If you love the Alps and wildlife then you probably love marmots. A trip to the Sommerberg station with it's walking opportunities will give you a chance to spot some of these lovely little beasties but it's also fun to try to spot them from the cable cars as you go up or down.
At Hintertux you will find the Hintertuxer Gletscher (Glacier) or at least the access to it via 3 cable car journeys. This is a place where people come to ski 365 days a year, but also where non skiers can come to experience the glacier. The cable car (or Gletscher Bus) advertises that they provide disabled access to a panorama terrace on the glacier at 3250 metres above sea level.
The journey up is beautiful but not for those who have even the slightest inkling of vertigo or are of a particularly nervous disposition! A sudden gust of wind as you head up towards the top level will make even the boldest take a deep breath despite logic telling you that this is completely safe.
The journey is in 3 parts. The first leg of the journey takes you up to the Sommerburg area where there are shops and a restaurant as well as numerous hiking and walking opportunities. The next stage takes you to Tuxer Fernerhaus. Here you will be amongst the snow and skiing replaces hiking as the main activity. The final, hair raising ascent takes you to the panorama terrace at Gefrorene Wand (3250m).
A return ticket to the top costs €30.50 (as at June 2013), so it's not cheap. But this is a remarkable experience.
Not everyone can say they have stood on a glacier. If you make the trip to Hintertux and then go up all three stages of the cable car then you can make this claim. The views should be superb from the top (about 3250m) and it is in theory accessible to all, even those with disabilities.
However, the weather plays an important part in the view you get at this altitude and unfortunately as we got to the top a large, thick cloud decided to pay a visit and so we had no view beyond about 5 metres at all! Still, it means I can say I stood inside a cloud whilst on top of a glacier, and even fewer people can make that claim!
On my way back down the cable car from the glacier I saw this amazing waterfall just behind the bottom station. It is a very special place and I loved just sitting next to it (on a well positioned bench) although I did get a little bit of the spray from the waterfall.
Also see my video of the waterfalls on virtual tourist.
In terms of family experiences, the 'hands down' highlight of our Austrian sojourn was tobogganing – particularly by moonlight!
There are three toboggan runs in the Hintertux area - we did the longest of the three, which starts at Grieralm. The run is a section of road that cut through snowy forests on the steep mountainside which is closed to traffic for certain periods of the day. The route is lit with old-fashioned lamps that cast an orange glow over the silent, snowclad woods and the experience is one of stepping into Narnia (except that there is no wardrobe required!). In fact it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to stumble across the White Witch in her sleigh (given the chance, I would have happily have hopped on board if it meant being wrapped in furs and fed Turkish Delight, and hang the consequences!)
In terms of practicality, it is necessary to catch a taxi up to the starting point at Grieralm (we paid €20 for the entire family). The Grieralm tavern is a lovely spot to bolster your strength and courage with some kafe und kuchen, lunch or supper accompanied by a restorative beverage of your choice.
The toboggans are traditional wooden sleighs (no hi-tech fibreglass technology here!) that will accommodate an adult and child. 'Driving' the toboggan is a bit of a haphazard experience: the only 'engineering control' is a rope with which you supposedly use to steer, and then obviously adjustment of your weight on the seat. I confess that wasn't very competent at this, and found that the most practical thing to do was to steer using my heels (and with resultant impact on middleaged knees), and my son and I explored a fair few snowdrifts on the way down, which only added to the fun!
There are two options in terms of stopping: digging in your heels or steering into a snowdrift (my preferred option). At the end of the final run of the second section, there is a very long, steep, straight run where you build up a fair head of speed, and end up ploughing into an ergonomically positioned heap of snow to break: as my husband commented, a split second before he hit it, he said a quick prayer that it didn't conceal a boulder!
The toboggan run is in two sections, with a short walk in between. The total length is 5km, and takes about a hour. Once you've finished, you simply leave your toboggan at the end of the run, and they are collected later - the sort of 'honesty system' that makes holidaying in Austria such a pleasure. The cost of renting a toboggan was €5 in December 2010 - an absolute steal for the amount of fun they generate!
It is only possible to toboggan at certain times of the day (when the roads are closed to traffic) so check on the website below to confirm the times. At the time of our visit, taxis were allowed to travel to and from Grieralm from 10.00 - 13.00, 15.30 - 17.00 and 19.00 - 22.00.
If you're doing this for the first time, I'd suggest that you try it for the first time in daylight, as some sections are pretty fast, and might be a little daunting to experience for the first time at night. Similarly, I would suggest that younger children (especially those unused to toboganning) should be accompanied by adults: our fairly adventurous 7 year old certainly felt that she wasn't up to doing it by herself.
Quite frankly this is the best value for money you're likely to find in Hintertux, and probably the most enjoyable!
Our most breathtaking experience in Austria was our visit the ‘Ice Palace’ at the top of the Hintertux glacier. This complex of ice caves - technically a crevasse at the head of the glacier - is located at an elevation of 3,250m and was only discovered in 2007. It is an incredibly atmospheric place which offers a rare and an awe inspiring opportunity to appreciate the interior world and workings of a glacier.
We were lucky enough to be the only people on the last tour of the day, and because we were so enthusiastic, the project leader allowed us to enter a section of the cave not usually accessible to the public. The visible layering of the ice (the unusually warm summer of 2003 shows up as a distinct dark band) and the parallel between the development of icicles in the cave and stalagtites/mites in conventional limestone caves is uncanny, whilst the warping of icicles into twisted forms like frozen tree roots serves to emphasise the fluid nature of glacier flow. (Excuse me reverting to my geologist roots!).
