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Trip Report Geographically challenged in the Tyrol: two weeks based in Ellmau

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This trip report is actually from a couple of years ago. I never got round to writing it up, but just found my notes so here goes.
We stayed for two weeks in June in Ellmau, a pleasant little village in a pretty valley nestled between two rugged ranges of mountains in the eastern part of the Austrian Tirol, not far from Kitzbuhel. Ellmau is one of four settlements in the valley: Soll is the biggest with the most going on; Scheffau is tucked away off the main road up in the hills and seemed very nice; and Going was the least interesting. There wasn’t a lot going on in Ellmau itself – a handful of restaurants and cafes, a golf course, a small tourist info office, a weekly brass band concert, a small supermarket and pharmacy, and that was about it. Most visitors are mad keen walkers, and there are a lot of hiking trails available. I’m more interested in history and culture, and I did find enough in Tirol, Salzburgerland and Bavaria to keep me interested, but it did involve a lot of travelling. We didn’t have a car, and I think it would be a better base with a car; I managed with a mixture of public transport and organised trips from local tour operators. I had pre-researched my own trips by finding local bus timetables online, and using the excellent integrated timetable of VVT, the Tirol bus and train network. I was travelling, as I often do, with my Aged Parents (TM); some days we did stuff together, some days I went sightseeing while they did walks. I knew there wasn’t going to be much to do in Ellmau, and that public transport was a bit limited, so I signed up for almost everything Soll based firm Stoll Reisen offered, only passing on Salzburg, which I’ve stayed in. We knew the weather would be better the second week so kept the trips where that would be a benefit for the second week.

We stayed at the Der Baer hotel, which was quite pricy but very high quality. The food in particular was superb, which was lucky as we had a half board deal. Evening meals were beautifully cooked, and even the fussiest eater in the world managed to enjoy the meal almost every night. Breakfasts offered a good mixture of cereals, pastries (including a very nice chocolate croissant), the typical Austrian cold meats and cheeses, and hot food, including bacon and eggs, various omelettes and crepes with either apple or chocolate fillings on request (the apple was unsweetened puree but the addition of sugar from the table made it perfect). Service was excellent. Bedrooms were plain but comfortable and perfectly clean. The room temperature was a bit high, and we never figured out how to adjust it (our fault, I expect), and it was also quite tricky getting the shower temperature right. The hotel’s main drawback was that it is up a steep hill, and although it’s not at all far out of the village, it was quite a haul at the end of a hard day’s sightseeing or walking. There were two pools, one indoor, one outdoor. Neither was terribly warm, but both were nice to swim in, and blissfully underused.

We travelled just after the dreadful floods which had disrupted Germany and Austria that May, and after a spell of cold rainy weather, and I spent the weeks preceding the trip angsting to anyone who would listen (and sometimes some who wouldn’t) about how gloomy the prospects were. As it happened, the first week was a bit cool, but the only rain fell at night, and the second week was positively hot, so that was a waste of a panic. An unexpected bonus was that the late spring meant that most of the wildflower meadows had not been mowed when we arrived, so we had a chance to see them in their multi-coloured glory.

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    The first Sunday was the festival of the Sacred Heart, and we saw a procession of parishioners all dressed in traditional Tyrolean dress. We then enjoyed a drink in a cafe before heading to the mountains. I mentioned that I’m not much of a walker, but I also have a real phobia for heights and especially chairlifts and gondolas, so my only real prospect for getting up into the mountains was by the Hartkaiser funicular railway, situated about ten minutes walk from Ellmau village centre (or it would have been only we, being directionally challenged, managed to get lost getting there and somehow detoured via a timber firm). The villages in the Wilder Kaiser valley have a joint tourist card offering discounts on this and other lifts which is issued free to guests by the hotels. (It also allows free use of a bus within the valley, and a few other discounts.) At the top of the Hartkaiser is a rather industrial type of cafe, where we had an okay lunch. There are a variety of levels of difficulty of walk at the top (and down if you wish), and a rather classy children’s play area. We did a fairly simple round walk taking an hour or so before coming back down and heading back to the hotel for coffee and cakes and to try out the pool. It all made for a fairly gentle start.

