From Kitzbuhel onwards to Carinthia….
Before leaving Kitzbuhel we visited a waterfall within the Hohe Tauern National park called the Krimml Falls. I underestimated the size of this national park, and thought we would just drive to the park, walk in and take a short hike. This park, however is enormous, and stretches over the whole of the Tyrol area, and there are hundreds of entrances. We went to an information centre and asked where we could do a nice hike in the region, and got a lovely hiking map all in German with lots of sites marked on it. The nice girl there told us that the Krimml Falls were only a short drive away and we could go there. The Falls were indeed only a half hour drive away and we had a lovely morning hiking up to the top of the falls and down again, only meeting one group of Israeli kids (from Jerusalem) en route.
It was a a splendid day. And we were also greeted by this interesting sign at the end:
And so after two lovely days in the Kitbuhel area we set off to our next stop, Heiligenblut am Grossglockner, a very small village (pop. 1,020) a mere 131 km drive from the Kitz Garni hotel. Or so I thought. To say I had not done this part of the homework well would be a gross understatement. You see, I checked the distance, and the driving time according to Google maps, an easy two hours and four minutes. Add onto that resting time, eating etc I figured it would be a doddle to get to the hotel, especially when checkout is 9 am. Well here’s the thing. The road, innocently labelled B107, also has another name- the High Alpine Road. Ah, so there we have it- two key words, “high” and “alpine”. And after we had been driving for about an hour, (when I say “we” I of course mean D and not me) I observed casually that the road ahead looked rather windy. (as in bendy, not with high winds, thank goodness). This turned out to be something of an understatement. We then arrived at a toll gate. The nice lady said we had to pay 27.50 Euro. But we have already paid our highway toll pass to the rental company , we informed her confidently. No, she said this road is “special” not a highway. Not included in your pass. Then she glanced at our tires and said “But you don’t have winter tires”. This should have been a clear message to us. We are just getting to our hotel, we said, in Heiligenblut. This is the road that leads there. Is there another way? Yes, she said helpfully, 3.5 hours around the mountain. Can we drive the road without winter tires? Well, she said, there is snow on the road, you will have to drive carefully. We drove carefully. Very, very carefully. The road was spectacular. Fortunately we had started our journey very early in the morning. We managed to get to Heiligenblut at 4pm. Yes, you got it. We drove 131 km and it took us approximately 7 hours. It was worth it. The views were unforgettable. It was a little hard to capture in the photos, because of the endless curves up and down the mountain. The signposts continually told us the height, and I believe the maximum was over 2,700 m.
I really find it difficult to give you a clear idea of the view at the top of this Alpine Road. It was just 360 degrees of astonishing scenery. At the very top there is an observation point where you can rest and catch your breath. Ideally you should be stopping at all the points mentioned in the audio visual guide. But then the drive would really take all day and we wanted to get to our hotel before nightfall. As a general rule in Austria it appeared one should get where one is going around 4-5 pm if one wanted any supper. So for more views of the pass you can probably find a Youtube video or a webcam. But nothing can of course capture the splendor like seeing it with your own eyes.
And so we reached Landhaus Alpenrose Heiligenblut, which I had booked for three nights, thinking it would be a great place to hike, relax and have a rest from driving. (which of course was pretty necessary after the road leading there) . The village possessed a church, two restaurants (one right under the church) a ski lift and a small minimarket. C’est tout. It was tiny and quiet and surrounded by green meadows and towering snowy peaks. Fabulous we thought. There was one other family consisting of a Hungarian couple and their elderly mother. The landlady at checkin said something in weird English about the heating that I didn’t quite grasp, except for the word “kaput”. I assumed that the previous guest had had some trouble which had then been fixed. After all she would not be putting us in a room with no heating in October, right? On arrival in our huge apartment, (living room, double bedroom and kids’ room with bunks) we discovered that the living room radiator worked, the bathroom heater worked but the bedroom heater did not. She had thought it was fine to just leave the doors between the rooms open and let the heat circulate. We immediately contacted the owner (by Skype message- there was no phone in the room) and informed them that this was unacceptable. The husband appeared with his teenage son as a translator, schlepping an electric fan heater which stank and made a whirring noise. I informed him via his interpreter that this was no good. He returned with an electric radiator and said it would be fine. It was ok and the next day when we came back the heater was gone which we took to be a sign that the heating had been fixed (which it had).
Fortunately for us both restaurants in the village were great, but one was greater than the other. Plainly put, Casa Antica was the restaurant of my dreams. We ate there three times and everything was perfect. They had about 30 different types of pizza on the menu, and various salads and pasta dishes all better than anything I have eaten in Italy. The chocolate profiteroles… well you can imagine. And the wine was also wonderful. This was just as well because there was nothing else open on the Sunday for miles around. One day we spent just exploring the area around the village, walking along the river bank and enjoying encounters with the rural inhabitants. One day we spent driving into nearby Lienz and visiting a castle, and moseying along the banks of the Drava River. It was all extremely picturesque and charming.
After three wonderful days in this peaceful place it was time to move to our next stop, Feldkirschen in Carinthia, where we would stay only one night at the incredible Erlebnishaus Spiess Guesthouse, possibly the most wonderful place we have ever stayed. A more comfortable, welcoming guest house for such a modest price you cannot hope to find. I instantly wished we had taken 3 nights here and only one in the previous place, but hindsight is such a useful thing, isn’t it. From the initial welcome by the kindly Melitta and Manfred and their daughter and granddaughter, we felt at home. Everything was super comfortable and clean and the guest house had cows right across the road, and a stunning view.
So now it’s time to take a breather before we continue on to the city of Graz. Stay tuned!