Get ready for some pure mountain romance! Based on our excellent experiences of combining “toddler + mountain travel” (see my article about family fun in the Tyrolean Pitztal valley, holidays in the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg or our eco trip with baby to the Carinthian Falkertsee), we chose the mountain province south of the city of Salzburg this time.
The Grossarl Valley is about an hour by train from Salzburg city (the train station is called St. Johann im Pongau, from there you may catch a bus on to Grossarl). Once again, we opted for travelling by train from/to Vienna; not only for environmental reasons, but also to provide our active, two-year-old son with the best possible entertainment on the train. It also means a much less stressful journey for us than by car.
The Grossarl Valley is known as the “Valley of the Alpine Pastures“. Thomas Wirnsperger, head of the local tourism board, explains that “we have the highest density of alpine pastures in the Austrian Alpine region, with around 40 fully managed huts in the Grossarl valley alone.”
The so-called Gaudi-Alm, Salzburg’s largest alpine playground, can also be attributed to him: “When my children were Liam’s age, the local municipality and I considered how best to use the free space in the village. We came up with a lot of ideas for a real alpine playground for children. But go on and see it for yourself …!”
Our accommodation tip for a relaxed family trip: Hotel Nesslerhof in Grossarl.
They call themselves “The Guest Whisperers”! But who … how? “Well. We once had a guest who said you pay so much attention to detail, you take so much trouble and always listen to us so carefully … like a horse whisperer!” Tina Neudegger, our host for the weekend, tells me with a laugh. “So we decided to become ‘The Guest Whisperers‘ as a marketing strategy, and strive to really take care of the many little things when dealing with our guests.”
Tina, a mother of three and hotel business professional herself, is involved in all areas of the hotel, “so you see and notice a lot,” she says. As soon as we arrive, I indeed notice two things that show great attention: Every guest receives a comprehensive personal tour of the garden, pool, play and restaurant areas. And while we are still moving into our luxurious family suite, which easily offers room for two adults and three children, the receptionist notices that Liam “is still small and might need a fall-out protection for his bed – wait a minute, I’ll bring you one”. Two minutes later, somebody came and fixed it against one of the beds. As parents, we were very pleased to see others thinking along for us!
Go for a hike: A classic in the largest “Valley of the Alpine Pastures”.
“Do visit the famous Karseggalm“, Thomas Wirnsperger again suggests. “For the last four hundred years, water for cheese production has been heated in ancient boilers, still located in the same smokehouse as in the past. The Karseggalm hut is one of the oldest huts in the Grossarl Valley. You have to see it!”
So without further ado, we hire a taxi to take us to the Breitenebenalm car park at around 1,400 metres above sea level, and take a short hike from there to the Karseggalm. It leads us several kilometres through the forest, with some 200 metres of difference in altitude. Easy even for a toddler, thus. Liam walks parts of the way (one step forward, three steps to the side, two steps back – that’s about the marching speed with a toddler 😀 ) and otherwise lets his dad carry him.
The reward: Don’t miss the delicious alpine snack with the typical sour cheese of the Grossarl Valley!
Tip: If you are also interested in e-bikes, or mountain e-bikes – my husband Georg did a short ride from Grossarl to the Bichlalm and has this to say about his experience: “I have to admit that as a triathlete and enthusiastic cyclist, I was a little sceptical about e-bikes at first. However, I have found that the support provided by the e-bike when riding uphill also means a certain fun factor. But the 20+ kg of the e-bike also mean that you really need the support, especially uphill. Without help, ‘nothing goes’. Downhill, be aware that you need a lot of feeling for the bike. Use the brakes as gently as possible, so as not to lock the wheels. Considering, I really got on well with the mountain e-bike on all levels of my trip.”
Last but not least, we opt for a short hike near the entrance to the Hohe Tauern National Park.
Oh, the “golden autumn days” when the sun shines brightly and the mountain air smells just so sweet …! You may reach the end of the Grossarl valley directly by bus or taxi (approx. half an hour on a comfortable drive). Once there, you can choose among several options for refreshments, as well as a small exhibition about the nearby Hohe Tauern National Park.
On a clear day, you will see snow and ice fields that flow into lush green mountain slopes and glistening lakes. The 40-minute hike to the Ötzelsee lake is worth the walk every metre of the way! A natural Kneipp facility has been set up at the very “back” to revive tired hiking feet … thanks to the crystal-clear mountain spring water. Definitely try it out!
Check out further images taken on our trip through the Grossarl valley:
Disclaimer: We have been invited on this weekend trip by the local tourism association supported by the province of the Salzburger Land Tourismus. All opinions are my own.