IF the hills are alive with the sound of music, then the mountains positively reverberated with our yodels.
'This is pure Heidi countryside: rolling green pastures dotted with ancient timber chalets, contented cattle with bells playing an incessant melody'
It was not the most tuneful of choruses, we must admit. But we were on a learning curve as steep as the Zillertal Alps of Austria as our voices quivered and quavered to echo across the Tirolean valley.
In the mists of time yodelling was the way to communicate good news or dire warnings, pre-dating texting and tweeting by a few centuries. It was how farmers and villagers would pass on messages between the pastures and the valley: my cow is sick, your wife is having her baby, the bullock has trampled me – help!
Or sometimes the message was simply: “It’s spring and how wonderful and warm is the sunshine, how rich the grass, how colourful the flowers. It’s a joy to be alive.”
That’s how we felt on our learn-to-yodel course on Austria’s first yodel hiking trail. Our teacher was golden-haired Christian Eder, his muscular legs encased in manly lederhosen and sporting a green gingham shirt under fitted black velvet jacket.
Gill dons her dirndlNot to be sartorially outsmarted, we’d dressed the part in traditional dirndls, those girly, lacy cleavage-displaying dresses with flouncy full skirts. Our waists were cinched tightly with a bow on the right to signify marriage, on the left to signal single and happy to mingle.
Keen to keep alive the custom of yodelling, hotelier Christian, 35, who runs the welcoming Castello Hotel, takes summer tourists on five-hour hiking and yodelling courses.
This is pure Heidi countryside: rolling green pastures dotted with ancient timber chalets, contented cattle with bells playing an incessant melody, glittering lakes, gurgling streams, gushing waterfalls, soaring birdsong and droning bees laden with pollen from a profusion of wild flowers.
Infused with the joys of spring, we dirndl damsels, resembling the cast of The Sound of Music, performed warm-up exercises, waving our arms in front crawl swimming style and scrumping imaginary apples in the orchard.
The key to yodelling is to ditch inhibitions. Don’t be shy as you holler and scream rather than sing, hitting the high notes with ‘i’ and ‘u’ sounds, the low notes with ‘a,’ ‘e’ and ‘o’ sounds.
“It’s using your chest and head voice and alternating between the two,” explains Christian, rather mysteriously. “It’s very physical. And when you gain expertise you can crack your voice in the same way your voice would break if you screamed in terror or anger.’
To lubricate our vocal chords and banish British reserve he dispensed generous measures of pine-flavoured schnapps from his hip flask. That did the trick.
Even docile cows pricked up their tan and cream coloured velvety ears as we gave vent, hiking from one yodelling station to another – there are eight in all, each with a push-button interactive demonstration of how your yodel-ay-ee-oooo should sound.
Christian, who proposed to his wife Eva on a mountain top – in speech rather than yodel – dreamt up the idea of yodelling courses as he mowed his lawn one summer’s day a few years back. He wanted to share the joyful heritage of his homeland and enhance visitors’ hiking experience. It worked.
We were happy to hike through a brief hailstorm – at 2000 metres it can get pretty cold even after the snows have melted – yodelling our way to lunch at Lamarch Alm. At this mountain restaurant we made short work of platters of local cheese and meats as our host Franz played the accordion. We enjoyed an impromptu dance lesson with Christian as he grabbed partners in a frenzied wedding gallop. Style note: no bride should perform this dance in hefty hiking boots.
Mountain types like Christian are a breed apart, none more so than Roman Erler, 52, (www.natursport.at) a grizzled bearded bear of a man happy to share his extensive knowledge of geology and botany. On a 600 m descent we learned what not to eat and touch among the array of alpine roses and gentian violets, and what roots could cure warts and liver damage – info gleaned from his herbalist granny who lived to 96.
Roman’s claim to fame is his discovery of a unique system of caves within the Hintertux Glacier. It’s rather misleadingly called an Ice Palace. It’s more an Ice Adventure as to access its frozen depths 25m below a ski run means slithering along narrow passages hung with weird and wonderful ice sculptures, clinging to ropes and negotiating steel ladders.
Not an undertaking for the faint-hearted but worth every scary moment to reach an enchanted kingdom with a lake so deep it remains unfrozen. It is open 365 days of the year. Summer visitors need to bring warm clothing, waterproof footwear and gloves.
We needed them as we ran the gauntlet of a Gatling gun-type volley of hailstones in a spectacular storm that lit up the skies over Mayrhofen. Never was a hot chocolate with rum and a Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s pancake) more welcome and warming at our Sporthotel Mannis.
This summer Inghams introduced a range of new experiences, including learning to yodel in Mayrhofen in the Austrian Tirol.
Inghams (01483 791114; www.inghams.co.uk) has 7 nights at the 4* Sporthotel Manni’s in Mayrhofen, with prices starting from £699 per person on half board, including return flights to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Regional flights available from Bristol (+£69), Birmingham (+£49), Manchester (+£49), Leeds-Bradford (+£59) and Edinburgh (+£59).
For more information about Tirol www.visittirol.co.uk or on Zillertal region www.zillertal.at.
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