Rising sheer and rugged, these limestone mountains form some of Tirol’s most outstanding hiking country.
Words by Kerry Christiani | Photos by U. Wiesmeier
Situated by the German-Austrian border, the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is crowned by Zugspitze, the highest peak in the Wetterstein range at 2,962m. Rising sheer and rugged, these limestone mountains form some of Tirol’s most outstanding hiking country, with 150 trails reaching from demanding multi-day, hut-to-hut treks to gentle family rambles past lakes and through pastures that chime to the backbeat of cowbells in summer. Climbers and mountain bikers are also in their element, tackling remote ridges and hell-for-leather downhill routes in these heady heights.
Zugspitze lords it over a string of seven villages that have retained plenty of local flavour, with their picture-book timber chalets, onion-domed chapels and distinctly low-key vibe. Whether you opt for peak-gazing Ehrwald, Lermoos, with its outdoor pool and freeride route, or Berwang, which sits at 1,336m, the same authentic welcome awaits, along with the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon a hidden corner of Tirol. And the free hiking bus makes zipping around a breeze.
Surrounded by colossal peaks and forested slopes, at 1,675m, Seebensee Lake holds a looking glass up to the Wetterstein mountains in the still of morning. Its startlingly turquoise waters elicit gasps of wonder from hikers, and the 10.4km, 4-hour loop trail from Ehrwald is the perfect way to take in this magical place – and it’s gentle enough for families. Break up the walk with a stop at Seebenalm, an idyllic mountain hut with big mountain views and satisfying Tirolean grub, such as Gröstl, a bacon, onion and potato fry-up topped with an egg.
Sunrise at Zugspitze
Mighty Zugspitze never looks more extraordinary than when the first light creeps down its face, and you can experience this by taking the Tiroler Zugspitzbahn cable car up the peak before daybreak. In the pink-golden glow of dawn, the silhouetted Alps stand out in bold relief. Then the views open up to reveal the Tirolean ranges, the Bavarian Alps just over the border in Germany and – if the weather is clear – the distant outline of Mt Säntis, in Switzerland.
After a hearty buffet breakfast at the Panorama Peak restaurant, hikers can either head down the mountain or take on the challenging 2.5-hour ramble via the fixed-rope route to the Knorr Hut, at 2,052m. Lengthen the hike a further 2.5 hours via a karst plateau and meadows speckled with flowers to Ehrwalder Alm cable car, where walkers can descend with ease and take in the spectacular views.
Children in tow? You’ve come to the right place. The Tirol Zugspitz Arena is a kid’s nirvana, with special adventure trails in Ehrwald, Lermoos and Berwang geared towards tots, teens and all ages in between. On the 3.1km, 2-hour Zugspitzi am Gaisbach path, kids can strike out in search of treasure on a water trail involving plenty of splashy fun. Berwang’s 1.7km, 1-hour discovery trail zooms in on Alpine nature and wildlife – and it’s pram-friendly, too. The over-fives can swing and climb through the treetops to their heart’s content at the high-rope adventure course, tucked away in a forest in Bichlbach.
In summer, the villages offer free tours to anyone with a Guest Card (available from your accommodation provider). Among them are surefire kid-pleasers, from trekking with llamas to 3-hour walks discovering wood art.
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