Rounding the drive to our guest house in the small village of Söll I kept hearing the sound of bells. I couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. It wasn’t the cathedrals with their sky-scraping needle thin steeples. It was more of a tinny, high sound seemingly coming straight off the mountains. It wasn’t the loads of mountain and road bikers dinging their bells to let slower hikers know they were passing. Nope. It was the cows.
Set in the valleys of the Austrian Alps is the area in Tyrol called Wilder Kaiser. The SkiWelt is comprised of four small villages surrounded by mountains. These seemingly sleepy towns have so much to offer. In the summer there is hiking, biking, festivals, and cheese tasting. In the winter there is skiing, tobogganing, and other Apres Ski activities to your heart’s content. Tourism is big here and Tyrol and the Wilder Kaiser area is going to be a place I frequent regularly. The towns of Going, Ellmau, Söll, and Scheffau are filled with an interesting mix of all ages. From the older folks that can scale a mountain like no one else, the middle aged vacationers that frequent from Germany, the ski bums that never seem to leave, and families pushing their strollers and sleds flock to the beautiful mountains and easy going lifestyle.
Tyrol is the western most state in Austria and is known for its mountains, dotted with beautiful towns, and lots of activities. We made the four and half hour drive from Heidelberg, Germany to the town of Söll. We got to town in the afternoon and went to the tourist’s office to see what events were going on that week. During tourism season: winter and summer, there are loads of events going on. From hikes, concerts, festivals, midnight campfires, ski lessons, and our choice for the evening, a wine and cheese tasting.
Wilder Kaiser in the Summer
We went on a bike ride to the nearby town of Scheffau. We stopped to see the horses, the streams trickling down the green mountainsides, and the wildflowers that were EVERYWHERE.
June is the beginning of busy season, so we were lucky that events just started that week. Each town puts on events each week for all different ages. We kicked off the night with a “cheese and bacon” tasting. What we didn’t know was that all six different cheeses would include a glass of wine, shots of schnapps, and the three different bacon specials would include a glass of beer. It was safe to say that for 15 euro we had enough to drink.
The next day we went on a hike up in the alps. It was warm but not humid with crystal clear skies and a great view of the alps.
Because we drove from Germany we brought along the dogs. Millie (Hugo had a hurt paw) flew around the mountainside kicking up daisies as she went.
To cool off, Michael told me that there was a beautiful lake nearby. He was underestimating it. The Hintersteiner See is one of the prettiest lakes I’ve ever seen. Pictures don’t do it justice. Crystal clear light and deep blue waters swim together while green mountains flank one side and the tall snowy peaks rise on the other.
We swam until the sun went down, then went back to our lovely little Pension. You can stay at a hotel but the pensions or guest houses are priced very well and usually come with breakfast. The breakfast was one of my favorite parts of our stay. Our host at Au Pension had an incredible spread of all homemade cheese, breads, yogurts, and the most wonderful honey I’ve ever tasted. I loved it so much I bought some to take home with me.
Whether it’s winter or summer there are always festivals in all of the towns. We spent some time at both the festivals in Söll one night and Ellmau for the other.
Michael spent a day spent mountain biking. Wilder Kaiser is great for this if you’re interested, but since I was not, I meandered around town, snapping pictures of some of the more interesting buildings.
What I love so much about Europe is that there seems to be history in every pebble. This little church built on top of a stone was constructed so that if raiders came, they could store their treasures inside and then burn the bridge.
For our last day we spent it looking for the cutest members of the alps: the cows. We took a lift up the mountain in Söll where there was a a mini water park surrounded by a restaurant with killer views. You could watch the paragliders take off and eat potato soup. Or you could take a hike. Whichever.
After taking up two lifts we finally saw them: the cows! Jangling their bells as they went or basking in the sun for a nap.
If you think I’m going crazy over the cows I don’t even come close to the locals. Every September there’s a festival for when the cows come down the mountain. These cows are used specifically for dairy purposes and so are treated like royalty. They dress them up in bright colored flowers and feathers as they make their procession down for the year.
Wilder Kaiser in the Winter
Winter activities are some of the most popular in Austria. Everyone from expert to amateur skiers flock to the snow covered mountains. Being on the very amateur side, Michael and I stayed in Ellmau at a lovely guest house with easy access to the ski school.
During the day we took lessons and at night we spent our time in town for the various festivals and outdoor concerts.
We took a hike up in the alps, this time Hugo got to join. Really, the best views were here.
We also took a day trip to the pretty town of Kitzbuehl. All the towns nearby have so much character. From brightly colored buildings to pretty little patios it’s easy to relax.
While I loved skiing, the best part was tobogganing. I couldn’t get enough of it. We rented the little sleds for just $7 for the day, bought our lift ticket, then spent hours sliding down the mountain. At first I was terrified, but after seeing a few 12 -year-olds nail it, I felt confident I could do it too. Michael had a hard time slowing down and would steam down the mountain collecting snow as he went. He’d end up with a beard full of snow and I’d fall of my sled in fits of laughter.
As for restaurants there are loads of great little Tyrolian places, but you can find almost any cuisine. Some of my favorites are Memory pizza in Ellmau (also very good after a long day of skiing) and for a glass of warm Glüwein.
There’s also Auf da Muhle for steaks in Söll, the famous and pretty Gasthof Postwirt, Chiaro di Luna for Italian, and pictured below if Schulhaus. I loved this restaurant because they had dishes from all over the world and they actuually went around the world to learn how to cook them. It’s a funky vibe and a great place for cocktails too.
Truly, this is one of the best places for outdoor activities no matter your age. I love the atmosphere and character of each little village in the Skiwelt. Each place feels connected, yet has it’s own vibe. I know I’ll be back for more. At the very least, I have to beat my toboggan record.