I remember the first time we put together our Heart of Austria tour. I hadn’t run the trip yet, so I asked one, my colleagues, what it was like. They responded without hesitation, “It’s just like our Dolomites Trek!”
That’s a good thing.
Being compared favorably to the Dolomites, specifically the South Tyrol region, is a sincere compliment. Why? Because the South Tyrol offers everything that you could ever want from a European hiking tour. Rolling green meadows; check. Shapely limestone peaks bathed in alpenglow; check. Apple orchards rustling in the breeze; check. The atmosphere couldn’t be more idyllic. The food is delicious, and the accommodations are tip-top. Even the simplest mountain huts offer an endless supply of steaming espresso and decadent apple strudel.
Hold on. Isn’t this piece supposed to be about Austria?
It is! Wait for it.
The South Tyrol
The South Tyrol region of the Dolomites belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918 when it was annexed by Italy (part of a deal with the U.S. during WWI). Today, the region belongs to Italy, but its Austrian roots run deep. This is why the South Tyrol is German-speaking and you can get a refreshing weizenbier or an apfelschorle at the end of a long hike.
So, it makes sense that if you like the Dolomites then you’ll love Austria because the very things that you adore in the Italian Dolomites are, in a way, actually Austrian. Therefore, it’s not a huge leap to understand that hiking in Austria is like going home to the mothership. Austria is the very womb of high-level inn keeping, inspired alpine cuisine and eye-popping scenery. Put simply, it’s the place where all that cool Tyrolean stuff in the Dolomites came from.
The Landscape of Austria
Who doesn’t remember the Sound of Music with Julie Andrews? Those spectacular mountains, brought to life with the musical score of Rodgers and Hammerstein, were shot just outside of Salzburg. The mountains form part of the Northern Limestone Alps, the same alps that we explore during our Heart of Austria tour.
Our tour focuses on Lake District found around Salzburg, one of the most fascinating cities in Europe. The Dachstein is the farthest north limestone range in the Alps. Here you will experience beautiful green valleys, mesmerizing blue lakes, and towering peaks with cascading glaciers. This earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Dachstein Group
The Dachstein group to the west is what attracts most alpine enthusiasts. This mountain massif in Styria reaches its maximum elevation at the Hoher Dachstein (9,826 feet [2,995 metres]). Among the massif’s higher reaches are the easternmost and northernmost glaciers of the Alps, the largest of which is the Hallstättergletscher, 2 square miles (5.3 square km). The Alpine scenery of the massif attracts skiers and mountain climbers, and the ice and limestone caves of the Dachsteineishöhle and Koppenbrüllerhöhle provide further attractions. Some 240 other caves have been identified on the massif.
The villages have been inhabited in some cases by up to 7000 years. The history is incredible. Also known as the Salzkammergut, this region has been the playground and vacation destination for Monarchs and Noblemen for centuries, if not millennia. The Salzkammergut is a resort region in Austria that stretches form Salzburg east towards the Dachstein Mountains. It’s extreme beauty and popularity has earned Salzkammergut to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The similarity with our Dolomites Trek is striking. Just like the Dolomites were formed from various limestones that eroded into visually pleasing shapes, so too are the limestone peaks that comprise the Heart of Austria quite appealing to the eye.
In summary, if you hiked the Italian Dolomites and you loved the rock, the flower-filled meadows and the Tyrolean style of inn keeping that you experienced there, then give the Heart of Austria a shot. We think you’ll love it!
Above photos of Austria by Willi Glanznig.
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