So recently, although we toy with the idea of coastal destinations, cities, and new exciting countries, we’ve been drawn back to the peace, quiet, beauty and fresh air of the Wilder Kaiser region of the Austrian Tyrol. We’ve already explored the local towns and cities on previous trips, and now we find that we want nothing more than to venture out each day with walking boots, rucksacks and yummy Austrian rolls and fruit, and wander in the mountains, listening to the birds and cowbells, resting our eyes on the views, exchanging friendly smiles and Grüss Gotts with other walkers, and having an occasional swim in mountain lakes. After another year of sitting at computer screens, being bombarded with information via social media, radio, shopping in supermarkets, sitting in traffic jams, etc, it’s the least we can give our minds and bodies. After a walk, there’s always a fresh buttermilk or coffee and an hour’s reading to enjoy before dinner! Bliss!
We bought another walking map (our first one had fallen apart) - the Mayr XL Edition Wilder Kaiser: Ellmau, Going, Scheffau,Söll - a bargain for 5 euros at the Söll Tourist Office (the new edition is helpfully crease and waterproof). It comes in a plastic wallet with a little booklet that describes local walks, but we found these unclear and not detailed enough, so, for anyone who might be thinking of staying in Söll, here are some of our favourite walks. Just one warning: most of the mountain Hütte and Stüben, where you can buy lovely homemade eats and drinks, have a rest day (Ruhetag), and it’s worth checking this before you plan your walk. The local Tourist Office have a pamphlet giving details of all the Hütte. The whole valley can be accessed via the yellow bus, the Kaiserjet, free to all visitors with their Wilderkaiser Card, and we usually buy (our biggest expense, but worth it) a lift pass, which gives you use of all the ski-lift gondolas and chair lifts. This year we spent the first week walking on the Wilderkaiser side, and bought the pass for the second week for the Going -Hohe Salve side of the valley.
Hintersteinersee to Söll
Catch the 8.08am Kaiserjet to Ellmau dorf. Excellent packed lunch ingredients can be purchased at Billa in the village - another friendly small supermarket. The Jakobsweg is signposted - it is part of the pilgrims way to Santiago de Compostela (a couple of places are marked by the traditional white scallop shell), and this beautiful walk is along the Schattseite (shadow side) of the valley, through meadows where farmers are mowing and raking the organic grass, full of clover and wild flowers. We hardly saw a soul except farmers. There is a spring along the way where you can fill your water bottles (all of the villages have fountains where you can do the same, with clean mountain water). We got slightly lost at the Scheffau Brandstadl lift station, where we exited the car park at the wrong place. You have to walk to the end of the car park past the former lift building on the left, and cross under the main road to the hamlet of Blaiken, go though the houses towards Söll, then take the left-hand fork (the 70) marked Bärbichl, and back under the main road, for 54/55 paths. We arrived at the Ahornsee in Söll at 1pm, having stopped for lunch en route, and had a swim in this wonderful man-made lake. Spring water runs into it, and about a third is roped off for ‘regeneration’, planted with bullrushes and lilies, with dragon and damselflies scooting over it. In the winter, the lake is used to fuel the snow-making machines.
Summary: paths 3,1,30,14,70,54,55. Three and a half hours’ walking with half an hour for lunch and water breaks.
Oh we love the Steinerne Stiege! We were first told of this way by Adrian, an excellent Thomsons Rep. It’s become a favourite, but we always give it a few days’ training before we go up it, and there are lots of heavy-breathing breaks to get the heart-rate down! This year we were only overtaken by one white-haired local, so that was OK! We set off from Söll at 8.30am, walking past the Moorsee and across the Kufstein Road at the Oberstegner Inn. You turn left along the 55 and follow it along the riverside (there’s a No Through sign and a little link chain across the path at one point but that’s just for vehicles) and up hill, past a farm or two. It comes down for a (very) short time onto the main road, but you can walk on the verge till you come to the sign for the Steinerne Stiege on the right. It’s a steep old path through lovely woods, going up and up. There a bench part way up (labelled the Schwoicher Aussicht but I think this should bear the translation The Most Welcome Bench in the World!) which is always further than we think! Eventually you come out at the top of a green valley, and pass the Hagenhof farm before coming to the Pension Maier (we arrived at 10.45am) where there is a gorgeous view of the Hintersteinersee and excellent refreshments available. You can then enjoy a walk along the left hand side of the lake before catching the Seebus down to Scheffau and the connecting Kaiserjet back to Söll (Tip: consult the timetables for both buses before setting out - available from Tourist Offices).
If you fancy a light day on the walking, you could get the gondola from Söll up to Hochsöll, the middle-station, and walk to Filzalmsee, which takes us about 45 minutes. You could stop along the way to play the Giant’s Xylophone, and on arrival at the Filzalmsee you could give your feet a treat on the Kneipp trail (complete with peat bog - wunderbar!) and then have a dip (free) in the lake. As with every middle-station in the valley, if you have children, you’ll find wonderful playgrounds and activities both at Hochsöll (Hexenwasser) and at Filzalmsee. Needless to say in the Tyrol, you’ll always find sparkling loos. You could also catch the gondola on up to the Hohe Salve, and eat delicious Nettle and Spinach Dumplings at the Gipfelrestaurant and then walk down to Filzalmsee via the Jordan Spring, where local legend has it that the water is especially good for eye-troubles, but the path is very steep down from the Hohe Salve, and you would be wise to take walking-sticks for this one.
We walked part of this route a couple of years back (Tea with a Wild Mountain Man) on a cold rainy day, but this year we were determined to go the whole way. On a sunshiny day with blue skies and just the occasional cloud we walked through some wonderful terrains: woods where raindrops still hung from the pines and the air was fresh and clear, meadows with cows and calves, roads past farmhouses, moor, heath, streams and swamps, with fantastic views as the way between the Wilderkaiser and Kitzbühel valleys.
We took the 8.08am Kaiserjet to Ellmau and popped into Billa for rolls, walked along the road to the Going Chairlift (road forks at the end of the village, take upper fork). We took the chair-lift up at 9.30am onto the Astberg, then took the 11 path (straight ahead from top of lift) through woods and heath, then turned right at the bottom of this path where it met a road and past a red bench (lovely to sit on and gawk!), and beautiful farmhouse ‘Kathen’. On past the Hohenangeralm, Boden Alm. Then we took the 11/99 direction Brandstadl Scheffau/Jochstuben See, and then the 11A, up, up up!
At sign marked 1388m we turned right up a path through woods (99/11) and then the 99. We sighted the Hohe Salve at 12.55pm, stopped for lunch, then left at 1.15pm. Before you get to the Jochstuben, take the 96/99 for Filzalmsee. Arrived Filzalmsee at 2.15pm, had a coffee, a Kneipp, and left at 3.10pm for Hochsöll, getting downward gondola at 4pm!
Incidentally, for a shorter version of this walk, you could walk from Astberg to the hut at Jochstuben (SO welcoming and gemütlich!) and then take the lift down from Brandstadl to Scheffau and get the Kaiserjet back to Söll. Or even shorter, just do the Astberg round walk through the woods, and go back down the chair-lift and Kaiserjet back!
I’ll finish with my husband’s amusing off the cuff comment on this long walk:
Me: Pyrenees are supposed to be good for walking.
Martin: Yeah, I’d be lost without my knees.