Easy hiking in Austria
Tyrol and its Schwabenkinder
Before the western Austrian region of Tyrol became what it is today – essentially an alpine fairy tale world of skiing resorts, happy cows and prosperous farmers – it was the poorest area in Europe.
So poor, in fact, that the desperate locals could not even feed their own kids and had to “sell” them for the summer as harvest helpers in the richer flat lands of southern Germany.
Literally thousands of Swabian children set out every spring on a dangerous journey across the Alps during which up to a third of them perished.
Only the luckiest ones received a decent treatment from their hosts, returning home perhaps with some sort of payment in the form of a new dress or a second pair of shoes.
The story of Tyrol and its Schwabenkinder (Swabian children) is not some medieval horror story. The annual trek of the Swabian children reached its apogee in the 19th century, at the very edge of “living memory”, and continued well into the 1920s.
There are old folks still around today who, in their childhood, have spoken to people who had walked this trail themselves, and many more who descended from these survivors and harbour some grim family memories.
When the tide turned, life in western Austria changed quickly.
Most people in the area nevertheless refused to get carried away, preferring to invest their new-found wealth in new agricultural machinery rather than anything more flippant.
As a result, Soelden, even after decades of an apparently never-ending boom, has managed to preserve a good deal of alpine authenticity.
Hiking in Tyrol
In recent years, tourism for the Oetztal has mainly meant one thing: skiing. Contrary to what you might believe, however, this has not always been the case.
“Until the 1970s, our business was better in summer than in winter”, explains Dominik Linser, PR and Wellness Manager of Sölden’s Hotel Bergland, “but then that changed, not least that we started to neglect the hikers.”
This is easy for Mr. Linser to admit because it’s so clearly not his fault – he is far too young to remember the 1970s from any other than a toddler’s perspective.
But he has, together with many other tourism managers in the area, discovered hiking as the perfect complement to the winter’s skiing business.
With the change in global climate and the extension of the hiking season until late September and possibly beyond, hiking is making a strong comeback.
Hotel Bergland employs several mountain guides ready to take their guests on tours which range from the family promenade to challenging climbs that require the use of snap hook and ropes.
The Oetztal area also has much to offer to the hiker who prefers to set out on his (or her) own: the region features more than 200 mountains with heights of at least 3000 meters, a handful of them with cable cars that take visitors all the way to the summit.
Most of the trails, however, run considerably further down, often straddling the tree line and providing magnificent views over valleys, freely roaming cattle herds and snow-topped mountain peaks.
While Mrs. Easy Hiker let herself be pampered by the wellness people at Hotel Bergland, I seized the opportunity and explored the area a little.
Easy Hiking in Soelden
The Gaislachkogl is Sölden’s local mountain, and the cable car station is only a short walk away from Soelden town centre.
The cable cars take you to the Mittelstation at a level of app. 2000 metres where you can change into another car to go all the way up to the peak.
Once out of the cable car from the Mittelstation, turn right in the direction of Rettenbachalm, and after app. 500 metres on the asphalted road, you will see a sign that shows you the way on to a narrow hiking trail.
Continue all the way to Haimbachalm where buses are ready to take you down to the village. (For the time being, at least, because a modern cable car system is still under construction.)
Unfortunately, there was no time for me to do the entire trail, so I could only sample it. The entire trail, I would guess, is about 6 km long – but don’t forget that 6 km in the Alps will take you longer to complete than on almost any other terrain.
Nevertheless, I saw enough to discover that this is the best way to experience the Alps: slightly out of breath half way up a slope, between cows at the edge of the tree line.
People who only see the Alps from a skiing piste or a cable car don’t know what they are missing.
We will certainly go back, if only so I can show Mrs. Easy Hiker what I saw!
Did you enjoy the read? Want to be first to read more of the good stuff? Why not subscribe by email or follow us on Facebook?