Austria (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011
June 23, 2011 we bumped into an undisclosed holiday in Austria and southern Germany. A Catholic holiday was all we could determine about it but the supermarkets and most of the retails shops were closed and the trains were packed.
Beware of August 15 "Maria's Himmelsfahrt" as everything may be closed (and guesthouse proprietors may be away for the day).
October 26 is National Day, another 'bank holiday.'
Business Hours: Most or all food markets are closed on Sundays and in some communities they close for the weekend at noon or 2pm on Saturday.
Biking & Travel
We love cyclotouring in Austria. It's a lovely country to be in with lots of accommodation for bikes. There are posted bike routes, especially along the rivers. Vienna is crisscrossed with bike lanes and routes and is an easy capital city to enter by bike.
One especially easy-going route is from just inside northeastern Italy and into Austria along the Drau River. Here is an excerpt from my 2003 journal about cycling on this route:
Bill in 'road side mechanic' heaven.
In Italy cyclists are well-accommodated in traffic but that’s it--in Austria, the red carpet is rolled. Crisscrossing bike paths, route signs, welcome signs, route maps, and self-service tool stations suddenly appeared as we crossed the border. And then there are those charming, rustic picnic tables made with irregular thick slabs of rock or timbers; the small, shaded fish pond with a tethered, 2’ long wooden sail boat bobbing with the winds and incoming cascade of stream water; path-side cafés and signs directing riders to banks and B&B’s. Somehow Austria has cajoled its neighboring Italian town on the Drau River to be pro-bike, so some of the changes begin in San Candido which is about 5 miles inside the border. San Candido has a signed bike path funneling cyclists to the 150 mile long Austrian river route.
After riding most of the Drau River
route this year, we now understand that the 25-30 mile segment from San Candido,
Italy to Lienz, Austria is indeed the finest segment. Every inch of it is paved,
almost all of it is dedicated bike path running along the river, and it is
essentially a gentle downhill ride the entire way. This is such a pleasant ride
special trains run between the 2 towns with 2 boxcars fitted just for bikes. So,
the riders from Lienz board with their bikes and take the train slightly uphill
to San Candido and almost coast back to Lienz and the San Candido riders can
catch the train home at the end of their bike outing—is that cush or what! None
of this silly riding ‘round trip like we usually do for a day ride.
The bike train is wildly popular. We happened to be on the route on a sunny Friday afternoon and there were hundreds (thousands?) of people in all shapes and sizes, and all degrees of fitness or lack there of. The path is wide enough that serious athletes were able to ride as a fast as they wanted most of the time and the route easy enough for the whole family. Benches, picnic tables, drinking water, emergency call stations, traffic mirrors on some of the blind curves and shade are plentiful along this part of the Drau River route. We also learned that there is a daily bus from April through October that runs almost the entire length of the Austrian portion of the Drau that hauls cyclists and their gear to the starting point of the downhill route—they’ll even drop your luggage off at a designated hotel for you.
www.dolomitenfreunde.at is the website for the Paths of Peace and WWI museum near the Italian Dolomites.
www.austria-radreisen.at, email@example.com (try all caps if these don't work) We picked up a wonderful brochure for this company, Austria Radreisen GMBH, that has about 70 week-long bike tours in 16 European countries. Their tours are a fraction of the price of similar US companies, though the bike rental is separate. Some are group trips and others are prepaid packages for the hotel and luggage transport each day between hotels. They also provide bus transport for you and your bike so you only have to do the route one direction. The brochure was in German and I haven't had a chance to check-out the availability of English.
The private rooms or "zimmers" were often a terrific value in Austria. Bill would pick-up a catalog of the local lodging options in a town and immediately go to the Privat Zimmer section. There he scanned for the more upscale ones offering a private bathroom and satellite TV. The TV wasn't so important but looking for those 2 features was an easy way of selecting for new or newly remodeled rooms. We often ended up with a bright, spacious room with a balcony and some extras, like access to a refrigerator or a hot pot in the room. Asking for the room without breakfast would often bring the price for the 2 of us down to 30-35€ per night, half of what we would pay at a hotel for a much less pleasant room. Occasionally the room wouldn't be so nice and we'd pass it by, but usually the first room Bill looked at using this screening criteria would be great. This approach definitely works better in the smaller towns as the private zimmers are usually in homes on the edge of town and often the home only has 1 room to rent.
