Ebensee, Austria

A Hike on the Feuerkogel in Ebensee Austria

Located a short distance off the shores of Lake Traunsee in the lovely Austrian town of Ebensee is the hiking region of the Feuerkogel. Accessed either on foot or via cable car, the Feurerkogel is one of Austria’s sunniest high altitude plateaus with astounding panoramic views of the Salzkammergut lake region and the Austrian Alps. For those hiking enthusiasts, the Feurerkogel has a variety of traditional Austrian lodges where you can grab a delightful bit to eat or spend the night hiking hut to hut along the many high alpine trails. For us, it was yet another fabulous area for us to hike that was not far from our farm stay at the Landgut Wagnerfeld in Altmünster.

We left for Ebensee shortly after breakfast, following Hauptstraße/B145 south for about thirteen kilometers as it swerved around the edge of Lake Traunsee and finally turned inland towards the mountains. We passed through a lovely residential area that was built around the Traun river as we headed towards the cable car station. As I looked around at our surroundings, it was hard to fathom that such a beautiful town was once home to one of the most horrific Nazi concentration camps of all time. Today a memorial is all that remains of the Ebensee Concentration Camp. The barracks and camp were destroyed after the Liberation in 1945.

Ebensee, Austria

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Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

A Hike On Top of the World on Heilbronner Circular Trail in Dachstein Austria

After days of late June rain, we finally rose to a glorious robin egg blue sky at our farm stay in the lakes district town of Altmünster in Austria. We could not have been more thrilled! Finally the sun had arrived and we could see The Salzkammergut region of Austria in all her glory. The view of Lake Traunsee juxtaposed against the incline of the Austrian Alps was even more spectacular than I had pictured in my dreams.  It was going to be a perfect day for a hike and we knew exactly where we intended to go: Back to The Dachstein Krippenstein in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hallstatt and Daschstein where we would complete the Heilbronner Circular Trail on top of the Alps. We had been to the Dachstein Ice Cave a few days ago in the rain and knew that once the clouds lifted it was going to be a magical place to see.

We left Altmünster around nine o’clock and arrived in Obertraun an hour later to find a full parking lot, a far cry from what we had the rainy day before when we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave. To our dismay, the queue for the cable car was very long, filled with families, hikers and tourists who were waiting just like us to be carried up to the top. Normally I would have been perfectly patient but I had waited so long to see the sun and get out on a hike that I was getting a bit restless. Unfortunately we waited over an hour until it was our turn to continue on up however once we arrived, it was so breathtaking that I soon forgot the long wait to get there.

Austria is a country filled with mountains. Did you know that the Alps take up almost two-thirds of Austria? It is a hiker lover’s dream!

We walked off the platform of the Dachstein Krippenstein Mountain station to the surreal beauty of the Austrian Alps. At roughly 6,886 feet (2100 meters), we felt like we were on top of the world. While the majority of the visitors veered to the right towards the 5fingers viewing platform, we choose to go to the left and take a hike on the Heilbronner Circular Trail, a two-hour roundtrip hike with dazzling, jaw-dropping views of the snow-covered peaks of the Alps, the Hallstätter Glacier, and the lovely town of Hallstatt and the brilliant blue lake Hallstätter See, in the green valley far below. We would head over to 5fingers after our hike.

Dachstein Krippenstein , Austria

Getting off at the mountain station into a breathtaking world.

Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

Max and Sophia smiled for the camera.

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A Visit to the Technicolor World of the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave

Located high above the deep blue waters of Hallstätter See in the Salzkammergut region of Austria lies the Dachstein Krippenstein, home to amazing hikes, spectacular alpine views and mysterious caves. This stunning area includes the fairytale world of the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave, the Mammut and Koppenbrüller caves, the spellbinding viewing platform at 5fingers and the extraordinary hike to the Heilbronner Cross where you can see panoramic views of the Austrian Alps, the historic town of Hallstatt and the Dachstein Glacier. There is also a nature park for children, a cave museum and many educational exhibits to keep young ones and old alike entertained.

