fresh mountain air and water; the rural areas feel so – I don’t know - alive. Vibrant. Immersing yourself in the Austrian landscape is a tonic for good health. Grazing goats, lowing cowbell wearing mountain cattle and soaring eagles animate the landscape. On the ground find comfrey, meadowsweet, milk thistle, alpine rose and the inspiration for the national anthem, Edelweiss.
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