Grossglockner is a showpiece mountain with a challenging high pass in Austria. We biked over it in 2003 and could hardly walk for several days afterwards. It was a huge effort and so in 2006 we began looking for more humane options for doing it again, but with stopovers for hiking at the high elevations.
In 2006, a Postbus ran both directions between Lienz in the south to Zell am See in the north from June 25 until September 24 (Fahrplan 5002). Only 2 buses a day make the complete run in each direction, though 3 other buses connect Lienz and intermediate Heiligenblut but short of Grossglockner. We were told that the buses would take on bikes at any of their stops along the way. Look at the schedule carefully as not all buses operate everyday. www.postbus.at; firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 04762/5214-26. www.grossglockner.at is available for general information.
It's best to keep your plans flexible for touring over Gross Glockner by any mode as when Bill checked their website in mid-August 2006 it was snowing and only 2°C--just above freezing. We were in southern Germany at the time, probably at about the 1000' elevation, and our portion of the 2 weeks of stormy weather brought rain and highs in the 50's F.
Via Claudia Augusta Bike Route (2007, 2008, 2011)
Don't do it! was our advise in 2007 for the segment from Füssen to Imst. We ended up only pedaling about 50 of the 90 miles (80 of 140km) because much of it was gravel and 15% grades on gravel were common place. Much of what we did ride was terrible and we believe we missed the worst of it by taking the buses that haul bikes for free. First it was the private minibus service from Lermoos that took us over Fernpass--definitely a stretch to skip. The trail from there was not fun with loaded touring bikes as it was what I consider a mountain bike route. Weary of the rough riding and the rain, we took the Via Claudia Huckepack bus service all the way from Landeck to Nauders. Bikes ride for free on these buses which operate from May until October: www.postbus.at Tel: 43 5442 64422).
Bill's suggestion is to instead approach the region from Innsbruck along the Inn River, then go over Reschen Pass at Nauders, entirely bypassing this difficult segment.
In 2008 we stumbled onto a very civilized segment of the route in the Adige Valley south of Trento in northern Italy. It was difficult to follow the route without a guide even though Bill had looked at it online the night before. Most of it was on paved roads and dedicated paved bike routes. It was a very different riding experience than we had with the Austrian segment. We first spotted the route near the southern end of Lago Garda (though it wasn't along the lake itself) and as we traveled north and moved into Trentino Province, the route was more prominently named Pista Ciclopedonale Valle dell'Adige with the associated website being www.ripristino.provincia.tn.it.
In contrast, in 2011 we were treated to a well-crafted segment of the Via Claudia Augusta that was posted as being from Reschen/Resia Pass at the Austrian border to Merano/Meran but really it goes all the way in to Bolzano/Bozen. We rode uphill from Bolzano to Reschen Pass via Burgeis instead of going through Mals, which was definitely the hard way to go. 15% grades were commonplace around Burgeis, with a couple of 20%'s tossed in. The asphalt track with endless blind turns was a bit narrow for loaded bikes grinding up those grades near the top given there would be packs of a dozen or more mountain bikers whizzing downhill--definitely some tense moments for us. We didn't go through Mals this year, which is the last stop on the train line that serves Bolzano. This stretch, probably from Mals to Merano, has gone from little-traveled the first year we did it (before the bike route was completed) to the busiest bike route we've been on. There must have been a thousand or more riders on the route in a day. Packs of families, mountain bikers, and loaded cyclotourists all going delightfully downhill with little pedaling involved. Some were probably only on the route for a few hours, others were going the whole distance or beyond. Train cars and car trailers were filled with rental and private bikes being hauled uphill for the lucky folks to enjoy the scenic ride down.
Once at the top, took the route on the west side of Reschensee near the Austrian border, which was the hard way to go. Along the lake: yes; flat: no. It was relentlessly up and down--very tiring after already slogging up to the pass area but almost entirely paved. The east side of the lake would be much flatter. Going through Mals would likely be easier than Burgeis also.
