This what I should have seen!THE spring thaw brings an end to the skiing in the Austrian Alps, but it doesn't mean the mountains close down for the summer. When I visited Zell am See in June, it was a town determined not to have an off-season with adventure sports, hiking paths, and new tourist attractions replacing the winter pursuits. Go there in summer and you'll likely end up craving crisp Alpine air every July as well as every January.
Five things to do in Zell am See in summer:
1) Listen to a mountain moving
Take the three cable cars up to the top of the Kitzsteinhorn to visit Gipfelwelt 3000. This restaurant, glacier ski station, and national park visitor centre takes you deep inside the mountain, starting from where the cable car wires are screwed into the rock. Follow the tunnel into the permafrost where you can listen to the mountain creak as it continues its slow rise up from the seabed, then emerge onto a platform overlooking the peaks of the Hohe Tauern national park. I'll have to take their word for it about the dramatic views; there was a white out when I went (pictured above). Choose a clear day if you can, though the lava-thick hot chocolate in the restaurant is probably worth the 3000m ascent alone.
Cable cars to the summit and entrance to the national park centre are free with the Zell am See-Kaprun card, which is complimentary with most hotel bookings.
Zell Am See2) Have a warm salt soak with an Alpine view
For a fast track to holiday relaxation mode, spend an afternoon at the Tauern Spa. I had sublime views of misty mountainsides and forests from its 35-degree outdoor saline pool. Inside there are sleep-inducing relaxation rooms plus a whole suite of saunas (outdoor and indoor, nude and non-nude), restaurants and 17 treatment rooms, including one for couples where you can have a milk and honey whirlpool bath by candlelight. Everything is designed to face onto the mountains, from the treadmills in the gym, to the beds in the spa's hotel, to the private rooftop pool reserved for those lucky enough to stay there.
Day tickets for Spa Water World at Tauern Spa cost €22 plus €9 if you want to use the saunas. You get a discount with the Zell am See-Kaprun card.
3) Take a trip (and a dip) in a fast-moving river
Most of the UK tourists I saw were in the over-60s category, but the existence of adventure sports companies such as Outdo suggests either these unassuming retirees are secret adrenalin junkies, or Zell am See gets younger visitors when the summer breaks start. We went white water rafting on the river Salzach which gets a 2-3 rating for rapids, making for a thrilling rather than terrifying trip. Paragliding, mountain biking, and canyoning are also available for summer adventurers.
Rafting with Outdo costs €45 per person including transport and snacks.
White Water Rafting4) Get serious lifestyle-envy in Salzburg
Sunny, wholesome and surrounded by mountains, this city had me wondering about the possibility of Gordo setting up a Salzburg Confidential and offering me a transfer. When I arrived, healthy-looking, tanned Austrian girls were skating to the lido for an after-work swim. Makes a nice change from having to go snowboarding every weekend in winter. Salzburg is most famous for two things: Mozart and The Sound of Music – the latter isn't widely loved in Austria where sensitivities about Nazism run high. But they milk the Wolfgang Amadeus connection for all it's worth with a museum at his birthplace, regular concerts, and an abundance of Mozartkugeln – little round marzipan-chocolates bearing his portrait.
5) Go high-level walking without the up hill slog
It's not cheating, it's just common sense. Take a cable car up the peak so that you can save your stamina for the good bit – up high with the whole world spread out beneath you.
Well signposted routes link the mountain huts where you can refuel with local cheeses and crisp Austrian beer. Descend through, wild-flower meadows and pastures dotted with chocolate box chalets and chocolate bar cows. Or if you want to save the strain on your knees, view them from above as the cable car takes you back down to the valley.
Free walking guides and maps are available from the tourist information centre or your holiday company on arrival.
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