Saalbach-Hinterglemm is this amazing little town in the middle of the Austrian Alps. I would love to claim I had discovered this little gem all by myself, but that’s not the case. My cousin Emma found it a few years ago, and since then this has become her holiday place – so much so she’s purchased two holiday apartments here. So we decided to take advantage of this and spend our last few days in Europe relaxing in this idyllic spot before the long trek home.
Our schedule for this trip had been fairly crazy. We really have crammed a lot into our time in Europe and it had been all early mornings and long days. I was looking forward to a few days here in Saalbach-Hinterglemm to sleep in, spend lazy mornings enjoying the views from our balcony, doing some short hikes in the sun and cooking some fresh, tasty meals. What I hadn’t imagined was that the temperatures would be only slightly above freezing point and it would rain almost solidly for our whole visit.
The one exception to the rain was as we arrived. Apart from a little rain early it had been a beautiful day, and of course instead of being out enjoying it, we spent a good few hours in the car driving from Bled, Slovenia to Saalbach-Hinterglemm. On the way we stopped to pick up some groceries, knowing that it was Sunday, and the supermarket in Saalbach was not open on Sundays.
In fact, pretty much nothing was open in Saalbach full stop. The Saalbach-Hinterglemm region is a ski resort in winter, and in summer it is popular for mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor pursuits enjoying the sunshine and the mountains. For a short amount of time in spring and autumn each year though, the whole place shuts down. This is a time for the locals to go on holidays, renovating businesses, and getting ready for the influx of visitors for the next season. The summer season was officially starting the day after we left. I did know this in advance though, and was quite prepared. In fact, I was looking forward to the peace and quiet.
Before we had arrived there had been a small hiccup with the apartment because we were visiting out of season, The building was not being serviced at the time (we were the only ones staying there) and linens etc had not yet been dropped off for the start of the season. This was all resolved before our arrival, but something that had been missed was the supply of toilet paper. Oh no! As I mentioned above, we knew the supermarket was closed, but we had noticed the petrol station was open, so off we went for a walk to hope they had what we needed.
Luckily they did. While it really is quite small, there is a small supply of essential grocery items and we were eternally thankful we did not have to drive the twenty minutes back to Zell am See to find a store open. This meant we could spend the last couple of hours of daylight sitting out on our balcony in the spring sunshine, enjoying a glass or two of wine and indulging in a good book – bliss!!
We woke the next morning to that constant rain that you just know has set in for the long haul. This meant we mostly had a day of lounging around and relaxing. We did need to get to the supermarket, and I was feeling a bit couped up so we figured we would just throw on our waterproof gear and walk rather than drive. It was only about 1km to the supermarket, but it was so good to get out and move that we walked around a bit more to check out the town. We also stopped into the tourist information centre, and picked up some information in the hope that we might be able to get outside a little if the rain stopped.
We had been here before, almost two years earlier (you can read about that visit here) so it was good to see some familiar places, notice the changes and discover new places.
I am a big advocate of shopping in supermarkets while travelling. Often when we think about travelling and trying the local foods we think about restaurant food, but not only is it fun to see some of the unusual products, but this is a way to see what the locals eat in their homes. On this visit I found something to take home with me – tea bags! Well, not really, there is no tea involved, they LOOK like tea bags, but are used in warm red wine to make a delicious version of the local Glühwein (sometimes called spiced wine or mulled wine). I did take home more than one box of these for the upcoming Australian winter.
The next morning the weather was more of the same, drizzling, constant rain so we decided to drive into the nearby large town of Zell am See. My cousin had recommended we try some of the local craft beers so we made our way to Pinzgau Brau. They had a selection of four or five different beers for purchase, and Simon chose a few to take with us for later. They were incredibly cheap (at least compared to our Australian standards) at around €6 for 4 x 500ml beers.
We drove back to the centre of town to have a look around the main pedestrian area near the lakefront. There are some lovely old buildings here, and I was excited to find another piece of Hundertwasser artwork, this time a fountain. It’s called the Austrian Fountain. The nine columns each represent one of the states and the height of each column represents the relative population of that state. The colours they are decorated in are the respective state colours.
Zell am See is a great location in summer for water sports with the lake a very popular attraction, but it was looking grey and dull when we visited. There are apparently lake cruises that run from May to October, but we didn’t see any sign of them while we were there. Perhaps – like other attractions we had come across on this trip – they had delayed the opening of the season because of the unseasonably cold May.
We continued to walk around for a while, but the rain was relentless, and we soon retired for cake and coffee while thinking about our options.
