After a slow start in Graz the Wanderers reach peak wow in the Austrian Alps.
A walk in the woods.
To pull on long trousers.
To feel a chill on my arms as PDog and I walk through the woods.
Drips from the trees onto those arms. Down my neck.
Plucky new oaks, beech and alder reach skywards from the fecund leaf mold that carries a scent so different from just a week ago. It’s now so damp, so heavy, it even smells of life.
And cyclamen. Everywhere cyclamen bring their colour to the carpet of browns.
But I’m jumping forward.
There have been a border crossed, a city, a vineyard, a palinka farm.
We crossed Balaton by ferry to the lavender and paprika town of Tihany but didn’t stop there long. I wonder how towns that attract tourists continue to do so long after they become nothing but a string of tat shops and mediocre cafes.
We forge on and stop in the woods where rain falls and reminds us of the season.
The morning target is the Kreinbacker Birtok winery where we planned a late birthday lunch with a glass or so of fine wine.
We swing off the E66 onto an immaculate straight tree lined road up to the vineyards and this doesn’t feel anything like the east that we know.
The vineyard is an architects orgasm of cantilevers, semi submerged buildings, soaring glass and grey. I love modern architecture, but this place has more styles that the Vitra Factory and the result left us feeling cool towards it.
We drink expensive coffee, having sent the first one back for reheating. We use their immaculate and impressive loos. We left. We bought wine from the unassuming little vineyard down the road. And we’re stung by super expensive palinka at a distillery. But it tastes great. And kicks ass. All HUFs spent.
I thought the transition into Hungary was a leap to the west, but that was nothing compared to slipping back into Austria.
Hungary was neat. Austria is obsessively so.
There are so many cars.
And do the houses really need to be so big?
German sardines, ready tinned.
For two nights we’ll be on the Graz Stellplatz. The stellplatz is a German style almost campsite that offers all the facilities, and very well, but cram everyone in so that it resembles a car park of vans rather than a particularly pleasant place to be.
After the delightful slightly shambly sites of the east this comes as a shock. There are more vans here on one site than we have seen in the past couple of months. ArchieVan is one of the most modest.
My favourite van here is a monster called a Concorde Liner. I researched and found that its starting price is higher than all but one of the houses we have bought over the years. But hey, for 320,000 euros they also include the Fiat 500 that sits in its onboard garage. So that’s OK isn’t it?
With more than 150 vans, almost all hooked to the electric, this place is raking in close to 4,000 euros a night. We have stayed on sites in the last month that might struggle to make that in a year.
Drips in the night.
Grrr! Anyone who has had a leaky roof at home will know the dread that descends when the drips start falling on your bed.
Poor Minty woke with a shriek as water leaked from the rooflight onto her bare back.
In the morning I took on tank command role poking my head through the turret and applying a sophisticated repair of duck tape that will hopefully hold until home. How it can leak now with just light rain when we have been close to submerged with no problems previously I don’t know. Perhaps a seal has dried out and cracked.
Austria’s second city is a bus ride away. A ride past a thousand car dealers and supermarkets. Perhaps not quite a thousand, but more than any city can possibly need.
We’re not feeling it today and perhaps we didn’t get the best from what is without doubt a beautiful place. The modern Kunsthaus, the funky Murinsel, the spectacular 1899 Opera House, they’re all impressive.
Our spirits rise with the 61 degree slope of the funicular to the Schlossberg, and look down onto the city rooftops.
Most of all I liked the hunting cabin that was on display at the Schlossberg, and I wanted to transport one home St Just. No guns would be allowed, but what a perfect writer’s retreat it would make. Just a desk and a chair, its occupant gazing out to sea when the keyboard was no longer doing its thing.
We didn’t quite make it to the Schwarzenegger museum but instead headed down into South Styria. The guide described the area as “…stunningly beautiful and utterly romantic, where everything revolves around wine.” They’re not wrong.
From the moment we pull off the motorway the greens seem to intensify.
Tiny villages have large impressive buildings built on centuries of wine success.
The neatness of the rows of vines is increased by them being netted once the fruit starts forming to protect it against the birds.
From on high a patchwork spreads as far as you can see of hills with hills on hills, wooded, but with large patches of field, and vines. Achingly pretty villages. Churches dotted here and there. Brightly painted houses. And blue sky with fluffy clouds.
In the valley hops are grown on bines 5 metres high. They’ve harvesting and the air is as sharp sweet as a hipster’s IPA.
Wine tourism is big business here. Most of the producers have opened up their farms to guests, many with a few rooms available, and differing levels of restaurant from simple to gastro.
We’re camped on Peter Grill’s hill top vineyard, and drank his excellent wines in his simple restaurant. They’re truly world class, and just £2.50 a glass. The overnight stay is free. How refreshing to be somewhere where money clearly flows like nothing we’ve seen in months, but there’s no greed, just a fair price for an excellent product.
At the castle on a hill we climbed through galleries of Celtic art that pre-dates much of the ancient works we saw in Greece, then were rewarded by a far reaching views from the top.
In the car park were some automotive exotica which were almost as impressive as the quantities of fine wines on their back seats.
We enjoy a quick look at the bonkers church makeover in Barnbach, and an equally quick visit to the Lipizzaner stud where the young horses learn and the old rest. Then we began climbing in earnest.
Austria’s beauty expanded. Heidi house followed Heidi house. The temperatures fell. The tree cover intensified. Then all disappeared as we entered the thick cold clouds.
