At the start of June my wife and I decided to go on a little spontaneous road trip and visit the Schladming-Dachstein area of Styria, Austria. It's something we had been talking about for some time already. Since we've got the travel bug but lack the funds to really do some far off places and there's still so much of Austria neither of us has seen, our new goal is to travel the country whenever we have time. The weather hadn't been the best for a while but once we saw the forecast was going to be great we immediately booked a room at a B&B, filled up the tank and hit the road.
During the winter the region is a virtually never-ending stretch of ski slopes and ski lifts - the entire region depends on the winter season for the majority of their income. The region is no less beautiful in the summer, though, and has become more and more popular throughout the years thanks to a promotional offer called the Sommercard, which you receive automatically and for free whenever staying at a hotel or bed & breakfast in the region. The card lets you use one lift per day to get up to a mountain. Sometimes you often need to reserve in advance (like for Dachstein), otherwise you risk waiting for hours. The card also allows you to use the public buses that run through the area, so you don't necessarily need a car to get around although it doesn't hurt since the buses only stop between 15-20 minutes (or longer).
We left early in the morning since we wanted to pack a lot into the first day and had to check in at our B&B to get the Sommercard before getting started. We stayed at Gästehaus Almvater, which is a 10 minute walk from the center of Schladming and Planet Planai, the main shopping area of town where you can also take the lift up to Planai. Almvater is a quaint little B&B with a lovely owner named Brigitte, who also speaks English. Breakfast is served whenever you want and each room has a balcony that it shares with another room.
After checking in we hopped in a bus to go up to the Dachstein lift. I'd honestly never been in a gondola quite like this one. There was a small area on top of the gondola where a few people could stand during the ascent/descent, which we immediately opted to do. Talk about windy! And you could feel the change in elevation so quickly in your ears the entire way up or down! The best part was that I could snap a photo without any pesky glass in the way. I had to be fast, though, since the ascent was very fast!
At the top you're greeted with an absolutely spectacular view of the glacier, the valley below and the Austrian Alps in the distance. There's also a suspension bridge that stretches across a section of the glacier that you can walk across - not for anyone with a fear of heights.
Then there're the "stairs to no where" - just a set of stairs that you can walk down that hang off the mountainside with a very thick glass floor and thick glass walls.
We spent a couple of hours up at Dachstein before we had to head down and back to our B&B to get to the next stop for the day: Zipline Stoderzinken! This place was a bit farther away, so we had to use the car to get there in time for the last "flight" of the day. You get to the company's office at the bottom of the valley where you sign in and grab a backpack that contains all your gear (and doubles as a harness) before jumping in a bus to take you to the top of the zipline. You don't "launch" from the peak of the mountain but farther down - although you're still quite high up!
After a safety check of your harness, you hook onto the cable and are dropped down for the first, more panoramic stage. It's pretty quick and you're gliding right over the treetops down to the middle station to hook into the next set of cables for the second stage. The second stage feels like almost a free-fall. It's fast, you go blasting down the mountain above the trees and then hit the final station where you unhook, repack your harness bag and walk a few minutes back to where the bus picked everyone up. The whole thing is an absolute blast - check out the videos on their YouTube channel for a taste.
Once we got back to the valley and drove back to Schladming, we ventured into the city for some food. Unfortunately prices for food in Schladming, at least in the center, are still quite high even in the off-season. We grabbed some dinner at the local pub, the Kirchenwirt, which turned out to be a rather poor decision, and then turned in for the night.
The next day we had a nice filling breakfast and made our way to Planet Planai to take one of the gondolas up to the top to start a longer trek to the peak of Krahbergzinken (about 1.5 hours from the gondola station to the peak). The trail itself wasn't too strenuous and the ascent to the peak was pretty easy, too, although you definitely want to make sure you exercise some caution because you can easily slide off and go tumbling down the mountain. At the peak there's the usual cross and a book tucked in a metal box where you can leave your mark.
As you can see in the images the views from the trail and the peak are simply breathtaking. I think we spent a solid half hour at the top just taking it all in and that was before I even unpacked my camera and lenses.
Once we finished we made our way back down and stopped at a natural spring near the gondola station to fill up our water bottles before grabbing lunch near the station and lying in the sun for a few hours. At the station you can watch the paragliders take off in case you need some live entertainment while relaxing after the trek.
After getting back to the B&B we cleaned up and went back to the center of the city, this time stopping at a small pizzeria that's also run by Italians. There were only a couple of seats outside but the stream people coming in to pick up pizzas to-go was virtually never-ending. The food was also delicious and the staff very friendly. Next time we do a trip like this, though, I think we'll buy food and just eat little picnics each evening to save some money whenever the area is more expensive.
Our final day of the trip was to Hallstatt and the salt mine above the village. I'm not sure I would recommend going to the salt mine or Hallstatt, though. Hallstatt itself is extremely pretty but because there are so many tourists here the prices are so high. The salt mine itself is interesting in its own way and a welcome respite from the heat on a hot day but it's definitely more for kids - the tour wasn't very informative and was rather cheesy. If you can get lucky and find a place with open tables, though, be sure to have at least one drink at the water - it's worth it. Since we had a long trip home and had a hankering for an Austrian Heuriger, we decided to already hit the road after walking around Hallstatt for a couple of hours.
We jumped in the car and saw that our GPS was going to take us through the Wachau region, which is home to some beautiful wine country and great food, so we obviously had to make a detour. Since we weren't familiar with the area I exercised my Google-fu and found what proved to be a great and affordable place called Graf in Unterloiben - yay for the Internet!
After filling our bellies with some sumptuous meats and cheeses from the area and wine (just for one of us, though) from our hosts, we hit the road back to Vienna and got in later in the night. Our little two-night, spur of the moment road trip turned out to be an excellent long weekend that we will definitely not be forgetting anytime soon!