The sun is out in the Zillertal, the sky is bluest blue and the views deep enough to make you want to yodel.
Words by Kerry Christiani | Photos by Zillertaltourismus, Andre Schoenherr and Blickfang photographie.
The sun is out in the Zillertal, the sky is bluest blue and the views deep into the glaciated Tux and Zillertal Alps are enough to make you want to yodel. Life is sweet in this corner of the Austrian Tirol, where glaciated, 3,000m mountains ripple into Italy. Set against this dramatic backdrop is a broad valley made ready for every outdoor pursuit imaginable.
Slopes that swish with the sound of skis in winter are given over to hikers, climbers and paragliders in summer. Rafters harness the fast-flowing Ziller River, while golfers master their swing at the 18-hole championship golf course in Uderns. From gentle meadow strolls to grappling with some of the hairiest crags in the Alps – you name it, this valley has got it.
According to scientific studies, the Zillertal’s trails offer many health benefits for hikers as they are situated in three altitude zones. The valley floor, at 500m, is the ideal starting point for walkers as the body regenerates faster at this level, while the thinner air at increasing altitudes improves metabolism and increases fitness levels.
And nowhere in Austria is Alpine tradition so tangible. In summer, the valley is in full festive throttle, with villages such as Mayrhofen and Zell am Ziller swinging to accordion-driven folk music. Take the lead of the dirndl- and lederhosen-clad locals and order a foaming beer with a platter of Bergkäse and Graukäse cheeses. The festivities continue until September, when the cows descend from their summer pastures in floral finery.
Best foot forward
If you’re a hiker, you’re in for a treat, as the Zillertal has an incredible 1,400km of marked trails. This is some of Austria’s finest walking terrain – no matter your level – and 10 summer cable cars enable a head start to the summits.
The region’s star trek is the multi-day Peter Habeler Route, named after the legendary Mayrhofen-born mountaineer who, together with Reinhold Messner, was the first to ascend Everest without supplementary oxygen, in 1978. The demanding 56.1km route leads high into the Zillertal Alps via six mountain huts, passing through meadows, over ridges, rock and scree. Equally challenging is the long-distance, 73km Berliner Höhenweg, on the Italian-Austrian border, where you’ll be walking among giants, including 3,510m Hochfeiler.
The village of Ginzling is the gateway to the Zillertal’s High Alps Nature Park, a vast Alpine wilderness of glaciers, peaks, waterfalls and jewel-coloured lakes. From May to October, the visitor centre runs a programme of guided hikes for a nominal cost – these range from wildlife-watching rambles and herbal walks to summit tours.
To see the walking region at a glance, pick up a copy of the Kompass Zillertaler Alpen, Tuxer Alpen map (scale 1:50,000).
- Cycling The Zillertal is cycling heaven, whether you want to pedal gently through the valley or try one of the Zillertal’s many bike tours, which cover about 1,200km.
- Glacier skiing No need to wait for winter to get your skis on – there’s summer action on snow-sure slopes, topping out at 3,250m, at the Hintertux Glacier, the only glacier in Austria to offer year-round skiing.
- Via ferrata Everybody’s talking about the new #Schlegeis131 (also its Twitter address), a head-spinning, 131m-high, fixed-rope route along a dam wall.
- Rafting Fancy taking on the white waters of the Ziller River? There are plenty of chances to go rafting and tubing in the Zillertal.
- Paragliding Tandem paragliding on the thermals above the three-thousanders is quite something. Make it happen.
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