Having spent a considerable amount of time growing up in the Eastern Himalayas, I reckon Mountain Tourism too has evolved and with the frenetic pace of life in the contemporary world, the age old simplicity of living in-tune with nature is somehow the most preferred option for the new age traveller.
How about spending time in a secluded log cabin that offers you with the liberty to kick off your bloody shoes, reconcile and slowdown your system and attune yourself with the pace of the mountain environ?
Yeah! I am talking about Austria, a mountainous country where the landscape is dominated by the presence of the majestic Alps. The mandarins of Austrian Tourism have so innovatively packaged the Austrian Alps that today despite the rarefied Alpine realms, they have developed innumerable skiing and hiking trails, introduced Yoga and wellness therapies in the Alps and reintroduced the centuries old “hütten” or Mountain Log Cabins for today’s discerning travellers.
Legendary Nepalese Mountaineer – Ang Tshering Lama with several Everest summits to his credit opines that the Austrian Alps have lured mountaineers, hikers and skiers for centuries together, much like the Nepal Himalayas, to relish Austria’s crisp mountain air not only outdoors, but also after a day’s adventure out in the woods - returning back to their log cabins in the evenings, these Chalets and Log Cabins exude with the aroma of freshly hacked woods and transmit that irresistible Alpine feeling.
Ang Tshering Lama, who has summitted some of the highest mountains in the world and on May 21, 2017 was credited with the world’s highest rescue operation on Everest is all praise for the Austrian Mountain Hut (hütten) phenomenon and he is of the opinion that:
Austria’s rugged and exclusive Alpine environ have evolved marvellously with the quintessential agenda of harnessing the local vernacular architectural grandeur of Old Austria with the New. I am most elated by the fact that many of the hüttens employ local carpenters to create such outstanding rugged huts that has become the cynosure of all mountain aficionados.
Following on the expert tips of this great mountaineer, the Austrian Alps experience was truly a revelation – imagine automated payments at heights in excess of 3000 meters! The Tirol region in particular is mountain grandeur at its best. In the West, places like Otzal, Lechtal and Stubai are awesome, while in the East the Tux Alps stands out.
These Log Cabins, numbering in excess of 1000 are well strewn out throughout the Austrian Alps and in spite of being far away from civilization, a vast majority of them offer high-end comforts – sauna, SPA, jacuzzi, whirlpools and what have you! There are some Log Huts that are several centuries old and they compete with modern mountain huts to woo the discerning visitors. Old or new, one thing you can rest assured is all log cabins guarantee stunning locales.
Talking about Austria’s rustic Log Cabins reminds me of the legendary Henrich Stenitzer, a renowned Alpinist who quoted in 1912:
The alpine clubs have unlocked the majesty and beauty of the high mountains for the masses, giving countless numbers of people the opportunity, without prohibitively demanding effort…or exorbitant costs, to become acquainted with the Alps.
The average tourist might be awed by the Log Hut holiday concept, but for Austrians, it’s a way of life. What a joy it is to see Austrians spending their weekends in rarefied Alpine realms - hiking past Alpine pastures, high altitude lakes and meadows. Yet, at the end of the day, a hot shower followed by a sip or two of ones’ favorite tipple, hot authentic Austrian meals and a peaceful night’s rest is what the doctor ordered.
Imagine the scenario, a first-hand experience, depicted by a visitor who had stayed in an Austrian Log Cabin recently.
I wake up in the middle of the night. There is not a single sound to be heard at all. It is as quiet as a mouse. No creaking, no snoring, nothing. The moon is almost full, shining brightly on the magical mountain scenery that looks as if it was drawn from milk, cream and curd. In the morning, I get up first. I place myself in the deckchair next to the shed. Three minutes past eight o’clock, the sun rises over the opposing mountain ridge, filling everything with its warm glow, glitter and sparkle. The sky is deep blue. It’s getting warmer by the minute. Birds are singing in the birch tree next to the cabin. Dozens of them. The icicles are dropping from the shed’s roof. That means breakfast is enjoyed outdoors this morning. With Klara’s fresh eggs and milk. Along with cheese and bacon, jam and cranberry yogurt. Bread that tastes just great, with hints of Fenugreek, caraway seeds and coriander.
In the parlour: Christelle’s knitting things, charging cables, emptied bottles and books we haven’t opened. Instead, we talk a lot. The guitar rests on the bench. Oskar plays it occasionally, singing Wish You Were Here and Creep.