You can spend an entire day or two exploring the Dachstein Krippenstein which is located not far from the charming town of Hallstatt, another must-see destination in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. For those adventure junkies, you could probably spend even more time by taking a whirl at paragliding, rock climbing or doing long distance hiking way up high atop the Alps. Whatever you desire to see or do, you will certainly find it at the Dachstein Krippenstein.

For us, since it was a rainy day and I have never been in an ice cave before, we opted to explore the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave and save the hiking for a nicer day. The only downfall is that we had to pay the rather pricey cable car fees twice since we couldn’t do it all in one day. But it would have been a tragedy to not come back on a nicer day and see the extraordinary views from high above. The benefit of having poor weather is that it kept the crowds away and it also meant beautiful views like this one below along the way to Obertraun.

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

We arrived at the Dachstein Krippenstein Cable Car station to find the parking lot empty. The rain had kept people away and we had a relatively short wait to catch the cable car up to the middle station Schönbergalm (section I). There are three different cable stations that bring you up the mountain and for the cave visit, we only visited the first. As we moved up the mountain, we suddenly busted through fog and clouds to reach the first stop at the mountain restaurant where we purchased our tickets for the Ice Cave tour and ate lunch. Unfortunately we didn’t have the incredible, panoramic views that day that really sells this eating venue and our meal was a little disappointing after all of the delightful dishes we have eaten so far on our trip. But on a gorgeous day, I bet it is a fantastic to sit and eat out on the terrace even if the food is not the best.

Dachstein Krippenstein Cable Car

Riding up through the clouds on the Dachstein Krippenstein Cable Car

Dachstein Krippenstein

I can only imagine how gorgeous this view of Hallstatt would be on a sunny day!

Dachstein Krippenstein

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Hallstatt, Austria

Why Hallstatt is Austria’s Most Postcard Perfect Town

Nestled between the edge of the mystical shores of Hallstätter See and the dramatic Dachstein mountains lies the small village of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage site and perhaps the most postcard picture perfect village in all of Austria. Hallstatt deserves its place among the covers of travel guides and as one of the most photographed villages in all of Austria. It is one of the most stunning villages I have ever seen.

Located in the district of Gmunden in Austria’s Salzkammergut region, Hallstatt and the rugged Dachstein mountains and caves are a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers alike. You can easily spend a couple of days here exploring the beauty and culture of Hallstatt, hiking high above in the Dachstein mountains and visiting the Dachstein caves.  The only downside is that Hallstatt can be crowded and touristy so you have to plan your timing right. Summer is obviously high season yet sometimes the weather can keep the crowds away.

On our first morning in The Salzkammergut, we rose to yet another unfortunate day of rain. Disappointed that we still had not fully seen our supposedly beautiful surroundings at our farmstay near Lake Traunsee, we decided to make the best of the day and plan something indoors. We had wanted to go hiking but not in the rain as we would not have any views. So instead, we decided to drive to Hallstatt and visit the nearby Dachstein Ice Caves later in the afternoon. What we didn’t realize is the it ended up being a blessing in disguise that it was raining because it kept the tourists away and afforded rather magical views of Hallstatt and Hallstätter See.

We set off after breakfast, heading south on B145 for the hour drive from Altmünster to Hallstatt. Cold rain fell against the windshield and heavy clouds blanketed the sky. We hoped that this would be the last of the rain for a while as we were desperately wanting to get up in the mountains and hike. We didn’t come all the way to Austria to be stuck inside!

As we neared Hallstätter Seewe were spellbound by the extraordinary view of the clouds hovering over the lake. We pulled over in the tiny town of Steeg where I captured my first few shots of the lake and surrounding area. I was in awe of its beauty.

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The scenery was so surreal. I felt like we were in Ireland, not Austria. Without the rainy day which was unusual for early July, the view would have been completely different. I realized how grateful I was for the poor weather as it provided some lovely reflections and mystery in the setting. Obviously if it was rainy every day we were in The Salzkammergut I would have been very disappointed because we never would have seen the snow-capped mountains juxtaposed against the aquamarine lakes and sky.

