The Ultimate Alps Adventure: Guide to Zillertal, Austria
I sit checking my email, the doors wide open and I can hear the twinkling of the cow bells who are just outside my window. Austria is a country that has quickly won over my heart and made me a believer as a can't miss destination. I'm at my pretty chalet in Zillertal, Austria where the weather is chilly, sunny, and perfect for adventures outdoors. Whether you're interested in skiing down a glacier, completing a high ropes course in the forest, attending a local festival, biking through the quaint villages, or relaxing in a heated pool, there's something for everyone. I've created the ultimate alps adventures in Zillertal, Austria.
The Ultimate Alps Adventure: Guide to Zillertal, Austria
First, why visit Austria? Besides the obvious beauty of the mountains cascading next to lush green grass, Austria has so much to offer everyone. There is delicious cheese and dairy products, schnapps, outdoor adventures, and time to relax and join the spirit of the lovely villages. It's the perfect destination for families, couples, or even solo travelers. You will never go to Austria and proclaim that you were bored. EVER.
Zillertal is the area between Innsbruck and Kitzbuehel in the valley of Tirol, which makes for an easy train ride. You can catch the train to Jenbach station to explore Zillertal. There are no hotel chains, only family run hotels and pensions. This means that you get local recommendations and avoid anything overly touristic. This guide will cover how to spend a few days in Zillertal, Austria and all the fun things you can do along the way- no matter your skill level.
We stayed in the lovely Hell's Ferienresort. Don't be confused by the name, this hideaway tucked into the hills was so relaxing. Complete with a sauna, heated swimming pool, and rooms that offered full kitchens, and of course picturesque views. Check out some of the hotels in and pensions in Zillertal here.
Here's a map to everywhere I went:
High Ropes Course in the Forest
Surprisingly this was one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. The guide was patient, understanding, and made me feel at ease as I towered over 85 feet in the air on the course. The high ropes course was in the mountains in Mayorhofen and was set up so that you get a quick overview of safety and some practice time. It felt very safe, even if I felt wobbly on the course. There are many options for high ropes courses in the area but I was particularly impressed with our guide from Mountain Sports.
Mountain Sports not only offers high ropes courses, but canyoning, tubing, rafting, and rock climbing. They really had it all! Whether you want a challenge or a fun outdoor activity they have it. I was truly scared when I started the high ropes course, since I haven't been in a harness or up high for over 5 years. A few years ago I fell 20 feet rock climbing (of no fault of my own) and broke my ankle and leg. Since then I've had a stronger fear of heights. But I am proud to say I completed the course and enjoyed it so much I know I'll go back again!
You head up a ladder and take to the course, then there are various courses along the way in Zemm Canyon. You'll literally be among the trees and on the edge of a beautiful canyon. There are multiple challenges divided up by difficulty level. You can also zip-line once you've had your fill of balancing across the high ropes.
Where: Mountain Sports
Duration: 1-2 hours
Skill Level: Intermediate
Bring: Sneakers or Tennis shoes
Skiing The Glacier
Zillertal offers year-round skiing at the Hintertux Glacier! Zillertal is the world's largest skiing valley and is complete with modern lifts, incredible downhill runs, and plenty of après ski activities. This was such a fun surprise to see the perfect conditions on top of the mountain with a fresh layer of fluffy snow on the ground. I have to admit that I'm not the best skier so I was a bit afraid to head down the fairly steep hills. I am definitely classified as a beginner and this was a bit above my skill level. But man, it was worth it to take the gondola up for the views.
Whether you ski or not, I highly recommend you head up the gondola to see the view of the Alps of not just Austria but Italy and Germany as well. There were skiiers from around the world and even Olympic teams at the Gletscherwelt Zillertal 3000, the glacier is the only year-round ski spot in Austria. With guaranteed snow all year round the Hintertux Glacier is well known for being one of the best places on earth to ski. You can also see the other skiing areas in Zillertal right here.
Where: Hintertux Glacier
Duration: 2-6 hours
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced
Bring: Ski clothing, gloves, can rent skis and poles here
Hiking the Alps
Austrians have a true love for the outdoors so it’s no surprise that they have hiking paths nearly everywhere you turn. No matter your skill level, you can find a path that you’ll enjoy. After skiing the glacier we went up the Gondola to a path that took us down the mountain to the ski village. This path was intermediate since there were places where it was steep and there it was still covered in snow. But there are options everywhere for hiking that will suit your needs.