On the Austrian side towards Nauders, the grades are persistent but the asphalt path is wide with excellent visibility.
All sorts of shuttle services are now available in the area for hauling luggage and bikes, in addition to the regular bus and train service. www.bikeshuttle.at was one such service we saw posted that traveled into Italy and Switzerland as well.
Timmelsjoch or Passo Rombo
We have ridden over this pass between Austria and Italy twice. In 2009 we rode from Italy into Austria and in 2011 we rode the opposite direction. The Italian side is definitely the hardest and its grueling whether you are riding up or down. Both times we broke the climb to the 8,200'/2,500 meter pass down into several days. In 2011 on the Austrian side we stopped at Umhausen, Soelden, and Obergurgl, doing several days of hiking at the last 2 villages. Should we do the route again, we might spend a night at Hochgurgl, which is about 1150'/350m above Obergurgl to shave the last day's climb from 2,400'/725m to around 1,300'/400m (Hochgurgl is above the main road.) We doubt that there are any markets at tiny Hochgurgl, so extra provisions will need to be carried. Even on this the easier side, these segments were tough. For example, the ride from Soelden to Obergurgl was about 2 hours of pedaling time, accumulating over 2,000'/620m of gain in under 10 miles or about 15km. On each segment, there were some intervals of descent in which we gave up precious gain. And each segment has punishingly long stretches of 10% grades. This year we were pleased with our performance on the final day until we were hit with ferocious, bone-chilling head winds on those 10% grades (it was 9°C/48°F without windchill). I wondered if I'd have the arm strength to make it because the headwinds sapped my power and made bike handling so difficult. It was the wind that has us thinking about stopping at Hochgurgul the next time. If conditions are terrible or you change your mind about biking to the top, there are multiple places between Imst and Hochgurgl where you and your bike can board a bus. The "huckepack" bus with bike trailer runs at least 3 times a day in the summer and other buses have racks on the back for bikes. Generally bikes ride for free in Austria. Do make all legs of this journey on weekdays instead of weekends to minimize the traffic that can be traumatizing on the steep grades at a snail's pace with no shoulder. Also, plan your traverse to avoid the Oztaler RadMarathon that happens each August out of Soelden. The roads are closed as cyclist's race over Timmelsjoch and Brenner Pass during this all day event. Traffic was also heavy on the roads around Soelden during the week prior to the race.
St Leonardo, Italy is a good place to stop in either direction and especially when coming from Austria but book ahead. We couldn't book a room in St Leonardo, so went on to Merano where we had our second of 2 disappointing rooms. Merano seems to be like Bolzano: lovely places with crummy, over-priced lodging. St Leonardo is the first stop with a decent market and a range of services. If you are continuing on towards Merano, look for the minimally marked bike path on your left once mostly out of St Leonardo. The brown bike route sign indicates it goes to an intermediate village and not Merano, but it goes the entire way. You cross the river on a short, low bridge to access the path that varies between asphalt and well maintained hard pack. There are a couple of very short 10% pitches along the way but it is a delightful alternative to being on the narrow road.
Riding from Italy into Austria is significantly more difficult for loaded cyclotourists for several reasons. The road is even more narrow and the steep segments are longer with fewer opportunities to pause for a rest and restart without doing 'power starts'. We term restarts straight up the road on steep grades as power starts. On the Austrian side there are more frequent switchbacks and slightly banked bits of wider road on 10% grades where one can effectively cut the grade in half or less when getting under way. Minimizing power starts is an important bit of finessing for conserving my strenght on passes and the Italian side of the pass is short on such help. And pausing to rest for 1-2 minutes is essential for me with our 100 lbs of bike and gear. I estimated we paused to rest about 15 times from Obergurgl to the summit and none required a power start. In 2009 when we rode the pass from Italy we did lay over's at St Leonardo, the village of Moos, and at the Gasthaus Hochfirst part way up. It was hard enough that we probably won't do this side again.