Steeg, Hallstätter See, Austria

Hallstatt’s history dates back thousands of years to the days of the Early Iron Age civilization and the Celtics from 800-450 BC and derives its prosperity and name (“place of salt”) due to its production and wealth of salt. Settlers to Hallstatt mined salt for centuries, and visitors today can explore some of Hallstatt’s oldest mines such as the Salzwelten located high above Hallstatt on Salzberg (Salt Mountain) and visit a nearby Iron Age burial ground.

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Landgut Wagnerfeld, Lake Traunsee, Austria

A Stay at the Landgut Wagnerfeld Farm in Traunsee, Austria

Months before we began planning our trip to Austria, we were visiting my family in Arizona for Christmas and my dad showed me a beautiful screensaver he found online that featured gorgeous snow-capped mountains surrounded by a cobalt blue high alpine lake. The scenery was so incredibly stunning that together we searched the web to find the location of this epic shot and discovered a new destination we had never heard of before: The Salzkammergut.

The Salzkammergut is one of seven regions in Austria most known for its breathtaking scenery of high alpine lakes (there are 76 lakes in the region), rugged remote wilderness peppered with lovely scenic villages and towns like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hallstatt and Daschstein. If you are one who loves mountains and lakes, then this is the region for you. Besides its aching beauty and endless opportunities to connect with nature whether it be by hiking, biking, boating, swimming or sailing, The Salzkammergut is also home to the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave featuring magical towers of ice that make you feel like you are in the fantasy world of Narnia.  As soon as I laid eyes on the photos and images from The Salzkammergut, I knew we had to go there. Thankfully, we planned four nights and five full days in the region before heading back to Munich for our flight home. Finding enough time to fit in all we wanted to see and do over the next five days was going to be a challenge yet I could hardly wait to see the Lakes region of Austria.

8 Days in Austria driving route

Google Map of our driving route in Austria. We began our trip in Munich and then headed to first Schwangau in Germany and then Seefeld in Tirol where we spent three days before driving east to The Salzkammergut (Lakes Region) of Austria and then back to Munich for our departure.

Choosing where to stay in The Salzkammergut proved tricky as the postcard picture perfect town of Hallstatt where all the tourists flock to see, is outrageously expensive. The region is fairly spread out with many towns and villages surrounding mountains and lakes, and many long and winding roads to reach them. We chose the popular Lake Traunsee about an hour’s drive north of Hallstatt for our base, and I quite frankly booked our accommodations on Expedia based on size and price. I knew we wanted a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and space for the four of us that was somewhat near one of the lakes. The Landgut Wagnerfeld, a family run property near Lake Traunsee in Altmünster, proved to be the perfect fit for our needs.

We left Seefeld in Tirol in the pouring rain that unfortunately clouded our view of the spectacular scenery. The rain came down like mad and wouldn’t leave us for at least another day. I was really disappointed but of course there is not a thing you can do about the weather. Instead of agonizing over it, I began to plot out our plans for the next few days. About three hours later we arrived at the town of Gmunden at the northern edge of Lake Traunsee. Our accommodations were located in Altmünster, the next town over.

Thankfully we had the address plugged into our car navigational system or else I’m not sure how we would have found it. The Landgut Wagnerfeld is perched high above Lake Traunsee on an immense pasture of farmland. As we pulled up into the estate, I couldn’t believe my foolishness as I had absolutely no idea that we were staying on a farm. Yet I was absolutely thrilled by this unexpected surprise. We had spent two nights at a farm in rural Costa Rica and our farmstay ended up being one of the highlights of our entire trip. It was wonderful.

Landgut Wagnerfeld, Lake Traunsee, Austria

Driving up from Lake Traunsee to the farm

Landgut Wagnerfeld

 Landgut Wagnerfeld

Arriving in the rain at Landgut Wagnerfeld

 Landgut Wagnerfeld

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Notre Dame Cathedral Paris

Looking Up at Paris from a Boat Cruise Along the Seine

I will always love Paris and the City of Light (as she is lovingly called) will never cease to amaze and surprise me. What I love the most about Paris is that no matter how many times I visit, I always see something new. I had the luxury of living in Paris years ago in my early twenties as an exchange student at the University of Paris -Sorbonne, and ever since it has been my dream to bring my own daughter Sophia to Paris and show her my most favorite city on earth. Thankfully, I was able to bring her to Paris this past summer on a mother-daughter trip along with my own mother, sister and niece. It was a whirlwind trip exploring London, Lille and Paris all within a little over a week but I accomplished my goal. Sophia fell in love with Paris just like I did the moment I laid eyes on its beauty.