Many of the mountain huts are actually “Vitality Farms” or ‘Vitalhöfe’ as they say in German. Vitality Farms are especially very popular in Tirol and is reminiscent of India’s Vedic age “Gurukul” concept. One can identify these farmsteads by their signature marigold logo that symbolises nature's curative power. These Vitality Fara rage with visitors and one can look forward to garden fresh, therapeutic massages, and transportation by horse-drawn carriages.
So, what’s the best time to visit the Austrian Alps? December? Yeah! You are dead right. December is the time when like elsewhere in Europe and rest of the world, the Austrian Alps too is in celebratory mood and the festival of Krampus definitely is a crowd puller.
The festival hinges around the folklore and legends associated with a frightening devil who accompanies Saint Nicholas on the festive occasion, who is on the lookout of children who have been unruly! If you are in Tirol on December 6th, the mindblowing spectacle of people dressed up in animal skin and wooden masks will transport you to a fairy-tale land.
During Christmas time Tirol anyways is buzzing with activity and exclusive Christmas markets are set up all throughout the region. Many visitors also indulge in the traditional Bobsleigh in Igls.
December is also the time when the Austrian Ski season begins. The Hintertux Glacier in the Zillertal Valley blessed with slopes as high as 3,250 metres above sea level is an all-time favourite.
When it comes to Christmas market make it a point to visit the Hall in Tirol and The Christkindlmarkt Hungerburg. The later in particular offers awesome panoramic views of the cityscape. In Innsbruck if you embark on a Christmas eve cable car trip all the way up to Seegrube (2,000 metres) you are assured of magnificent views of the traditional Austrian fireworks.
In the world of Ski, there is an Austrian revolution in the air – courtesy the Innsbruck-based startup SPURart. They are redifining the art of ski manufacturing by going back to its roots and have pioneered the movement for manufacturing skis made out of wood and veneer, which in itself is amazing in the modern era. According to Co-founder Peter Pfeifer - “Wood is an exceptionally beautiful and versatile, sustainable raw material. The wood core of a ski or snowboard is like the chassis of the car—it’s the most important part. It has enormous impact on the density and stiffness, power and manoeuvrability of the finished ski. Our goal from the beginning, as skiers, was to build the best pair of skis we’ve ever been on—we didn’t care about the wooden look”. Today, SPURart has clients from Germany, Japan, Argentina and many more ski-rich countries are likely to toe the line. They recently shaped a wonderful ski design in collaboration with Spielvolk in which skis were fitted with LED lights that would complement with the music being played on the resort. Amazing by any standards, isn’t it?
Outstanding Ski Resorts
Ski Arlberg is one of the most popular in the Austrian Alps. Reportedly, the “Funicular” railway began operations in the 1930s and ever since then, there has been no looking back as Arlberg evolved into a world class ski paradise. Ski slopes apart, Arlberg is famed for its pulsating nightlife.
SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser – Brixental
This is another jewel in the crown of Austria. The resort is vast. Simply vast and even the seasoned skiers aren’t able to fathom Brixental’s expansive ski vistas. Much preferred by skiers with families and children. The Railjet offers regular train services thereby making Brixental very accessible.
SkiStar St. Johann in Tirol
This ski resort is renowned for its friendly slopes and if you make it all the way to Harschbichl located at a height of 1,600 meters, you can rest assured of breath-taking Alpine panorama. Lifts are readily available, and The Express train offers regular services that makes SkiStar very easy to reach.
Renowned for the world famous Hahnenkamm World Cup Races. Here at KitzSki, some great log cabins are available for visitors and skiers. Kitzbuhel is famed for its high-end lifestyle and the “Downhill” slope is amongst the most difficult and tricky in the world. ICE trains plies regular train services to KitzSki.
Mayrhofen ski resort
This is one of Austria’s most advanced ski destination and very high tech. The slopes here are a lot kinder and perfect for beginners. Hop on to the Fast Train to Jenbach and take a connecting train to Zillertalbahn.
Traveller’s Fact File
Tirol is easily accessible by train or bus from not just Austria but also if you are travelling from Germany, Italy and Switzerland. By Air, visitors have many convenient options from major European hubs to Innsbruck-Kranebitten Airport – the gatway city of the Austrian Alps.