Summer heat doesn’t temper Austrians’ appetite for high peaks in the slightest.
Many Austrians have never seen The Sound of Music (after all, what does Hollywood know?). And those who have may well reject the picture of a folksy, slightly naïve and somewhat hillbilly people inclined to burst into song at the slightest excuse, that has somehow charmed generations of Americans. Yet, for all the exuberant clichés and well-meaning exaggerations, there is one thing that will immediately move even the greatest cynic’s heart: The breathtaking opening scene, taking the viewer, airborne, over the majestic mountain peaks of the Salzburgerland, its lakes, rivers and deep valleys, to the very hill where the great Julie Andrews’ voice soars: “The hills are alive, with the sound of music!”
Austrians’ bond with their mountains is deep and enduring. And while winters are for skiing, the warm months allow the Alp’s natural beauty to fully unfold, making it prime hiking territory. From the Arlberg glacier to the jagged crests of the Hohe Tauern national park – home to the country’s highest mountain, the 3,798 m Großglockner – to the white water gorges of the Styrian uplands, nature has endowed the nation with a dazzling plethora of alpine glory and awe-inspiring peaks. And Austrians can’t wait to scale them all.
Because it’s There
If you plan on joining the national pastime of storming the summits, first and foremost, what you need is proper equipment. Hiking, or wandern, may be fun, but it is no laughing matter, and Austrians are acutely aware of that. At the very least, you need a pair of strong and stable hiking boots: popular brands you can rely on are Meindl, Carinthia, Hanwag and Dachstein (the company, not the mountain in Styria). Prices may be juicy, but after a five hour slog, you’ll know very well why you got them. Also, make sure to tie them properly: firmly but without causing any pain. That’s crucial for Trittsicherheit, or sure-footedness.
Next up is light, weatherproof apparel. Protective garments against the elements are paramount, as weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains. A raincoat, a cap or bonnet, sunglasses and a sweater should always be in your backpack, as should a bottle of water (ideally made of a more durable material than plastic) and a hearty snack, or Jause.
Most mountaineers also swear on bringing a pocketknife, a small first aid kit, a map (proper paper – your cellphone may fail), and some power boosters like muesli bars, dried fruit or an energy drink. Also remember that you are both responsible for and dependent on your entire hiking group, so it’s a smart idea to think of their potential needs as well, and distribute baggage evenly to all party members.
Up we go
Are you properly prepared and eager for a hike? Good! Next comes choosing the right tour. For Austrians, Wandern can mean anything from strolling for three hours through idyllic alpine meadows to a five hour intensive hike scaling some impressive rock faces, to an eight hour peak-to-peak tour – or all of the above.
It’s crucial to find out what you want to do and what you’re confident pulling off – there’s no point trying to climb the Großvenediger (3,666 m) when you haven’t made it on top of Kahlenberg (484 m) yet. If you feel slightly lost among all these famous peaks that natives seem to be on a first-name basis with, fear not, there is plenty of help out there (and the truth is, Austrians also inform themselves arduously before setting out). The Österreichischer Alpenverein (Austrian Alpine Association), founded in 1862 when hiking in the Alps became popular, is responsible for the upkeep of hiking tracks, boasting more than 500,000 members and owning 235 Schutzhütten (alpine huts). Its web page offers information and good tips and tricks on all things related to wandern. For just getting some inspiration and indeed, wanderlust, the website wandern.com presents an array of beautiful hiking trails from all nine Bundesländer (states). Once you have an idea where to go, you can check on Bergfex.at whether the tour you have in mind corresponds to your skills and ambitions.
Only one thing remains to be done now: Checking the Bergwetter (mountain weather). Conditions in the flatlands can be deceptive, which is why all Austrian weather stations, most notably ZAMG, the official government meteorological service, offer a special service forecasting weather in the mountains. Austrians are instinctively aware of that, having almost certainly endured Wetterpanorama as a child when visiting their grandparents – for three hours on Saturday and Sunday morning, the national broadcaster ORF 2 shows scenes of picturesque landscapes all throughout the country, accompanied by zithers, trumpets and of course, details on the current temperature and weather conditions.
Now, you are finally ready to go auffi auf’n Berg (up the mountain). Take in nature’s majesty around you and breathe the clear air as you roam ever higher, as rays of sun suddenly break through the clouds again after you wandered through a misty patch. Greet your fellow hikers with a colloquial “Servus” or “Griaß eich” – at over 1,000 m above sea level, everyone’s informal. Most crucially, keep on walking, the summit is waiting and with it, a gorgeous panorama and sense of freedom, achievement and joy. And if your legs ever grow tired, don’t despair; just intone a jolly hiking song. Because after all, it is true: Austrians do like to sing in the mountains.
Österreichischer Alpenverein (Austrian Alpine Association)
First contact point for all questions about Wandern. Offers a wealth of information on tours, huts as well as tips and online maps. In German only. alpenverein.at
Commercial website. Very helpful with webcams, tours graded by level of difficulty and package offers for beginners. In English.
ZAMG – The Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics
Check for weather forecasts. Weirdly enough, the crucial Bergwetter can only be found on the German version of the web page, but it’s easy to find.
Where to Go
The No. 1 web page for Austrian tourism offers things to do, places to go and practical information aplenty – including alpine tours and hiking. In English and 21 other languages.
Tours and mountains
Select tours and peaks for beginners and advanced hikers alike from all over the country. In German only.
From glaciers to wine
Regions like Styria offer hiking tours up high in the mountains as well as through gorges (perfect for getting started with children), along with routes through rolling vineyards. In English and eight other languages. steiermark.com
For those who prefer staying closer to home, Niederösterreich promotes its own mountain ranges as easily accessible Wiener Alpen. In English.
Where to Stay
Idyllic villages throughout the country, geared towards providing hikers a truly alpine experience. In (Google translated) English.
Huts & chalets
For just staying overnight in a classic Hütte, you need not necessarily reserve, but it’s good if you call ahead. If you want a place all to yourself, head to this website. Partly in English.
Guesthouses specializing in hosting hikers all throughout the Alpine region. In German only.