Sophia on top of the Eiffel Tower

Priceless. Sophia on top of the Eiffel Tower daydreaming about Paris below.

We only had three full days in Paris and given the large amount of amazing things to do and see, I had to carefully craft a plan of action of what I felt should be the highlights for Sophia and my niece Hanna. Since all of us grownups have been to Paris many times, we wanted to ensure that the trip was focused exclusively on the girls meaning it was important to not spend too much time walking around museums or at fancy places to eat. I wanted to give the girls an overview of the best of Paris, all that we could squeeze into three very long, full days.

The list was long and I had to cut it down based on how large and how spread out everything is in Paris. I needed to also ensure that we had enough time to get to each destination without killing our legs from all the walking. The metro helped us get around, yet I soon remembered how much walking there is even inside the metro and how many stairs! Our legs ached and throbbed by the end of our three days but we sure gave the girls a taste of Paris, hitting these must-see destinations along the way:

  • The Louvre
  • The Notre Dame Cathedral
  • The Eiffel Tower
  • Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur
  • Champs-Élysées
  • The Arc de Triomphe
  • Jardin du Luxembourg and the Latin Quarter
  • As many outdoor cafes as we could possibly find for a coffee or a glass of wine for the adults and a kiddie cocktail for the girls.

I would have loved to show Sophia where I lived at the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris way out in the 14th arrondissement but alas we ran out of time. I also would have loved to go to more museums but even the Louvre didn’t last long with two tween girls. I decided to save the rest for the next time.

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Hiking Hut to Hut in the Gaistal Valley

Nestled within the Mieminger mountains to the south and Wetterstein mountains to the north, lies the stunning, idyllic Gaistal Valley. Stretching west from the tiny hamlet of Klamm in the region of Leutasch, Austria, this achingly beautiful landscape is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, farms, alpine refuges and mountain “huttes” (huts) where you can explore some of the most nostalgic, untouched nature in Austria. It is here we chose for our third and final day of hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, perhaps saving the absolute best for last.

We headed out after breakfast, excited about the day ahead. We had heard about Leutasch from the Seefeld tourist office as it is one of five municipalities in the Olympiaregion Seefeld and is particularly known for its awe-inspiring beauty. You could easily hike for days going hut to hut, dining on delightful regional cuisine and finding refuge in the traditional alpine huts. There are plenty of amazing long-distance hikes (enough to make me drool and want to come back).  For us, we only had the day so we decided to make the best of it.

We left shortly after breakfast, heading north on L14 for roughly 10 kilometers to the small town of Föhrenwald in Leutasch where we somehow got lost. Thankfully there was a hiking store in town that provided us with much needed directions and an excellent map of Leutasch and the Gaistal Valley. Otherwise we for sure would have been driving in circles through all the different tiny Austrian hamlets that make up Leutasch. We took a left on Leutascher Ache following the windy road passing through villages and farms until we reached the start of the parking area a little bit past the village of Klamm. Thanks to our stop at the hiking store, we knew to proceed all the way to the P5/Salzbach, the last of five parking lots, where we would begin our hike. There are 12 huts interspersed along the hiking trails through the Gaistal Valley, and we decided to visit two of them, the Gaistalalm and Tillfussalm.

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Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

A Panoramic Alpine Hike: Hiking the High Trail to Seefelder Spitze

I slept like a baby my first night in Seefeld. Perhaps it was the freshness of the Austrian mountain air combined with the blissful feeling of being at peace in the mountains. Or maybe it was the anticipation for the day ahead knowing that I’d finally be in the place I’d been longing to be for so many months: Way up high at the top of the world in the heart of the Austrian Alps.