There was one cable car up into the mountains that was open. I wasn’t very hopefully that it would be worthwhile, after all there was almost no visibility, but we went to check it out anyway. We looked at the wires carrying the cable cars, and they went straight up into the clouds and snow. Weather up there would not be great and views would be non-existent. It wasn’t looking very busy either, so we decided to give it a miss.
I’ve always been a bit of the “there’s no bad weather just bad clothing” brigade, but after so many weeks of almost constant rain we were starting to get to breaking point. There were so many things we wanted to do, and in May it should be possible to do many of them, but it just wasn’t. Or the experience would not be what we wanted or hoped for.
Another thing we had hoped to do while in Saalbach-Hinterglemm with a rental car was to drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. This road has some of the most beautiful views in Austria and a myriad of hiking trails. It’s again open only during the summer from May to early November. The website gives live information and webcams, and during our visit it did not look so great. We also don’t have any experience of driving in wintery conditions, so this was another thing that would be left on the list to do next time.
At about 4pm back in Saalbach we noticed the rain had stopped. Woohoo! We immediately went out to check out a possible hike for the following morning when the weather forecast looked a little better, and then because the rain was still holding off, we went to look at the Motorikweg.
The Motorikweg is a walk along the valley floor punctuated with 24 “stations” with little activities you can participate in. The activities are things like balancing challenges, walking through small mazes or cutouts, or coordination challenges. They are mostly made out of simple components but some parts were quite challenging, and it was fun at least having a go. We didn’t plan to walk the whole 3.5km length of the Motorikweg, but we did, and of course as we got to the other end, the rain started and we had to walk all the way home again in the rain!
Even if it was wet, it was invigorating to get out, and even better to come back into the warmth, cook up a delicious pasta dish with salad for dinner, and sip on some warm glühwein as the sun went down.
In the morning it was not raining! Woohoo. Straight away we planned to head out on the hike we were looking at the day before, the Spielberg Runde circular hike. It was listed as an easy, family friendly hike in the hiking brochure. About 7km long, and almost flat. It also started not too far from where we were staying, we just had to walk uphill through the town to get to the starting point.
We walked out the door, and not five minutes later the rain started. We hadn’t even gotten to the start of the hike yet. We were not having very much luck with the weather at all. Oh well, this is only 7km, we will just get a bit wet!
All went okay for a while, but the path we were hiking on got higher and higher and bits of the path were looking worse for wear. Since it was spring, even without the constant rain, there was water everywhere from the melting snow up higher in the alps. All the water had caused some parts of the path to be unstable. We should have decided then that this could be a bad idea.
We were scrambling over fallen trees and scooted around crumbling edges, enjoying being out amongst nature and hiking through an almost pristine area. Then we came to our first real obstacle, a small stream to cross – which should have been easy but the banks were at a very steep angle and the soil very loose. It was only about 30cm wide though, so we scrambled uphill and found another more stable looking place to cross and kept going.
But then we lost the path under the snow! We weren’t actually lost, we could still hear the small river we were following but when you are on the side of a mountain with meltwater flowing down it, it can be hard to figure out how to get to where you want to go with all the streams creating small ravines that were difficult to cross.
Aside from all the extra rivulets, the map showed two more streams to cross before we got back to the road. We still couldn’t find the path, but I figured we needed to go that was to a bridge, so we kept walking until we found the stream, then headed downhill until we saw the bridge. The bridge could just be seen sticking out of the snow but it did not look safe to cross. We eventually found another way across.
Now we needed to get across the biggest of the streams. I didn’t know where the bridge was as this stream followed right along the road and the path on the map showed as along both of them. We found a place where we could leap across the river – but it put us at the bottom of a steep slope. We just had to get up that 2m slippery, snowy, surface and we were on the road. After a few goes we got up. We were muddy and wet and cold. We had just spent almost two hours and were only about 2.5km through the hike. I was very thankful for my waterproof hiking boots, my feet were dry! It was fun though
We decided to continue walking along the road to the Spielberghaus that was our destination, and not 20m further up the road we rounded a small bend and found the bridge we were looking for, not far away but with a big snow covered ridge in front of it.
The Spielberghaus alm (like a mountain pub) was crawling with workers as they got it ready for the start of the next season. This would be a fantastic walk up to the alm in summer, then relax, enjoy a drink or some lunch, and hike down again. You could also stay up here if you wished. We just walked over to the little Spielberghauskapelle (church) and then admired the limited view over the ridge. The path actually continues this way a little before climbing and looping back towards the town but Simon vetoed the return trip on another forest path and instead we walked back down the road. The next time I am here I’m doing the whole hike – in summer when there really isn’t any snow!
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.