When we parked at the Grosslobming ski station we had no idea of the utterly incredible view we’d wake to when the impossibly pretty cows began munching and clanking outside.
We’re at 1551m. It feels like the roof of the world. And there’s even a café for morning coffee and facilities. In the gasthof the air is thick with the sour cheese from the rostis that are their speciality. What a shame we have breakfast in the van.
We really must spend a month in Austria – ideally with a fit dog. Prices are rather different here to the east, but with scenery like this no one could mind paying a little extra.
My sister Janice is our support team.
Jay orders my books as I recognise a need/desire, they’ve been my only non-essential purchases since we set out on this odyssey.
She receives and opens our mail. And her washing machine will get a hammering in a fortnight when we get to her house in Somerset.
But her biggest job is editing this blog, condensing its space and then printing it to post on to mum. At 89 Peggy wasn’t about to learn to use a tablet just so that she could keep up with her son. Instead Janice takes each ten page post, removes the spacing, and sends a block of text to Redruth.
She also notices my typos. She’s right syphilis fruit really isn’t as attractive as physalis. Less itchy for sure.
Isn’t it great when someone gives back to the thing that made them?
Gebetsroither is a motor home hire, sales and service business outside of Liezen. Run well such a business stands to make a lot of money over time, and these guys certainly seem to be doing well.
How do they give back?
Their car park is set up as a van stop. There’s electricity. There are showers, damn good showers. And a toilet dump point. And it’s all free. Thank you, it’s superb and if I ever wanted a left hand drive motor home I’d come to you first.
Minty had spotted pictures of the ridiculously beautiful Hallstatt and its lake on Instagram. We’d driven with a few miles of it on the way out, but we were in the next valley and we knew nothing of what we’d missed.
It is solidly on the tourist trail and the view was often seen through a forest of selfie sticks. While the lake is beautiful the entertainment came from watching coach loads of young South Asian tourists shamelessly posing their hearts out. NITS (Never In The Shot) boyfriends art direct doll like girls as they queue to take centre stage at a view point. They check the shot. Take it again. Check. And take it again.
If you ever wonder who buys the more outlandish creations of the high fashion brands you need look no further. These people wear beautiful clothes. And every one of them looks like a catwalk model.
Only 24kms along is the lake of Gosausee and here it’s a different story.
This is hiking country. There’s serious climbing. The highest peak is something like 2995m. And the lake is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen on this leg of the journey.
I walked around the lake at night with a full moon, but generally obscured by clouds. The high peaks surrounding me were the broken teeth of some unfathomably huge jaw. The reflections on the deathly still lake disoriented as their craggy molars faced outwards too.
The dog had to go out in the night to void some horror she’d eaten.
We had to go out time after time.
She doesn’t make a fuss. She just stands at the end of the van, clicking her nails on the hard floor until I wake and realise her plight.
The third time was early morning. I could have done with more sleep, but instead she took me back to the lake to see it at its stunning reflective best.
Sorry for your poorly belly dog, but thank you for what you showed me.
Onwards to Salzburg.
Austria feels so calm. The green is brighter. The air is cleaner. The wines are superb. There’s hardly a decayed anything. It’s expensive, but only compared to the east, in fact fuel is less than £1.10 a litre.
I tried to envisage a matrix calculation that looked across dramatic beauty, cost of travelling, and ease of access from the UK. If I had it sussed I’m sure Austria would come out top.
A few miles from Saltzburg we started climbing again. Up and up. My ear was popping and hurting like hell. The van’s extra fan kicked in for the first time in weeks. The road was narrow, involving high concentration. But none of that mattered, the scenery opened and closed with the changes in the woodland, and the world was a stunning place to be.
We were climbing to Gaisberg, the most northerly mountain in its range, and one of the world’s great views.
At 1287m it’s a minion in the company of giants, but at 1287m it’s still very high, especially when the nearest significant hill is ten or more miles away across the glacial valley.
We can see back to the 2800m high glacier above Gosau that we left yesterday, the drive from there was 80kms.
And I suspect that we can see the 3798m Grossglockner beyond it, there’s certainly a higher mountain in the distance.
Cyclists young and old power up the mountain in an impressive show of strength. Para-gliders leap off and soar over us (and get a good shouting at from Polly). The rest of us take photos and stare in awe.
At sundown a crowd of 80 plus people all gather on the edge to watch the world fade to tones of orange, red and grey. There are so many languages in the gentle hubbub. Even an excited gang of teenagers fail to spoil the atmosphere.
This is such a civilised place to be.
If a reader were to travel to any area that I’ve written about over these past eighteen months it should be here, and probably at this time of year too when the crowds have died but the weather hasn’t.
Today has been designated our last easy day.
Next Saturday we have a ferry from Dieppe and so we’ll take a faster drive up through Germany then across Belgium. It’s not the fastest or shortest route, I’d even contest that the autoroutes are better roads, but what we’ll save by not using French motorways will buy enough fuel to get us home.
Rather than post the weekly blog over the few weeks of our trip back to get MoTed and see family I’ll probably write snippets along the way, then pick up the journey again when we leave Britain in mid-October.
Our winter destination is Evia in Greece. How fast we get there will depend on autumn. If the weather is as good as it was last year we’ll linger long en route.
As ever, all comments are welcome. I answer everything, by email and in the blog. Visitors are welcome too, we have several booked for Greece already.