The kids rose to the smell of scrambled eggs, freshly baked bread and strawberry jam. It was the first time we had a homemade breakfast in two weeks and I was enjoying the normalcy of cooking and having a kitchen again. I stepped out on our apartment’s spacious wood deck, rose my head up to the sky and smiled, letting the morning sun gently warm my face. We were going to have a wonderful day of hiking ahead. I was looking forward to checking out the Rosshütte Ski Area – one of two main Alpine ski resorts in Seefeld- which has a couple of fantastic panoramic hikes at the top of the Alps overlooking the Olympiaregion. After yesterday’s hike along the lower-laying plateau, I desperately craved to get up high knowing very well that the views would be breathtaking. Thanks to the Seefeld Tourist Office, we had a route in mind. It would be my children’s very first high alpine hike and I wanted it to wow them.

After breakfast, we set off on foot, heading to the base of the ski resort located about a 15 minute walk from town. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, we purchased a ticket to ride the funicular up to the Rosshütte mid-station located at 1760 m saving us a long, long hike up. We saw people hiking along the way but in my opinion, I preferred to save my energy (and especially the kids’ energy) for the top where the views would be astounding.

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

Setting off on foot to the Rosshütte ski area (my daughter Sophia, son Max and father).

Rosshütte, Seefeld, Austria

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Lake Möserer See, Seefeld Austria

Our First Family Hike in Austria: The Circular Walk from Seefeld to Lake Möserer See

One of the most important reasons why we chose to visit Austria over all the other amazing European countries was for the Alps. I am absolutely obsessed with mountains and I believe that Scottish-American environmental philosopher and advocate John Muir’s famous saying “The mountains are calling and I must go” is one of my life’s mantras. Hiking is one of my most beloved activities and any opportunity I get to be in the mountains, I will wholeheartedly take.

My last real hike in the Alps was back in the summer of 2012, when my dad and I spent six days trekking in Vanoise National Park in the heart of the French Alps of Savoie. During that hike, we left town and spent the next week hiking hut to hut in the Alps and by the end of the week I felt incredibly refreshed and rejuvenated. It was so amazing to escape modern day life for awhile and spend every minute of the day outside in nature. There were no phones, no internet and nothing to do at the end of a day’s hike but take off your boots and relax with a glass of local wine in hand.  I don’t think I ever feel so alive and at peace as I do after a week in the mountains.

For our trip to Austria, we couldn’t escape the entire time to the mountains since we had my two children along, but we could spend as much time as possible doing day hikes. My son could have handled some longer overnight hut to hut hikes but my eleven year old daughter was new to the experience and the last thing I wanted to do was scare her away from my passion. Instead, I had to make sure to select the right amount of hiking to do and be mindful of the distance and difficulty. I would learn that there are three different levels of hiking in Austria: Beginner (mostly flat, wide open paths for all ages and abilities), Intermediate (uphill, high altitude paths that have some steep ascents and decents and narrow paths at points) and Advanced (no way would I bring my daughter on these ones as there are points where you need to grab on to a railing and one slip and you could stumble down very very far). Obviously we stuck to the beginning and intermediate trails but learned on our second hike that proper footwear and hiking poles are an absolute must for intermediate trails and these trails can be a bit scary for a kid who has never hiked way up high).

After a hearty lunch in town at a local Austrian restaurant, it was time for us to get out and do our very first hike in Austria. The sun had finally come out from underneath its hiding place in the clouds and we could finally see the mountains. At first glance of the breathtaking snow-capped peaks of the Austrian Alps, I smiled. I was going to love this place, I could feel it in my bones.

Seefeld, Austria

The Olympiaregion Seefeld is surrounded by the Kerwendel National Park, the Wildmoos Nature Proetcion Area, the stunning Wetterstein Massif and the Hohe Munde mountain. It is a stunning area for skiing, hiking and enjoying the glory of the Austrian Alps.

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Hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, Austria

Our First Family Trip to Europe: Eight Days in Austria

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.

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Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian (The Parish Church of St. Maria & Florian) Schwangau Germany

Uncovering the Spectacular Beauty of the Parish Church of St. Maria and Florian

Has there ever been one of those magical travel moments when you decide on a whim to explore the area around you and uncover a hidden treasure? That is how I felt late one afternoon when I decided to take an evening walk to the neighboring village of Waltenhofen near where we were staying in the outskirts of Schwangau, Germany. I had just returned from an emotional afternoon revisiting the fairytale castle of Neuschwanstein, the very place my husband proposed to me 19 years ago, and needed some alone time to reflect on the experience. My husband had unfortunately not been able to come along on the trip as planned due to an injury and I ended up bringing our two children and my father to this special place despite it all. It had been a difficult few months since my husband’s back injury and this trip was in a sense a sort of revival of my broken spirit.