Tirol Lodging 2009
Obergurgl: Martinshof at Gurglestrasse 98; www.martinshof.biz; Tel: 05256/6237 was a steal in August 2009 at 44€/night for 2 in a 1 bedroom apartment with 2 balconies and CNN on the TV. That was without breakfast, with breakfast it was 50€. There is an additional city tax of 2.40€/day (August 2011 it was 48€/night for 2 without breakfast, including tax). High speed internet access is 5€/24 hours. Bright, cheery, fresh, great beds, dishwasher with cleaning service twice a week convinced us to stay longer than planned. We stayed in apt #7 on the sunny southwest side. Momma and the adult taught speak English. The only thing that would have made it better would have been a bathtub and use of a clothes washing machine. Cash only. There are 2 supermarkets as of 2011. The Spar in town is almost next to the lift; the new Mini-M-Preis at the entrance to the village on your left as you arrive, just before the Martinshof. Both are closed on Sundays. The view from the top of the cable car is great and taking the walk towards the glaciers is even better.
Langenfeld (Otztal): Gästheim Renarte; Unterried 68; A-6444 Längenfeld/Tirol; Tel: +43 52 53 / 61 40; www.gaestehaus-renate.at ; email: office @gaesthaus-renate.at. We stayed at a different gasthof in Längenfeld in 2009 in order to do the nearby via ferrata. While there we looked for a nice place to stay and found this gem for 16 Euros/person (probably in the off season). They have comfortable apartments and only require a 2 night stay for them. We plan to stay there when we return to repeat the via ferrata.
Rietz about 30 km out of Innsbruck. Gasthof Thayer 70€ for 2. Our room #6 was lovely and spacious; #5 was too, too small; and #4 was probably the same size as #5.
Innsbruck: Don't show up in Innsbruck without reservations unless your are comfortable paying $150-200 per night for 2. We made reservations for early September about 5 days in advance and were unable to make reservations at any of Bill's top picks for more than a night or 2. Instead of paying about 65€ per night at these establishments, we were bumped to the 80€ ($110) range for an "OK" place. Gasthof Innrain marketed itself as a business class hotel but that was stretching it. After a very cool reception by the pub staff, we choked our way through the cigar-smoke filled room into the maze of rooms in the bar toilet area to find our stairway up to our room. English news on the TV and a telephone were about all that qualified it as "business class." The room was serviceable and the double paned windows did keep out the considerable traffic noise. This would be a terrible choice for light sleepers in the summer heat as the traffic noise would require closing the windows and there is no air conditioning The bikes were kept in a semi-secure area in the outdoor beer garden.
Next time in Innsbruck, we'll make reservations in advance at the Ibis Hotel. We dropped by there when we arrived in Innsbruck and they were fully booked for the next 2 weeks. At 82€ per night for 2, it had to be better than where we were. Sometimes Ibis Hotel rooms are tiny but they always have terrific beds and great soundproofing. The Ibis is literally on the main train station grounds, sandwiched between lanes of bus traffic. Both the Ibis and our Gasthof are centrally located, though on opposite sides of the old town. (We booked the Ibis ahead for August 2010 and enjoyed our stay. The windows open and the very silence air conditioning worked well. We were on the train station side of the building and it was generally very quiet--next to no platform/track noise at all. Bikes were kept in the garage.) There is now an MPreis supermarket across the street from the Ibis.
There is a large shopping mall 5k west of Innsbruck at Volls with good variety of inexpensive shopping. The dynamite discount electronics store has no retail floor space. The customer sits in one of the lounge chairs, flips through the catalog, places an order at the desk, and in a few minutes your item is available to you...a little odd but the prices are right.
St Anton am Arlberg: Apartments Fliana; Tel: +43 544630120; 48€ for 2 in 2009 for a studio though we were upgraded to a 2 bedroom apartment. Nice, fresh, new, with balcony, CNN & BBC, marginal internet connection via our cell phone; up the hill from town but on the free "Dorfbus" route which runs hourly during the day. Hostess doesn't speak English; expect to pay cash; bikes in the ski room, garbage goes in the room outside the front door. Near the 2 lifts that operate in the summer. Take the bus to the MPries for better shopping. Food markets and many shops close at noon on Saturday for the weekend.
