This past June, my children and I had the wonderful opportunity to take a big trip to Europe. As an avid traveler and a Europe lover, it was something I had dreamed of doing for years and my husband Paul agreed that it was the perfect time to bring our middle school-aged children to Europe. The idea for the trip hatched after my mother decided to do a transgenerational girls trip with me, my daughter, my sister and my niece to London and Paris in early June. Since we were going all that way, why not add on our own family trip as well? Paul and I thought long and hard about where else in Europe we would like to go and after much consideration we chose Austria as it offered the perfect mix of hiking, mountains, history and castles for our family to enjoy. We bought a Lonely Planet guidebook and began the arduous task of trying to decide where to go and what to try to squeeze in within 8 days. I realized shortly after researching the trip that we could have used an entire month to truly get to know Austria. It is an amazing place especially for an outdoor lover like me. With careful planning we were able to figure out how to best schedule our time and see the best of Austria for our family of four.
As often happens in life, there were a few unexpected bumps along the road. Unfortunately a few months before the trip, Paul threw out his back and traveling anywhere was out of the question. By that time, we had everything planned and booked. We could have canceled the Austria portion of the trip but then my son Max would not have been able to go either as he was supposed to fly over with Paul and meet us in Munich. Thankfully my father was able to take his place and despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t come, there was a silver lining. My dad got to spend twelve unexpected yet priceless days with his daughter and his grandchildren in Germany and Austria.
We met in Munich and head off to our first destination, the town of Schwangau near the border of Austria, where we spent two nights. The main reason for visiting Schwangau was to show my children King Ludwig II’s magical castle, Neushwanstein, where Paul asked me to be his wife 19 years ago. It ended up being a rather emotional visit since Paul was not able to be there with us but we still enjoyed exploring the castle, visiting neighboring Füssen, and staying in the beautiful Bavarian countryside. My thirteen year old son Max, who is already a whooping 6’1″ tall and has a voracious appetite, also truly loved the food! Thankfully we would find just as hearty and delightful food in neighboring Austria where we would be spending the next eight days before heading back to Germany to fly home.
The heart of our Austrian adventure began two days later when we left Germany for our short hour and a half drive to Seefeld in Tirol, our first stop, where we would stay for the next three days. We left Schwangau after yet another hearty German breakfast in an assault of rain. Ironically, it reminded me of the day of my engagement roughly 19 years ago when my husband and I rode the horse and carriage up the hill to see Neuschwanstein in the rain. The thick gray clouds blanketed the surrounding Alps and I was dismayed that what was supposed to be a beautiful drive was shrouded in rain, clouds and fog. It didn’t take long until we reached the Austrian-German border and had to do a quick stop at the nearest petrol station to get a Vignitte (a motorway tax that is imposed on all cars who travel on Austria’s autobahns). I had no idea that this was necessary until my dad told me how he once got a ticket in Austria because he didn’t have a Vignitte. Thankfully this time we were prepared and were only set back about 9 euros.
As soon as we entered Austria, the terrain dramatically changed as we were in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Over two-thirds of Austria is covered in mountains so it is no surprise that the Alps and Austria go hand in hand. Visions of Julie Andrews joyfully twisting and turning down the mountain singing at the top of her lungs “The hills are alive with the sound of music” comes first to mind when one thinks of Austria and its magical landscape. Unfortunately not for us that first day as we drove in heavy rain through the winding alpine roads, twisting tunnels and high mountain passes leading us to our next destination, Seefeld in Tirol. We could not see a thing.
Seefeld in Tirol is an alpine town in the center of the Tyrol & Vorarlberg, one of seven regions in Austria. The region is known for its magnitude of breathtaking snow-capped peaks, numerous alpine ski resorts, hiking huts and its cultural center, Innsbruck, and borders Germany in the north and Switzerland and Italy in the west and south. It hosted two Winter Olympics (1964 and 1976) and also is a mecca for cross-country ski races and trails. After a glance of a few websites on the region, I knew it would be the perfect place to start our trip. We chose Seefeld in Tirol for its lovely compact size, its beauty and its proximity to tons of magnificent wandern (hiking). We were not the least bit disappointed. Seefeld in Tirol is a charming alpine Austrian town, basked in the divine glory of the Austrian Alps.
Thankfully during our drive, the clouds finally began to lift and we could see our incredible surroundings. We passed valley after valley and town after town until we arrived at our rented two-bedroom apartment at the Torri di Seefeld, literally two blocks away from the center of old town and at the foot of the Alps. I instantly began to smile. Der Berg Ruft (The Mountain Calls). I knew we’d be able to find plenty of wonderful kid-friendly hikes and plenty of mouth-watering, savory Austrian meals, all at half the price we paid in Paris and London just a week before.
After checking in to our room, it was time to explore the town and grab a bite to eat for lunch. Seefeld in Tirol is quite small and literally only has a few major streets that surround the main square but it has enough shops, restaurants and cafes to keep you busy for a few days. It also has two large supermarkets right in town (we had one right next to our apartment/hotel) so if you chose to stay in a night or two, you don’t have to go very far to get food. The main attraction in town is the large Gothic parish church, Pfarrkirche St. Oswald that is in the center of the main square. Other than that there is not much else noteworthy except the usual slew of beautiful Austrian buildings and shops.
After lunch, we hit the regional tourist office which is located right in town. The staff at the tourist office was amazing and gave us tons of excellent ideas for hikes. We left there with a stack of trail maps and booklets on all the fabulous hiking areas within the surrounding area. Deciding on what to do in only three short days was going to be a challenge. Thankfully our friends at the tourist office gave us a list of three great hikes, the first one a 2 1/2 hour loop that began just on the edge of town. With the sun out for another six to seven hours, we had no time to waste. We set off with full bellies, our backpacks and water for our first adventure into the trails of Austria. Little did I know, I’d fall in love soon with this spectacular place and Der Berg Ruft (The Mountain Calls) would be a continual pull inside my heart for months to come.
If you go:
There are several amazing websites that will help you plan your trip. I was extremely impressed by Austria’s Tourism Bureau and am grateful for all the help we received at the regional tourist office located right in Seefeld in Tirol who cover the areas of Seefled, Leutasch, Mösern-Buchen, Reith and Scharnitz. www.seefeld.com
Torri di Seefeld: We booked a two-bedroom apartment at this hotel/apartment building and it was perfect for the four of us. It has a full kitchen, nice living space and best of all, an enormous deck overlooking the Austrian Alps. It is right next to a giant grocery store and only two short blocks from the center of town. The price is very reasonable as well.
If you haven’t already, you must watch the 1965 hit movie “The Sound of Music”. While most of the movie was filmed near Salzburg you will get a feel for the gravitational pull of the beauty of the Austrian Alps.