Richard Jones takes in the wonderful Austrian scenery on an alpine walking holiday
MANY British hikers take the easy option and stay near home for walking holidays, with the Lakes, Peaks, Highlands or Moors the first ports of call.
But the Alpine landscape of Austria, only a two-hour flight from many UK airports, is a great alternative – and a welcome escape from British traffic jams and windswept beaches.
There's much more to Austria than “The Sound of Music” and Mozart – and perhaps you can discover more of it in summer than as a skier in winter.
The standard holiday formula has probably changed little since the 1930s: you walk, relish the fresh air and discover the charms of small family-run hotels, with none of the crowds which cram Europe's cities and coastlines.
We started in the small, picturesque village of Maria Alm one Saturday evening, where the Hotel Niederreiter was hosting polka band Niki and the Oberkrainer on-stage, along with Tyrol's answer to Frank Carson – who told family anecdotes and mother-in-law jokes.
As I tucked into my Weiner Schnitzel and a few local Stiegl beers, I was taken aback by the warmth of the atmosphere inside the concert-room-come-restaurant, in which women wore traditional dresses and corsets.
I also downed what would be the first of many shots of apricot schnapps on the trip, a tipple that I was told "helped the digestive process after a meal" – not to mention send you to sleep.
Next morning, our group met Barbara, our local walking guide for the day, before strapping on brand-new day packs.
Like most Brits, we feared bad weather – Austria is two-thirds mountains, and its weather changes in an instant.
Nevertheless, rain stayed away as we took the Dorf Jet gondola, which carries skiers up the slopes in winter.
From the peak we had a spectacular view of the valley and Maria Alm, and then we hiked steadily through forests and down to the meadows.
There was so much to see in the woods, with activity boards every 100 metres or so detailing vegetation and wildlife.
Barbara explained the summer programme in the region, when children dress as pirates or Native Americans and tackle go-kart racing, pony trekking, clay modelling or mini-golf.
Lunch in the Gasthof Jufen farmhouse hut went down a treat – a succulent rump steak followed by a few schnapps tasters from the local distillery, which was basically a garage filled with dozens of varieties of the liqueur available to buy, along with jams, honeys and skin creams.
Five hours after setting off from Maria Alm we reached our destination, the village of Hinterthal.
The annual Bauernherbstfest (farmers' autumn festival) was cancelled due to the bad weather, giving us more time to enjoy the spa at the Family and Sporthotel Marco Polo.
For dinner in the Marco Polo's Wintergarten, the chef rustled up local delicacy Salzburgernockerl – a sort of pancake and strawberry-based dessert.
We had to keep walking to work the calories off. By day three, rain began to fall as sleet in the valley and snow on the peaks.
Our group agreed there was no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. We threw on waterproofs for another day's hiking.