Spittal an der Drau: Gasthof Brückenwirte on the west end of the bridge over the Drau River at An Der Wirtschaftsbrücke 2 is a serviceable option. About 2 blocks from the Kolpinghaus which is near the Lidl. A bit away from the beautiful Schloss Park in the center. It was 52€ for 2 without breakfast in October 2010. No English on the TV. On a busy road so ask for a room on the river side in the warmer months when you'll want the windows open (not a problem when we were there.) Balconies, laundry drying racks, bright lighting, and newly remodeled make it a good value. A cheery but utilitarian decor; good beds. The bikes get stashed in a garage. They close at 3pm on Sundays until Monday morning, so arrive before then to get in for the night on Sundays. At least one of the many women of the house speaks excellent English. Tel: +43 (0) 47 62/27 72.
Sillian (up the Drau River from Spittal): Pension Adelheid was a steal at 44€ for 2 without breakfast in October 2010 & June 2011. High season prices only increase by 4€. This is a great alternative to the overpriced, highly competitive lodging in Innichen/St Candido about 13 km away going towards Italy. The adult daughter speaks perfect English; no English on the TV however. Bikes are locked in the garage or ski room. Bathtubs in some rooms. Just off the radweg and there is a small but well-stocked Spar market minutes away towards town on the main road by foot. Südtiroler Strasse 140; Tel: +43 4842 6286. www.pension-adelheid.com. I'd call ahead in the summer season as lodging can be tight in this area and ask for a room off the main road so as to enjoy having your window open. If coming from Lienz, the hardest riding is the last 1/3 because of the grades; the best picnic spots begin at about 20+ km. It's only about 30-35 km but about 450m elevation gain.
Lienz: Altstadhotel Eck is a very tired 4 star in the heart of old town at Hauptplatz 20. In October 2010 we had a huge room for 74€ for 2 with breakfast. English on the TV, heat, bathtub, but poor room lighting. We used our trusty roll of masking tape to seal the cracks around our room door to keep the cigarette smoke from the bar out of our breathing space. New MPreis supermarket a few blocks away, across the river. Tel: +43 (0)4852 64785.
Lienz: Pension Vereinger was our late June 2011 find in Lienz. Finally, a good value in this often-booked sports-hub city with marginal quality, moderated priced, lodging. A typically Austrian mix of old traditional decor and a little new thrown in, at 50€ for 2 without breakfast, it's a steal. Definitely not gorgeous and very tired towels, but clean and well situated in the center of town and also next door to the MPreis market, it is a welcome option. 60€ for 2 with breakfast, small room and bathroom, no English on the TV (typical in Austrian pensions and small hotels), shared balcony, and we had a nice view of multiple mountains. Kärntnerstrasse 19; Tel: +43 (0) 4852 62850; www.pension-vergeiner.at. The hostess speaks some English. Definitely our pick for our typical 1 night stay in Lienz. When leaving Lienz for Sillian, take the Radweg on the left bank of the river (head for Sport Hotel, swoop under the train tracks on the right side and take the first road to the right along the river.)
We were wildly disappointed that there was little consistency on the hiking maps as to the level of difficulty of the trails in Tyrol. Kompass brand maps are the gold standard in the region and they let us down here. We hadn't thought much of the difference between their ratings and our experiences until we had what felt like a near-death experience on trail #644 out of St. Anton on a route that leads to the Leutkircherhütte.
This trail was a "red dash" trail indicating that it was 1 step up from a Sunday stroll path, it was a '2' on a scale in which '5' is the most difficult. Here and in the Otztal Valley we'd hiked on all but the most difficult--the "black dot" trails or the '5 of 5' difficulty--and hadn't felt unsafe for more than a few steps at a time. But a long segment, about a half of a kilometer, of this "red dash" trail was ridiculously dangerous. Many places the path was less than 1' wide and required inching along 1 foot at a time. The footing was occasionally on a very steep incline and was just as likely to be tilted steeply down the fall line. There was no firm edge of any kind to the path and the surface material tended to be a bit soft and possibly loose. Some of the time there were protruding rock fragments to provide a reassuring hand hold but just as often there was little to help make one safer should the path slough off as you placed your foot.
