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Austria is the place to be for glorious, wholesome, warm-weather pursuits – from barefoot hiking and wild swimming to unusual festivals

We Brits love our winter sports (we did, indeed, invent them) and flock during the ski ­season to the pretty Tyrolean villages of Austria. However, if we only visit this lovely region when it’s snowing, we may be missing a trick. Rather like dogs for Christmas, it turns out Austria is not just for winter – head there during the summer months, and there’s a whole range of glorious warm-weather pursuits on offer, each more wholesome and sun-dappled than the last.

Wild swimming

Austria is the H2O capital of the world: its lake water is clean enough to drink, and the region of SalzburgerLand alone has 180 natural lakes. You can sail, paddleboard, kayak or go fishing (motorboats are generally prohibited, to protect the water quality) but the top activity here is wild swimming. The sun is warm, the air is as clean as the water, and you’re ­surrounded by alpine meadows and mountains. Top spots include Lake Zell, Wolfgangsee and Forsthofgut.

In Gastein you can combine wild swimming with the imported Japanese practice of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku – of which just 15 minutes is enough to reduce production of the stress hormone cortisol), among the venerable trees of the Hohe Tauern Mountains and the waterfall paths of Angertal, Böcksteiner Höhenweg and Bad ­Hofgastein.

Austria even has an alpine equivalent of a blue lagoon: the limestone base of Lake Fuschl turns its water a turquoise – irresistible even to the likes of Maria Callas, who snorkelled here when she was performing at the Salzburg Festival in 1953. But sometimes, even just looking at the water can be enough. At Sigmund Thun gorge (a 32-metre deep and 320-metre long crevice) you can experience not just a rather impressive natural spectacle, but also the “Mythical Night of Water”. At 8pm every Monday in July and August, visitors can enjoy a mystical hike along wooden bridges through the gorge and the evening is rounded off with music and storytellers in front of a blazing campfire (adults/children £10/£5; ­zellamsee-kaprun.com).

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Mountain sunrise…

Walking in the mountains is exhilarating at any time of day – but at sunrise, it’s magical. In the summer, visitors to Kitzbühel and the surrounding areas can sign up for the Hornzipfel breakfast experience (kitzski.at), which involves taking the 4am cable car up the Kitzbüheler Horn Mountain followed by a gentle walk to the summit.

Admittedly, it’s an early start, but you won’t regret seeing the sun rising over the stunning Loferer Steinberge range – and, if you need an extra incentive, there’s even Champagne and fresh juice, as well as atmospheric live music from traditional woodwind instruments and, once morning has truly broken, a hearty breakfast and guided walk through the Alpine Flower Garden.

…Or mountain climbing

Rather less romantically, you could take hard-core adventure literally to new heights. The Arlberg Via Ferrata (stantonamarlberg.com) is one of Europe’s most demanding Alpine routes at 3km long and just under 2,500m high, where climbers – equipped with the best quality safety equipment and training – conquer narrow ledges, ­vertical rock faces and craggy ridges at dizzying heights. It’s not for the fainthearted, but the views are sensational.

For those less expert, a hike could be the thing. The Schmittenhöhe is a good choice, as you can go up by cable car and take a stroll on the high-altitude promenade or spend an entire day enjoying the Pinzgau Walk. Alternatively, take a tour on the Sisi circular hiking route (schmitten.at) – a mountain panorama with views towards the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and down to Lake Zell – or hike through ravines such as the Liechtensteinklamm, the Lammeröfen canyon in Tennengau, the Vorderkaserklamm ravine in Salzburg’s Saalachtal valley, or the Sigmund-Thun Klamm ravine in Zell am See.

Gravel biking

This might sound like adrenaline-junkie territory, but gravel bikes are, in fact, a sort of mountain-road-bike hybrid, with wider tyres for maximum flexibility, allowing you to avoid roads and potter happily along gravel trails and forest paths (find your closest bike rental and recommended routes at dachstein.salzkammergut.at). The 44km loop circuit around Sarstein Mountain in the Salzkammergut is particularly lovely: starting in the market square of the historic village of Bad ­Goisern (bad-goisern.net) on Lake ­Hallstätter See (hallstatt.net), you are next to water almost the whole way, riding past streams and rivers, lakes and ever-changing views of the mountains. The meadows are full of wildflowers, there are plenty of places to stop for a snack and you’ll pass lakeside beach resorts if you fancy a refreshing dip.

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If you’re after something a little bit bolder, try skyvering in Obertauern (obertauern.com). A mountain skyver is a lightweight, downhill-only scooter-bike hybrid, with no seat, pedals, chain or gears (you use your body weight and feet for carving and balance) – hire one in the village, pack it into your backpack then enjoy a leisurely hike up and a thrilling scoot back down.

Family-friendly trips

Austria’s Kinderhotels (kinderhotels.com) specialise in family holidays that offer lots of organised activities for ­children and plenty of tranquillity and relaxation for parents. The emphasis is definitely on the great outdoors and children can visit magical forests, climb up into treehouses, learn to fish (and cook the catch), go pony trekking or take swimming and biking courses. There are lots of encounters with ­animals (most kinderhotels have their own farm or access to a local one), allowing children to learn about food and farming – collecting eggs, picking berries to make jam and baking bread. Even babies are catered for, with baby care for up to eight hours a day.

Families with young children are also well catered for in St Anton am Arlberg, where they take walking to a whole new level. WunderWanderWeg (or Wonder Walking Way) is run by the Senn family (sennsationell.at) and offers a range of family-friendly hikes, including a barefoot walk so you can feel every element on the forest floor, or the Edelweiss Path (which won the Guinness record for the ‘Biggest Flower Arrangement by ­Number of Flowers’ in 2017) where you can rest on ‘energy tables’ surrounded by flowers to recharge your batteries.

Festival season

Austria is full of summer festivals, the most famous of which is, of course, the one in Salzburg – arguably the world’s greatest classical music festival (July 18 to August 31; salzburgerfestspiele.at). There’s also plenty of Mozart to be found here (Salzburg being his birthplace), with a new production of The Magic Flute debuting in 2022, as well as eight other new operas, plus plays, concerts and other events.

More unusual festivals include the Women’s Summer Festival in Ehrwald, an extravaganza of outdoor sports (July 7-10; womenssummerfestival.com) and, if you’re feeling peckish, the Dumpling Festival in St Johann in Tirol, featuring the longest dumpling table in the world and over 26,000 dumplings (Sept 24, kitzbueheler-alpen.com).

If you’re visiting around June 21, you’ll see the bonfires that are set ablaze on the mountains, a summer solstice tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages where tens of thousands of ­bonfires are lit. Spectacular, mysterious and an excellent excuse for a party (more information at tyrol.com).

Covid rules

All travellers over the age of 12 must show proof of full vaccination, or a negative PCR test taken within the last 72 hours, or a negative antigen test taken within the last 24 hours, or proof of recovery. Children under 12 are exempt when travelling with an adult who can provide one of the above.

Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

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By Lala