    On Monday I got the bus to Soll, and changed there for Kufstein, where there is a magnificent castle. The change was very easy, and the journey straightforward. The castle was extremely impressive, perched on a rock above the town. It took a good two to two and a half hours to see everything. Particularly interesting were the cells used for political prisoners and revolutionaries in the 19th century, and for civilian enemy internees during World War I. I also discovered that the area was actually part of Bavaria in the middle ages, until it was given to Margarete, duchess of the Tirol as a wedding gift. When she gave the Tirol to the Hapsburgs, she included Kufstein and Kitzbuhel, to the displeasure of the duke of Bavaria. The old town of Kustein was also very pleasant with an attractive main square just below the castle, and a single charming cobbled street with painted houses. I also followed a walking tour of the town which I picked up at the town’s tourist information office, which was enjoyable. The broad River Inn flows through the town, between the old town and the bus and train stations, and it was still flowing strongly and fiercely and very high up against the banks after the high waters of the previous weeks. The day was cool and overcast, with a few spots of rain. On my way home, while changing buses, I stopped off at Soll to have a look at the church there, which is a fine example of baroque. Both Soll and Ellmau churches had monuments in the churchyards with piles of real skulls.

    On Tuesday we took the bus in the opposite direction, to Kitzbuhel. This was a charming little town with some glitzy shops but also some genuine historic interest. We spent some time trying to work out where we were on our map, being geographically challenged, but eventually got ourselves oriented. The little museum was small but had some good pieces very well displayed. It was a day filled with self imposed incident, as someone managed to lose our return bus tickets. Well, not so much lose, as deliberately throw away. Back to the hotel in time for a swim before dinner.

    Wednesday we took a coach trip to Munich. It was a long, long day – 3 ½ hours drive to get there, but I thought it was worth it as I liked Munich very much and would like to go back to explore it properly. I focussed on visiting Schloss Nymphenburg on the outskirts of the city – the local transport system (a combination of underground trains and trams) was very efficient and the staff at the station very helpful. The Schloss itself was extremely impressive with lovely gardens. I then strolled around Munich city centre and did some essential shopping, and just had time to pop into the Frauenkirche.

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    Thursday we had originally signed up for a coach trip visiting some of the lesser known small lakes of the region but it was cancelled, which was a disappointment. It was replaced by a trip to the historic city of Rattenberg, which I had intended to visit on my own (the travel was complicated but would have been doable), and the lake Achensee. I wouldn’t do this again, because we didn’t get as long as I would have liked in Rattenberg. Rattenberg is a delightful town with attractive frescoed houses, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy it properly as I was racing round seeing the places I wanted to in the short time we had there. In the rocks outside the town, just by the car park, were some fascinating little troglodyte dwellings, the Nagelschmied houses, furnished as they were when lived in in the 18t/19th century – I loved these. I also visited the ruined Augustinian monastery, which had some impressive architecture. It’s also famous for its glass – I didn’t have time for the shops but my parents enjoyed them. The parish church was also very beautiful with a sweet little grotto. Lake Achensee, however, was a bit disappointing. The lake itself was pretty with a lovely turquoise colour, but the village we visited was commercialised and we just didn’t like it very much. We would have much preferred either the whole day in Rattenberg, or at least longer in R than at the lake.

    Friday I took the bus to Worgl and from there the train to Innsbruck, where I visited Schloss Ambras. The journey there was easy, but my train was delayed so I missed the bus I had originally planned on. The Schloss was lovely, filled with fascinating portraits, and set in lovely gardens/park. Unfortunately my geographical challenges meant I couldn’t find my way back to the right bus stop, so I had to get a different , more expensive and later bus and it was all a bit stress inducing. This also meant I missed my bus connection and ended up with an hour to kill in Worgl. This small town is much derided, but while it’s no tourist destination I didn’t think it was that bad. There were some pretty good clothes shops and some lovely konditorei and ice cream places.