Sections of the cave have been illuminated with coloured lights which add a different dimension to the experience, and the guide is well experienced at pointing out the locations which offer the best photo opportunities. The tour takes about an hour, but it won't seem anywhere near that long.
On a practical note, the cave is accessed from the top ski lift at Hintertux and is a 200m walk (under supervision) from the stunning Gefrorene-Wand viewpoint. Probably the most cost effective way to visit the Ice Palace would be to combine it with your skiing (as you'll have already paid for your lift pass) and leave your equipment in the office when you do the guided tour. Ski boots are suitable for visiting the caves.
Entrance to the Ice Palace is reasonable (€8 for adults and €4 for children in December 2010), but note that no children under 8 are allowed. There are several short, steep ladders between the different levels, which would be a challenge if you have mobility problems.
It is relatively warm inside the Palace - the temperature hovers around 0˚C, which makes a pleasant contrast to the subzero temperatures and wind chill outside (it was -18˚C when we visited).
The sense of being inside a glacier is quite indescribable: a heady combination of dynamism and serenity. Quite simply one of the most beautiful places that we have ever had the privilege of visiting.
(work in progress)
At 3,250m, the Gefrorene-Wand viewpoint is the highest publically accessible point in the Hintertux region and provides stunning vistas over the Austrian Tyrol and into the Dolomites of Italy.
To get to this point from Hintertux involves three ski lifts, so make sure that your planning allows enough time for this. In bad weather, this ski lift is closed, to make sure you check it's operating before you set off, and also factor in the cost of the ski lift into your budgeting as it's quite hefty. We paid about €40 each in December 2010, but prices vary between summer and winter, and also depend of the time of days, so follow this link for more detailed information.
From the Gefrorene-Wand viewpoint, it's just a short walk (about 200m) to the entrance to the Ice Palace: if you've booked on a tour, then the guide will come and collect you at the cable car station.
The Spannagel Caves are the highest caves in Europe that are open to the public and were opened in 1994. The entrance is located below the Spannagelhaus on the Hintertux Glacier, a short walk from the top of the second cable car (Tuxer Fernerhaus) which is at 2660 metres. From there, it’s a short walk (approximately 5 mins) to the Spannagelhaus (which also hosts a restaurant).
The cave is considered to be one of the most important cave in Tyrol and presents above all an insight into the high alpine karstification ('limestone cave development' to the uninitiated) of the glacier regions. About 5km of cave system have been identified, but guided tours only allow access to a smaller section.
It is an interesting thing to do, and going across the suspension bridge and examining the potholes caused by the abrasion of entrapped boulders (which I managed to convince my gullible Small Son were 'dragon eggs') is fun. However, it doesn't hold a candle to the awe-inspiring Ice Palace, so if you intend to do both, my recommendation is to do this first, otherwise you may be disappointed. Please note that this isn't a negative reflection on these caves, but rather an endorsement of how spectacular the Ice Palace is, and these caves have the virtue of being accessible to children would wouldn't be allowed to visit the Ice Palace.
Protective clothing (in the form of waterproofs and hard hats) are provided.
This is the nice 24 person bicable gondola that takes you from Sommersberg Restaurant at 2100m to Tuxer Fernerhouse at 2660m and then from there to the top of the glacier at 2660m. During our holiday most of the time we were 2-5 people in the gondola, so it was very refreshing not to be crowded. In the second picture see the nice mechanics of the gondola (Doppelmayr did a nice thing with the cable transport systems).
Some 20km down on the road from Hintertux there is the city of Mayrhofen, the largest city in the area. It is not really big, but its central streets are glittering and shopping in Mayrhofen is one preferred activity of winter tourists. Mainly shops with ski equipment, but also with souvenirs or fine food. On the cons side, too little restaurants open late, too little parking spaces. But while in the Zillertal/Tux, be sure you pay a visit in Mayrhofen and stroll around. No pictures of actual Mayrhofen as it was late and night outside, but I couldn't resist taking a picture or two (well more than two) of a big cat that was very decided to go somewhere and did not stop for a picture :)
Here's a useful tip for people getting in Austria at winter: Be sure you have winter tyres on every four wheels of your car. And also have ready the box of snow chains in the trunk. It was a heavy snow also on the highway, and in Tux, while climbimg from 600m to 1400m snow chains were recommended. I had mine in the trunk :)
The Austrian Alps are very impressive during winter time. And here is a good place to admire and take photo shots. I was not very well prepared, I did turned on the manual white balance, but still pictures of snow are pretty difficult to take especially with a digital camera. Check out some of my best pictures with the snowy Alps.
Of course one of the best things in Austria, as also in Belgium, Holland, Deutschland, or even Italy, is the local brewed beer. This is called Zillertaler Beer, it is a clear beer. A white non-filtered beer is the Heffe Weizenbier (see the second picture).
Skiing non-stop is not possible - well, advisable .. so in Tux you will find lovely places to rest and have a snack - actually a real dinner, with drinks, dessert. But be careful because after dinner it is more likely to think of a nap than a quick ski ride like in the morning :) In the picture is Christlerhof, a resort from where we could see our accomodation - Haus Schneiderau.
From the multitude of cable transportation systems - skilifts 2er, 4er, 6er, 8er, gondolas 4er, 8er, 24er - the 150er Tux (150 person cable car) stands out, being wider than your living room (imagine 150 persons in your living room - check out how half of the inside of the cable car looks like in my 4th picture), running on two cables (check out my 5th picture), rushing passengers with 12m/sec, on a too short (less than 4 minutes) smooth panoramic view ride. When we've been there, maximum of 20 people were inside, but I've heard in full season the cars run full capacity almost all day.