Usually there was ample room for one's shoulders but one segment was along a vertical face that left no wiggle room for the shoulders and was especially unnerving. Much of the dangerous segment of the narrow trail was clinging to the edge of a steep drop-off of hundred's of feet. A misstep would be fatal and almost every step had to be perfect or it would be a misstep.
We couldn't imagine what hikers with full packs or families with children did when they hit this segment of the trail. If you were coming from the hütte you could turn around and still get down off the mountain before dark. But we were heading towards the hütte and as it was, missed our chair lift and had to walk down the mountain to town. Turning around wasn't an option for us as there was no where we could have gotten to before dark.
The next day Bill rechecked his maps, the maps and books in the village stores, the website for the hütte, and then grilled the clerk at the tourist info office. No amount of research with any of these resources would have forewarned us of the high level of danger on the trail. Given what we considered wildly misleading information on the maps we were even more disappointed that the locality hadn't post some kind of warning on the trail signs at the well-marked junctions.
This experience rattled our confidence in hiking out of St Anton as there seemed to be no way to accurately assess the safety of a trail before being committed to it. Additionally, there was no way any safety equipment would have made the traverse more secure.
This experience on Trail #644 came on our last hiking day of a total of over 4 weeks of hiking in Tyrol. We left the region baffled as to how to ensure our safety on Tyrolean trails in the future.
Vienna 2010, 2011
If you are in the vicinity of Vienna and enjoy Roman history, take the time to visit the Open Air Museum Petronell at Petronell-Carnuntum about 25 km east of Vienna along the south side of Donau River, near Hainburg. The site's claim to fame is noteworthy: several fully reconstructed Roman buildings on actual Roman sites using ancient building methods and materials. The buildings are authentically furnished and outfitted, giving one a very tangible sense of the Roman way of life 1600 years ago. We've seen dozens of Roman sites and museums and thoroughly enjoyed this visit as it fleshes out the lifestyle "up north" as opposed to what you see of the way of life in Pompeii and Herculaneum in southern Italy. The baths project should be completed in the summer of 2011. In 2010, a free shuttle bus ran hourly between the 3 visitor areas that span about 5km. Should you want to shop for groceries in the area, there is an impressive cluster of supermarkets on the main road (B9) at the west end of Hainburg and if you don't see your favorite store there, several more are clustered just east of Hainburg's center.
Vienna has a dandy map of the city's bike routes, free for the asking, at tourist info.
Don't make the mistake that we made at the museums: the ticket for the Kunsthistorisches Museum is good for a year for entry into the nearby Ephesus Museum, and perhaps others. We unnecessarily paid the full admission at both museums--ouch!
For lodging in Vienna, our top pick was our 2011 choice, the Ibis Wien Mariahilf near the Westbahnhof. It's a short walk from the train station--if you have wheels on your luggage. Our internet special in late June was 65 Euro's for 2 without breakfast though the posted price was 93 Euros. The lobby has been remodeled but the rooms are the old, rather dated decor. Very plain, very functional but the rooms were much, much larger than the more attractive rooms in the Westbahnhof Mecure. (We stayed there on a killer deal in 2010). We'd take the elbow room over the upholstery any day though the tub at the Mecure was nice. But the Ibis has a special locked bike room whereas the Mecure has a roped-off area in the garage for the bikes. Do be prepared to carry your bikes up and down the wide staircase at the Ibis however. All of the Ibis rooms have air conditioning whereas only some of the Mecure rooms have the feature. Quiet rooms, dark curtains, a good bed, and plumbing that always works keeps us coming back to Ibis. BBC on the TV and free internet (unlike the Mecure) made it even better. www.ibishotel.com; Mariahilfer Gurtel 22-24; +43/1/59998.
Unlike most European cities that we've noticed, Vienna's city-bikes are available to tourists, with the first hour being free. Have a unique credit card available for each rider in order to rent the bikes at one of the 50+ sidewalk locations. Otherwise you must go to a central location with limited business hours to obtain the needed cards. www.citybikewien.at for the details on their customer-friendly program.
Technical resources: Mobile internet available country wide at www.yesss.at for a reasonable price. Purchase electronics at www.ditech.at. Stores in Vienna, Linz, Amstetten, Graz, Klagenfurt, Villach, Pasching & Innsbruck.