Nature pulls out all the stops in the Austrian Alps, and nowhere more so than in Salzburgerland in summer. Whether you’re skipping Maria-style down a meadow, walking along a mountain ridge trail to the backbeat of cowbells, marvelling at the world’s largest ice caves or clipping on a karabiner to shimmy up limestone peaks, the views send spirits soaring.
The best way to get a perspective on a city is from a mountaintop. And the views of Salzburg from the 1,084m-Untersberg, part of the range of limestone peaks between Austria and Germany in the Berchtesgaden Alps, are spectacular. Reached by cable car, the summit is a short detour from central Salzburg yet feels truly Alpine, with hiking trails fanning out in all directions and paragliders wheeling overhead. It’s particularly alluring on a summer’s day when the wildflowers are in bloom, and a walk is followed by a Brettljause or snack platter at a mountain hut.
From Untersberg, Salzburg opens up like a pop-up book. Topped by a 900-year-old fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg, and divided by the turquoise Salzach River with the Austrian Alps as a backdrop, the city is stunning. In summer, the web of Medieval lanes and stately Baroque squares that form the UNESCO World Heritage historic centre are a delight to browse.
For a sing-as-you-cycle tour of 'The Sound of Music' film locations, hook onto Fräulein Maria’s bicycle tours. Or get a dress-circle view of this city of domes and spires from the Festungsgasse Balcony trail linking Nonnberg Abbey to the fortress. Warm evenings are best spent sipping a cold beer at the monastery-run Augustiner Bräustüben, where folk have been lifting ceramic steins below the chestnut trees in the 1,000-seat Biergarten since 1621.
Heading out of town, the riverside Salzbeach is where urban meets the outdoors, with activities from canoe polo to open-air cinema nights. A short ride on bus 25 to Hellbrunn takes you to the lavish summer palace built for Prince-Archbishop Markus Sittikus in the early 17th century. The highlight is the Wasserspiele, or trick fountains. Be prepared to get a good soaking as you wander around grottoes and mock Roman theatres.
More dramatic Medieval castles greet you at Werfen, a 40-minute train ride south of Salzburg. Werfen is also chilled by the world’s largest accessible ice cave, Eisriesenwelt. Cable cars and walking trails lead you to the cave-pitted limestone peaks of the Tennengebirge Mountains. Stepping into these caves is like entering a deep freeze, but it’s worth it to glimpse the majestic and theatrically-lit stalagmites and stalactites, natural formations which rise high as houses, or fall magically from above. These glistening giant obelisks have been shaped by meltwater over the course of 100 million years. Werfen is also ideal for hiking using the ferrate or fixed rope trails. For views that will make you want to yodel out loud, walk the interactive Sound of Music Trail which starts on Markt in the village centre and heads up to Gschwandtanger Meadow, where Maria taught the Von Trapp kids to sing Do-Re-Mi.
Train travel in the Austrian Alps is a joy. Edging south of Salzburg by rail brings you to the broad Gastein Valley. At the head of it is Bad Gastein, a hilly spa town, with an impressive waterfall and art nouveau villas lending it an air of old-fashioned romance. In the 1800s, this was the much-loved retreat of the likes of Strauss and Schubert, who adored its clean air and miracle-working waters, said to cure ailments from rheumatism to respiratory complaints.
While it’s tempting to spend all your time lounging in the Felsentherme thermal baths, the mountains beckon. A cable car swings up to Stubnerkogel, where Europe’s highest suspension bridge loops 2,300m above the valley. From here you can view the perennially glacier-capped Hohe Tauern range, which tops out with the Grossglockner at 3,798m.
Close to these mighty mountains is the sophisticated lake town of Zell am See. Summer activities range from swimming in the bright-blue lake and stand-up paddle boarding, to white-water rafting, paragliding, high-level hiking in the Alps, or even summer skiing on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. Top billing goes to one of Europe’s most phenomenal road trips, the 48km Grossglockner Road. Swinging around 36 switchbacks, this helter-skelter of a road takes you deep into the Hohe Tauern National Park, revealing peaks, glaciers, thundering waterfalls and jewel-coloured lakes on almost every hairpin bend.
Austria is truly one of the prettiest holiday destinations. In summer, the startling colours that paint the Alpine scenery, combined with the fresh mountain air and fairy-tale villages sprinkled around the valleys, makes for both a magical and memorable holiday.
There are 19 RCI-affiliated resorts in the Austrian Alps.
If you would like to visit the Austrian Alps, it is a fantastic destination in all seasons. Winter brings fantastic snow coverage, and summer brings lots of walking, cycling and exploring. Click on the RCI Resort Directory below and search for your accommodation.
If you already own timeshare and want to be part of the RCI Holiday Exchange programme, what are you waiting for? Click Join RCI below and sign up in a few simple steps.