    Saturday we decided to go to the Hintersteinersee, which is set back from Scheffau, one of the other villages in our valley. We went to Scheffau by the local bus, and in the tourist info place in Scheffau bought tickets for the Hintersteinersee bus – Istr tickets were actually free with our guest cards supplied by the hotel. This took us up a steep and winding road to the edge of the lake, next to a small restaurant where we had a drink before setting off on the walk around the lake. The lake was exceptionally pretty – a gorgeous variety of shades of green. We understood the walk should take an hour and a quarter, but it took us about twice that. The first half was easy enough, along a paved road beside the lake, then climbing away from the water through meadows towards a farm, where there were some cute humped cows and the farmer’s small children were helping to shovel muck. It was baking hot, so it was quite a relief when we rounded the top end of the lake into the cool shelter of the pine woods, But then the path went up-up-up-up, very steep and scree-y and hard walking, and then it went down-down-down, and repeated half a dozen times over. It was horrific. I kept envisaging falling and breaking my leg, or arm, or varied other body parts and wondering how the ambulance would get to me. We finally managed to get back to the cafe for something to eat before catching the 3.15 bus back to Scheffau. We emerged to find the village was having its festival (the Kaiserfest) which looked fun, but we were pretty exhausted by all the up-up-up/down-down-down of the walk, so after watching the procession of the brass band and seeing the cannon fired, we got on the bus. Unfortunately someone had read the timetable wrong, and we realised as the bus got to the end of the village that it was turning the wrong way. So we ended up going to Soll, and staying on the bus when it turned round and came back again.

    Sunday we took another coach trip, to the Krimml waterfalls. There was a drive though lovely countryside in the Pinzgau valley, a broad valley with a winding river, with farmhouses scattered on the hillsides. The waterfall was very impressive, and my parents said it was even more so if you climb up the steps. Because of my issues with heights I stayed at the bottom, and had a very pleasant cool walk in the woods and along the river.

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    Monday I took a coach trip to Berchtesgaden, which I loved. I didn’t want to go to the Eagles’ Nest because I have zero interest in seeing anything to do with Hitler, or the salt mines because Ive already seen a salt mine, and had originally planned to get a bus to the nearby lake and do a boat trip there, but the time would have been a bit tight. But the town itself was utterly charming. I visited the Konigliches Schloss, a hunting box of the dukes of Bavaria (who also resided at Nymphenburg which I had seen the previous week). This was very attractive and interesting. I was the only person on my guided tour, which was nice. I found a nice cafe for lunch, then walked around the old town in the sweltering heat and followed part of the historical route on a map I picked up in the tourist info office. It was really, really hot, and obviously had been in Ellmau all day too, because when I got back it was warm enough to swim in the outdoor pool. The water was coldish, but that was so welcome.

    Tuesday was yet another coach trip, driving the Glossglockner. I was a bit sceptical about this beforehand, but the views really were spectacular. There were also lots of wild marmots playing adorably a few yards away from where people were watching, and we saw some ibex clashing horns. It is a bit commercialised, but inevitably so.

    Wednesday I revisited Innsbruck by bus and train, this time going into the city itself. For once I managed to follow the map accurately. I thought the old town was very charming, and visited the Goldenes Dahl house, the Hofburg palace, the Volkskunst folk art museum (notable for rather cheerless but intricately carved stuben, or farmers’ sparlours, and some beautiful painted chests), and the Hofkirtche.

    Thursday we took the bus to St Johann, and caught the train to Zell am See. The lake at Zell was very pretty, and we had a boat trip on it. Then lunch in town and walking around the streets. We liked Zell very much.


    Friday we walked up to the Marienkapelle, a small pilgrimage chapel on a very steep hill behind our hotel - very charming but hard work getting there. We staggered down to the village and had lunch. Then in the afternoon we walked along the river and visited the Heimatmuseum, a typical wooden village house which has been made into a small social history museum. It was very well preserved, and volunteer locals were on site to talk to. Very nice, and it made a relatively relaxing last day not having to worry about missing the last bus home.

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    More years ago than I care to remember, we went skiing in Soell and I recall Ellmau being pretty small then. Interesting that it hasn't grown much.

    When we got fed up with bending our knees and falling over in the snow, we took ourselves off to Innsbruck which we liked a lot, though I remember how cold the Hofburg was, despite those newfangled stoves in every room.

    Last time we were in Austria there was wide-spread flooding - looks like it happens quite often.

    Enjoying your report- keep it coming!

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