There are over 1,400 kilometers (that 870 miles) in the Alps. No matter where you go, you’ll have scenic views. The best part? After climbing down the mountain it’s tradition to have a shot of schnapps after completing the hike. If hiking is one of your passions and you’d also like to cover three countries, you can take the “Die Alpen Überquerung” which means “The Alpine Crossing.” You can take anywhere from 3-7 days to cross through Germany, Austria, and Italy through the alps. It’s very relaxed in that your belongings are transported along the way for you and you can have comfortable accommodation at night. You can choose to hike a little each day and then take a train to each location or, you can take 7 days to hike through the entire route. You begin in Germany at Tegernsee Lake, then the route winds its way through Austria’s Tirol along Achensee Lake and Zillertal Valley to Sterzing in South Tirol, Italy. How cool would it be to hike through three different countries?!
Of course, there are many trails and routes that are leisurely and take an hour,or, to difficult and can take as long as you like. Of course, you can simply walk around the valleys, whichever you feel most comfortable with.
Where: There are so many so find a trail that works for you!
Duration: Up to you!
Skill Level: Beginner to advanced
Bring: Layers for changes in temperature and hiking boots. Optional: hiking poles (these are the ones I have and love!).
Like many Americans, I hadn’t heard about the cow festival “Almabtrieb” or cattle drive until I headed to Austria. But this festival MUST be added to your bucket list. Each year the cows come down the mountains and the farmers throw a coming home celebration in their honor. They dress them up in large bells, lavishly decorated headdresses (called Buschn) of evergreen, edelweiss, flowers, and necklaces. It’s not only beautiful, it’s a time honored tradition that has been going on for hundreds of years.
The cows aren’t the only entertainment for the day. There’s a band playing traditional folk music, plenty of beer and wine, traditional dishes, and dances. After the cows parade onto the grounds for some water and pictures, the band goes into a frenzy of uptempo music. Everyone clinks their glasses together to “prost” to the cows coming home. The beer served here is “Zillertal bier” that has been brewed for over 500 years, the oldest in Tirol! Don’t forget to try the Kaiserschmarrn and melchermuas. The Kaiserschmarrn is a thick pancake shredded and served with applesauce. The melchermuas is a classic Tyrolean dish for the farmers who prepared it in the mountains and could eat it out of the pan. It's made with simple ingrediets of butter, flour, and milk and is so delicious- and filling.
The cattle drive is a unique and wonderful experience and one that helps you understand the importance of the farmer in the Austrian community. For many centuries life was very hard out here, and now they are able to celebrate their traditions with us.
Where: We attended the local festival in Fügen, but there are many that take place at the end of September. Find a list here.
Duration: 2-3 hours but can stay longer if you want
Skill Level: Anyone!
Bring: Lederhosen or Dirndl if you like!
Biking Through the Villages
All throughout the villages there are bike paths that will take you from town to town. It’s such a scenic and relaxed way to see the countryside. Along the way you’ll see pencil thin steeples that tower above the homes, cows grazing on blankets of green grass, and will most likely happen onto a festival. As I made my way through the towns I found a band playing, shops selling lederhosen, dirndls, and schnapps, and delicious sausages.
The villages feel as if you’re stepping back in time, into a fairy tale. I learned that the song “Silent Night” was composed nearby in Salzburg, but it was actually sung by those in Zillertal since they were known for their beautiful voices. You can get a feel for why the history of Zillertal is so important. You can choose a bike or an e-bike for any of the routes.
Where: Cycling paths here
Duration: 1-6 hours
Skill Level: Beginner to advanced
Grill and Chill
One of the best ways to really experience a city is to try their cuisine. The food in Austria is right up my alley: delicious cheeses, wine, pork, bacon (or “speck”), and schnapps. Almost everywhere you go you’ll be greeted with a shot of schnapps. It’s just a fun way to live your life if you ask me. Many of the restaurants offer a traditional vibe. They cook Austrian food in the customary way which means schnitzel and other meats alongside potatoes. These family owned restaurants make you feel right at home. Full of character and characters, you can feel like you’re part of the family even if you’re alone.
We headed to Landgasthof Linde which had great classic Austrian cuisine. It’s an intimate setting of candlelight and of course delicious meat. We also tried Schulhaus, aptly named because it used to be a school house. I can’t imagine going to school in this classroom where you’re overlooking the alps each morning. Here we tried fish (highly recommend) and the most delicious Schnapps I’ve ever had: Zibren Schnapps. It tastes just like the forest and I even bought a bottle to bring home.
Another great experience is the “grill and chill.” We went to a fantastic, more modern restaurant called Mountain and Soul which is buffet style. Simple and elegant furniture with commanding views compliments the relaxed vibe. We ate until we were full of grilled meets, cocktails, and then once stuffed we had tiramisu for dessert. It’s a great place to relax with a group of friends or romantic night out.
Truly, Austria has some of the best options for having fun no matter where you go. This is one of the countries that I plan to go back to again and again and for different seasons to see all they have to offer. Tirol is truly the heart of the alps and I love every minute in this lovely country. I don't think I could ever fully say auf Wiedersehen to Austria. I keep coming back for more.
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This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with Tirol and Zillertal. Helene in Between maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site.