I left my daughter Sophia back at the hotel for some downtime while I set off into the Bavarian countryside with my mind full of thought. I wondered what the summer would hold for us as a family once we returned from our three-week trip in Europe. Would my husband’s back injury be resolved or would we continue to live in a gray cloud of uncertainty.

I walked slowly along the beautiful country path looking out at the pastures of horses and cows and taking in the nostalgic beauty of such a place. It felt like this area hadn’t changed much at all since the day King Ludwig II built his sensational castle Neuschwanstein as a testament to his love of the middle ages. Farmers rode by on their tractors. Cows grazed. Horses neighed and galloped gently across the unfettered fields of joy. Bees buzzed and drank the rich nectar from the flowers. It was lovely.

The dark sky had slightly lifted and let in a few rays of light, bathing the dark green fields with warmth. Unintentionally I knew where I was headed. To the place I saw the day before during lunch. The mysterious church standing proudly at the foot of the village of Walfenhofen. It beckoned my curiosity as I always am fascinated by the interior of a good European church. I normally find that once I open the large wooden doors, that what is hidden inside is incredible. Ironically enough, this visit I would never step foot within the church doors and I’d find myself instead mesmerized by what laid in its exterior.

Schwangau, Germany

Pfarrkiroche St. Maria und St. Florian (The Parish Church of St. Maria & Florian) off in the distance in the village of Waltenhofen.

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Superior Hiking Trail: Hike to Leveaux Mountain

After decades of visiting and hiking in the North Shore, it is hard to believe that I had never done the classic 3.2 mile roundtrip hike to the top of Leveaux Mountain. Located adjacent to the more popular trail up Oberg Mountain in Tofte, Minnesota, the Leveaux hike affords a more challenging jaunt up one of Minnesota’s sawtooth mountains, a small range of low mountains that extend 30 miles from Carlton Peak in Tofte, Minnesota, just short of the Canadian border, to Grand Marais.

The Sawtooth Mountains rise gradually from Lake Superior and have a steep, sharp drop-off on the north face giving their profile the look of a saw hence their name. They are part of the Superior National Forest and Superior Hiking Trail and are home to many gorgeous hikes with incredible views of Lake Superior and the surrounding boreal forest of spruce, birth and fir. For those unfamiliar with Minnesota, the Superior Hiking Trail has been rated among one of the best long distance hiking trails in the country by Outside Magazine. Thankfully there are plenty of day hikes and spur hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail affording a multitude of options for day hikers and those with young kids.

The Leveaux trailhead starts at the end of the parking lot about 2 miles off of Highway 61 (mile marker 87.4) on Onion River Road near Tofte, Minnesota. The parking lot is used for both the Oberg and Leveaux Mountain trails. I had been to this parking lot many times as the Oberg Mountain hike is one of our all time family favorites but surprisingly had never bothered to check out the Leveaux trail. Shorter than the hike up Leveaux at roughly 2.6 miles, the Oberg trail is an awesome hike for all ages and abilities. In less than an hour roundtrip, you can get up on top of Oberg and see a technicolor of fall colors if you time it right. I have probably done the Oberg hike at least a half a dozen times. This time my dad and I wanted something different so we chose the less popular Leveaux.

As we set off through the thick forest, we did not see a soul and had the entire hike to ourselves except for one lonely hiker. It was a far cry from the crowds of hikers we saw just the day before at the Temperance River Park and judging by the parking lot at the trailhead, over 90% of the hikers in the other cars were doing the Oberg trail. The first mile of the trail is through thick boreal forest of spruce, pine and fir trees and then you start the climb up to the first and second scenic loops into the maple trees. The first loop is a little longer and then you reach the shorter second loop, where you are rewarded with stunning views of Lake Superior as well as the forest below.

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