Whoever built that hut meant it to last. Four-square and stolid, it stood on the mountain, defying anything the elements might throw at it. This was a real chalet, a world away from the tacky ‘shally’ of the holiday camp.
It was still used for its rightful purpose, too. From within came a lowing, and the dull ‘tong’ of cattle bells. In former times, there’d have been accommodation on an upper story for the herder and maybe his family, for it’s a long, hard climb from the village. But, today, if he doesn’t ride up on a quad bike or something, he can always use the cable car. That’s how I got here.
I make no excuse. I know of no rule that says that, to breathe mountain air, you must slog every foot of the way up a rather tedious zig-zag path. Nor have I ever found anything that says that you must toil all the way to the summit.
There is, of course, a downside to such a philosophy. As I aimed my camera to take a picture of the cattle-shed, a figure appeared in my view-finder. An almost completely spherical figure, dressed from head to foot in shocking pink, delicately balanced on ski-poles was heading towards the hut to see the cows. Luckily, the cows had left plenty of evidence of their passing, and the lady, apparently unwilling to gather that evidence on her pretty pink trainers, had retreated to the safety of the path, squealing in disgust!
I was almost 6000 feet up, in the Rofan Mountains in the Austrian Tirol. I’d ‘jumped ship’ from a package tour, rather than trudge around a succession of museums and souvenir shops, and took a walk. The Inn Valley provides plenty of walks like this one, and you don’t have to be a committed Alpinist to enjoy them.
The top station of the Rofan Seilbahn, as the cable car is called, lies at the lip of a corrie 2800 feet (880 metres) above the valley floor. The surrounding peaks rise about 1500 feet (470m) above that. But, the grassy corrie itself can provide an easy but substantial walk, with very little gain or loss of height.
And, you don’t have to carry lots of food with you, or wait until you’ve returned to Maurach village, far below, for refreshment. There are several bars, cafés and restaurants around the top station. Here you can sit with a Weissbier (wheat beer) and a bowl of Speckknodelsuppe (clear soup with a bacon dumpling!) and watch the hang-gliders and paragliders launching themselves off the mountain, to land on the banks of the Achensee, far below.
Apart from the fact that it’s L-shaped, it’s tempting to compare Achensee with our own Windermere. Like Windermere, you can approach it on a steam train, the 110-year old Achenseebahn, from Jenbach down in the main valley.
Because of the steepness of the line, there’s a rack between Jenbach and Eben, at the highest point, where the rack ends, and the railway becomes a conventional one.
If you’d prefer to walk, there’s a footpath from Jenbach, from which you can still have a frequent glimpse of the little train clattering fussily up the rack, with the guard clinging to the outside of the carriages, as he proceeds along them inspecting tickets.
The line terminates at Seespitze, on the southern end of the lake, although there are tentative plans to extend it further. At present, you transfer to a boat, and sail to the main town, Pertisau, and beyond.
The road from Seespitz only goes as far as Pertisau, before leaving the lake shore. To the north of the village, a lakeside road isn’t really possible, because the Karwendel hills roll steeply right down to the shore. But, there is a footpath!
So, you can stay on the boat until Scolastika, at the head of the lake. From here, a short walk will take you to Achenkirche, overlooked by its onion-spired church on a grassy knoll above the village. From there, you could head off down the western shore of the lake towards Gaisalm.
Gaisalm, says the guidebook, is the only mountain pasture which is only accessible by boat or on foot. Here, there’s another chalet … and this one’s been converted to a restaurant. Here, I tried another Tirolean dish, Tiroler Gröstl, which is a hash of potatoes and pork, sautéed together with chives, herbs and onions. It sounds disgusting, and tastes delicious, but I really don’t recommend it unless you’re about to do some walking to burn those calories off.
At a guess, I’d say a walk from Pertisau to the restaurant at Gaisalm is a popular thing to do. On the gently undulating path I exchanged the obligatory ‘Grüss Gott!’ with so many people coming in the opposite direction that, by the time I got to Pertisau, my pronunciation was almost perfect!
A word of caution, though. Although, on a summer afternoon, the path is short and gentle, there are clues that it isn’t always so. It crosses quite a few streams, all flowing through seriously eroded gullies out of all proportion to their size. So, I’d suggest that quite a quantity of water comes off those mountains after heavy rain, and the path might be best avoided at such times … the boats call at Gaisalm if you need an alternative way back to Pertisau.
Pertisau is Alpine-pretty, but a bit too touristy for me. I stayed only long enough to buy an ice-cream and top up my water bottle … incidentally, if your way takes you through any town or village, there’s almost always a public fountain dispensing potable water. Instead of catching the boat, I walked back to the railway station, along a track through the woods above the road.
That track is also the local trimmbahn. Every so often there’s a piece of gymnastic apparatus made from logs from the wood, or a sign telling which exercise you must do. But, being a person who hates regimentation, I did star-jumps where it said to do press-ups, and so on!
When I got to the station, I was told the last train back to Jenbach had been cancelled, for some reason. What was I going to do? My map showed a pleasant path through the woods, by which Jenbach was only an hour’s walk away … and all downhill!